Toni Rose is not shy when it comes to the affection she heaps upon "my baby," better known to the outside world as the champion sophomore pacer Well Said. The 47-year-old North Dakota native has been the right-hand woman for trainer Steve Elliott's harness racing operation for just over a decade, and combines professionalism with an absolute love for the horses in her care.
, the recent Little Brown Jug winner with $2,539,342 in his career coffers is poised for his second Breeders Crown attempt Saturday night at Woodbine when he'll vie for $600,000 in purse money. He captured his $700,000 Breeders Crown Freshman Pace at The Meadowlands in 1:51 for driver Ron Pierce and these same connections one year ago.
"trained two light trips on Tuesday and walks today (Wednesday), and then he'll jog the rest of the week," Toni offered.
The 2009 Little Brown Jug experience for her andwas like nothing she had experienced in her 20-plus year career in harness racing, Toni noted.
"My Jug experience was so fun, and especially when about 75 people from Europe, Australia and New Zealand came over to see him while I was putting him away and doing up his legs. It was great that so many people from other countries had an interest in him."
Toni had been to the Jug with a pacer once before, in 2007, with a colt named Ruff Me Up, but that experience paled when compared with this year's event.
"The Jug is a whole lot more fun when you have a horse that is competitive and can win it," she noted. "The security is great at the Delaware Fairgrounds, so you never have to worry about your horse, and it's great that the Jug people make the whole week an event, so that a lot of people and the community can get involved.
"When you have a horse in the Jug-especially one with the eight-hole-you hope that your dream comes true of winning, but you don't expect it," Toni revealed. "We had our doubts because of the post, but Ronnie (driver Pierce) drove him perfect in both heats, and it was absolutely a dream come true. I was just so proud of him."
The first thing Toni did afterwon was to phone her parents, who live in Minnesota.
"I was so happy when he won, that when I was walking across the infield, the only people I wanted to call were my parents, which I did," she said. "It was a very emotional afternoon."
The multi-talented Rose does it all-she ships, grooms him, jogs him and trains him - and buys him carrots by the 10 lb. sack. Therefore, it's not surprising that the bay colt took in all of the attention garnered him in the same fashion with which he wins races-very easily.
"He just soaked up the attention he got at the Jug," Toni recalled. "And after he won, when we walked down in front of the crowd, he would stop and prick his ears up and let people take photos of him. We were wet and dirty that day but it was still a great experience."
Prior to working for Elliott, Toni had worked with trainer Gordon Norris in Florida for ten years.
"Gordon is one of the greatest horsemen around," Toni recalled. "He'd pay $1,000 for a horse, turn them out for a year and let them get sound, then bring them back and they'd end up getting claimed for $10,000 or $15,000."
"Steve, on the other hand, can manage a horse better than anyone I've ever met," she said. "It's tough to set a year-long schedule for these horses and try to stick to it. For most of these horses, the kinds of miles they're going are like two miles for most horses. Not to mention all the shipping around from track to track. It's a lot of hard work."
In that regard,is also one of the best, Toni admits.
"He's so adaptable to everything, and takes care of himself so well, which is why I think he's achieved everything he has," Toni said.
"I cried when (World Champion) Donato (Hanover) left and I'm really going to cry when this one leaves," she said with emotion. "He's definitely a horse that enjoys being loved on."
And Toni definitely enjoys loving on.
By Kim Rinker for the Breeders Crown