Wednesday, 05 July 2023 23:28

Ron Grieves Surprises with Leading Trainer Title at Century Mile: Consistency and Skill Propel Him to the Top

Ron Grieves has been Alberta’s leading trainer at Century Mile almost from the outset this year. Yet, when Grieves looked down his shed row this spring he didn’t know what to expect.

“I didn’t think I was going to be very strong,” Grieves recalled. “There were no legitimate stakes winners in my barn. Leading the standings has been surprising.”

Not really. After all, he has twice been Alberta’s leading trainer - 2005 and 2012. Before he topped the standings in 2005 he was second to R.K. ‘Red’ Smith four years in a row.

And, perhaps moreover, he has always been the most consistent trainers year in and year out. In his first full year of training, 1994 he finished in the top three an unheard of 68 per cent of the time.

This year he isn’t far from that sizzling pace clicking along 60 per cent of the time with 11 wins, six seconds and 10 thirds from just 45 starts.

When Grieves sends out a horse watch out. Over the years Grieves has won 825 races for earnings of over $10 million.

Grieves leads five-in-a-row top trainer Tim Rycroft and always dangerous Craig Smith by one with Grieves getting his 11th win on Saturday with Stolen Jewel.

“I had some fast horses ready to run five furlongs right off the bat.”

But even now with the races stretching out, Grieves is still at the top.

“Everything has gone right. Now, when I walk up and down the shed row I like what I see. All the horses are eating good. Rarely is there any food left in their feed buckets. They are putting on weight and filling out. Especially horses like Light Fast Feet, who has two wins and a second in three starts this year. He’s tucked up like a greyhound.”

How long Grieves will stay on top is a question though. “I don’t think I have enough horses to stay the leading trainer,” said Grieves, 56, whose first year training - with just a pair of two-year-olds including Rain Dog, who won his debut - was in 1993.

“I’ve got 31 horses. Craig and Tim probably have about 45 horses each. I think those guys are going to pass me,” said Grieves. Maybe. Grieves has seven two-year-olds that he is high on.

There wasn’t much doubt about what Grieves was going to do with his life. With his father a racing fan who he tagged along with to the races - often riding his bike to the track when he was only 11 - when Ron was 14 he went to work for former trainer/jockey Ron Burrell at Northland Park during the summer months. He did that for the next two years as well.

Then, the night after he graduated from high school in Saskatoon he was on a midnight Greyhound to Redwater, Alberta - a horse farm called Rock Creek Farms - 64 km northeast of Edmonton. Grieves spent two and a half years at Redwater.

“I learned to groom; I learned how to gallop; I learned how to exercise horses. Nobody else there could ride. I got a pair of cowboy boots and a helmet and I was the gallop boy. I learned by the school of hard knocks,” who has broken his right leg, his left ankle, both sides of his pelvis, his tailbone and a compression fracture of a vertebrae. “One would try to run off all the time, another would drop me every few days.”

Then, in 1994, he got his big break training for Lynn Chouinard’s large and powerful Bar None Ranches. Chouinard passed away from cancer in 2017 - 12 full years after he was given just six months to live. Grieves estimates that Chouinard owned 1,500 horses over the years.

“He was so sharp; he knew every one of them. He was on top of everything,” said Grieves. “When he called he asked about each of of them individually.”

The first year Grieves trained for Chouinard he had just six horses. The next year he had 18. The third year he had 30. It would only grow from there. At one point Chouinard had 65 broodmares.

“Lynn wanted a private trainer. He knew he was going to be big but I don’t think that even he thought he’d be as big as he was.

Later, Chouinard would become the driving force and the largest shareholder in UHA, the United Horsemen of Alberta to build a track in Calgary which would become Century Downs in Balzac.

“Without Lynn, Century Downs would not be up and operating. I know that for a fact,” said Max Gibbs, owner and operator of the Rocky Mountain Turf Club in Lethbridge.

Bob Giffin, a past president of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, couldn’t agree more. “Nobody did more for racing in this province than Lynn Chouinard,” said Giffin.

Virtually all of Grieves’ top horses over the years were owned by Bar None, which is now run by Chouinard’s daughter Jennifer Mundy. Bar None has won over 800 races.

For Chouinard, Greives trained such outstanding horses as Code Name Fred, Lynn’s Dream, Miss Double Dip, Cash on the Run and Bell n’ Gone to name but just a few.

Code Name Fred won 15 races, finished second another 15 times and earned $437,172 racing from 1988 to 2006.

“Fred had a really big four-year-old season in 2000,” said Grieves, of the horse who was never worse than third that year, finishing first or second in nine of his 11 starts. “Two of those seconds were by a neck - once in the Alberta Breeders’ and once in the Spangled Jimmy.

“He won the Speed to Spare, the Klondike, Westerner and Herald Gold Plate. And, he didn’t even win Alberta-bred of the year which went to Scotman,” Grieves said of the latter who won five of his seven starts including the Canadian and Manitoba Derbies that year.

Lynn’s Dream was special too. He won eight of his 22 starts including all three of the prep races for the 1999 Canadian Derby: the Western Canada, the Ky Alta and the Count Lathum which he won by 9 1/2 lengths. “But in the Derby he got left at the gate and then sent hard,” said Grieves of the horse who set Northlands track record in 2000 with six furlongs going in 1:09 4/5.

“Miss Double Dip was the Champion Two-Year-Old the first year I trained for Bar None. She won the Princess Margaret and the Birdcatcher. She never won farther than 6 1/2 furlongs but she was beat by just a head by Staraway in the Edmonton Distaff and by half a length to Dark Hours in the Sonoma.”

Cash on the Run won nine of 31 starts. “He was one of my favourites. He won seven of his first eight starts. He won going three-and-a-half furlongs, six furlongs, six-and-a-half furlongs, a mile and a mile and a sixteenth. He won the Birdcatcher, the Winnipeg Futurity and the Canadian Juvenile as a two-year-old. The next year he won the Presidents stakes.

“He’d put his nose in front and if the horse beside him surged he surged. He was that kind of a horse. He was also Joe Cool.”

Then there was Bell n’ Gone. “He was Champion Two-Year-Old too winning the Birdcatcher and the Canadian Juvenile.

“There were so many exceptional horses,” said Grieves, who credits his staff especially his assistant trainer Kaelin Lambert - she’s been with me for six years; she does a super job - for his success. With, no doubt, more to come.

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