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Trainer, jockey head to Queen’s Plate committed to more than race

Jockey Steven Bahen and trainer Rachel Halden with Nipissing, a filly ranked among the favourites for Sunday’s 154th running of the Queen’s Plate. trainer Rachel Halden.

WEG/Michael Burns

With the industry's compensation based on commissions, the relationship between trainer and jockey in horse racing can get contentious.

Win, you make good money. Lose, and you're lucky to break even.

Rob Landry retired after a successful career as a jockey to become general manager of Chiefswood Stable, where he presides over a trainer/jockey relationship with an added dimension of complication. Steve Bahen, the jockey, is engaged to be married to Rachel Halden, the trainer of Nipissing, a filly ranked among the favourites for Sunday's 154th running of the Queen's Plate.

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"There won't be an awful lot of conversation about [strategy]," says Halden, who is seeking to become the second female trainer, after two-time winner Josie Carroll, to win a Plate, a race conducted since 1860. "He knows her as well as anybody. Once the gates open, it all changes and that's his job – he's got to work it out from there. He knows her well enough, knows where she needs to be."

The sport of horse racing is bonded by human connections, and Landry, Halden and Bahen are knitted as tightly as they come.

As a jockey, Landry regularly rode Hall of Famer Roger Attfield's horses, and Halden worked as Attfield's assistant for 10 years, until going out on her own in 2008.

Halden, from England, lost her string of horses after a couple of years, leaving her with a "daunting" career challenge. She worked for another Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, only for Mott to withdraw horses from Toronto's Woodbine racetrack. Thereafter, Landry invited Halden to join Chiefswood and, today, she's working independently once more, training a string of six horses, including Nipissing.

Bahen, 47, rides all six.

Away from the track, Halden and Bahen have been together for two years. Amidst a seven-day schedule that starts with a 4:30 a.m. alarm, they're house-hunting, walking their two dogs, taking in an occasional movie.

"It would have to be a huge boost to her career," says Bahen, noting Nipissing's win in a tune-up race, the Woodbine Oaks, on June 9, has already given Halden a shot of esteem inside the sport. "Hopefully, now, those people she worked for before realize she does a good job with the horses. … The horses are everything to her. She's so in tune with them."

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There's much at stake for the stable this weekend, emotionally and financially. Landry rode Niigon to a Queen's Plate victory for Chiefswood in 2004. Niigon went on to a lucrative career at stud until suffering a broken femur in a stall accident last fall. Landry was holding the 11-year-old horse when he was euthanized. (Rackman, a son of Niigon, is entered in the Queen's Plate for another stable.)

While the horse's death may add impetus, Landry says he'll leave race strategy to trainer and jockey.

"I wouldn't get too involved in that," Landry says outside Nipissing's stall on the backstretch at Woodbine. "Steve knows the filly. Rachel and him will discuss it. … I don't want to be a micro-manager."

In England, Halden felt "it's very difficult to get ahead there [for a woman], and I just wanted to do more." In Toronto, Bahen, ranked 12th in the jockey standings and considered to be in the second strata, rode long shot T J's Lucky Moon to a Plate victory in 2002, but has had few opportunities since. A win would nicely punctuate his career.

"Everybody says [of me], 'hard worker … hard worker,'" he says. "And you always hear, 'underrated … underrated.' … I ride a lot, and they probably aren't the best horses. I don't get the ones you steer around. But I'm paid to give my best ability to try to get a winner, and that's what I do."

The trio is unanimously agreed, in Landry's words: "The jockey gets too much credit when a horse wins, and too much blame when it loses."

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A feeling they'll be challenged to embrace amongst the hugs of celebration, or the tears of disappointment, on Sunday.

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