By Chris Lomon / @ChrisLomon
Teesha Symes' horse racing story goes back years. But it’s the latest chapter that has the Standardbred trainer on the fast track to success.
Three years ago, Symes, who hails from Springhill, Nova Scotia, was honoured with the Outstanding Groom honour at the O'Brien Awards.
The recognition was both well-deserved and well-received for the horseperson who worked for O’Brien Award winner, owner Dr. Ian Moore, including in a full-time role starting in 2012. Symes took care of State Treasurer, Canada’s Horse of the Year in 2015, travelled with multiple stakes champion Rockin In Heaven, and cared for many of the Moore Stables’ rookie pacers and trotters.
Throughout that time, Symes picked up a wealth of education, tips and advice.
She’s used nearly every bit of them in her current role as a conditioner.
“The biggest piece of advice that’s stuck with me is that tomorrow is a new day,” said Symes. “Focus your energies on what is right in front of you, and once that is done, then you can shift that focus to the next day. That came from my mom. She gives the best advice.”
Symes continues to put those words of wisdom to good use.
Her foray into training, in 2013, yielded six wins and 21 top-three finishes from 46 starts.
From 2014-2016, she put the conditioning side of her career on hold to rededicate her efforts to the Moore barn. In 2017, Symes delved back into the training world, albeit, modestly, sending out three winners and posting 11 top-three finishes from 21 starts.
Last year, her horses had 108 starts, producing 10 wins, 44 top-three efforts, and just shy of $200,000 in purse earnings.
“I have realistic goals and my 'dream big' goals,” said Symes with a laugh. “Money-wise, and win-wise, I set realistic ones for those, but of course, you have the bigger goals you think of too. I don’t set them too far in advance because you don’t want to let yourself down.”
She did, however, jot down one particular goal at the end of 2018.
“I just wanted to win more than I did last year,” said Symes, who also ships horses and does frequent catch-paddocking.
And that’s precisely what she went out and did.
So far this season, Symes has 16 wins, and 41 top-three finishes from 89 starts. With four months left on the 2019 calendar, she’s just over $14,000 away from eclipsing her career-best mark purse in purse earnings.
As for Symes’ philosophy when it comes to giving a driver pre-race advice, she opts for the, ‘less is more’ approach.
“When I’m in the bike in the mornings, I see it as though my work is done and it’s up to the horse and driver. Before the race, I don’t offer up any insight. Absolutely none. Zero. I honestly think the less you tell them, the better. The only thing I say is, ‘Have fun, and good luck. You do you.’”
And Symes will continue to do what she does, specifically, drawing more attention from horsepeople for her talents.
She’s guided veteran pacer Rockin In Heaven to great success since taking over the reins as the seven-year-old’s trainer in 2017.
The seven-year-old son of Rock N Roll Heaven has over $810,000 in lifetime earnings courtesy of 28 wins, 19 seconds and 13 thirds from 124 starts.
Perhaps his greatest achievement was coming back from a serious surgical procedure in May to a winner’s circle trip just over a month ago.
On July 22, with J. Harris in the bike, Rockin In Heaven stopped the teletimer in 1:51.2 at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
“The biggest high this year would be our big horse,” said Symes. “He had to have throat surgery in May. I wasn’t sure if he was going to make it back, but he did and he came back hard. That has to be the high of the year… so far.
“It was tough. We raced him a couple of starts, and I could see he wasn’t himself. It’s our job to figure out what’s wrong. When we found out what the problem was, it was almost like a breath of fresh air, but at the same moment, you’re also holding your breath. You know what’s wrong, you know they can fix it, but will it work?”
It was a reminder of the ups and downs of the sport.
“It can be an emotional rollercoaster,” said Symes, who lists the Gold Cup & Saucer as the race she’d most like to win. “The highs are high and the lows can be low. You have to learn how to turn the page. But through it all, it’s very, very rewarding at the end of the day.”
And there are always the horses, a stable that includes Wind Blown, a son of Mach Three who finished second in the Battle of Waterloo on August 5 at Grand River.
“Every morning I walk through that door, that old horse (Rockin In Heaven), and the colt (Wind Blown) – they wait for me. It takes me a few seconds to put my sneakers on and as soon as I do, they’re banging the gate. That puts a smile on my face. Win or lose, they are thrilled to see you, and you are thrilled to see them. I love it. I absolutely do.”
John Watkins photo
Which is why regardless of what happened yesterday, win or lose, in Symes’ mind there is always tomorrow.
It’s something she thinks of every night as she heads to her home in Guelph, not far from Woodbine Mohawk Park.
“You have to love it. It can’t feel like to work to you. When you add up those hours at the end of the day, it’s not about the money. It’s about the love of the game. You have to love what you do. And I truly do.”