What’s better than celebrating one memorable racing milestone in a year? If you’re the man who saddled Canada’s last Triple Crown champion in 2003, the answer is twice as nice.
For Mike Keogh, the affable Englishman who campaigned Wando to racing immortality 10 years ago and who now enters his 20th year as a trainer, it’s still hard to wrap his mind around both accomplishments.
“It really is hard to believe its’ been 10 years since Wando did that, isn’t it?” said Keogh, from his winter base in Aiken, South Carolina. “It was a wonderful time, really. But it doesn’t seem that long ago.”
Quiet by nature and admittedly superstitious, the months leading up to the 144th running of the Queen’s Plate and the subsequent fervor created after Wando took the Prince of Wales Stakes, second jewel in the Canadian Triple Crown series, was emotionally draining for Keogh.
“There were so many eyes on us,” said the native of Epsom, England, who galloped his first horse at age 11. “You’d read about it in the news, see it on television – it was very intense. But in saying that, it was good for the game. It put the spotlight on our great sport and it got people excited.”
Wando, who bested stablemate and fellow future champion, Mobil, by nine lengths in the Plate on June 22, scored by four lengths in the Prince of Wales, contested at Fort Erie on July 20.
It set up a date in the 1 ½-mile Breeders’ Stakes over the E.P. Taylor Turf Course on August 9. This time it wasn’t just media and fans that had their eyes on Wando. So, too, did the competition.
“We knew they were going to gang up on us once the gates opened,” recalled Keogh, of the race that saw Wando (pictured below) go off as the 2-5 favourite, an eight-horse field that drew three Sam-Son Farm runners. “And that’s what happened. But I knew we had a good shot to do it. Patrick (jockey Husbands) gave a great ride and I guess the rest is history.”
The 1 ½-length victory represented just the seventh time a three-year-old had swept all three races since the Triple Crown was inaugurated in 1959.
For Keogh, it was and still is an emotional moment.
“I have this habit of snapping my fingers and stomping my feet,” offered the 56-year-old Bolton resident, who became assistant to Hall of Fame conditioner Roger Attfield in 1986. “I also was watching it with Lou (Keogh’s wife) right beside me and we hugged just as he crossed the wire. A lot of it was a blur, but I remember those things.”
He also recalls thinking of his father, Norm, the man who introduced him to the sport.
“My dad saw the first two races, but had a commitment back home in England, so he wasn’t able to see the Breeders’ here,” recalled Keogh, who lost his father in 2012. “I called him right after, but he had already seen it on the computer.”
Lou was thrilled to see her husband and father-in-law experience two-thirds of the Triple Crown side-by-side.
“It was wonderful for Norm to be at Woodbine when Wando won the Plate and then at the Prince of Wales in Fort Erie,” she said. “Mike always respected his dad as a good horseman, but he was also his best friend.”
That wasn’t the only big day at the races for Keogh, who had his first win with his first starter, Clever Detector, on August 1, 1993.
The man who took over training duties for Hall of Famer Gus Schickedanz, the owner he teamed with for the Triple Crown, trained Langfuhr, sire of Wando and Mobil, to several Grade 1 triumphs and a Sovereign Award as Canada’s top sprinter in 1996.
Wando and Mobil captured a slew of stakes scores and accolades. The former was top three-year-old male and Canada’s Horse of the Year in 2003, while the latter was crowned the country’s top older horse in 2004.
Mobil is standing stud at Mapleton Thoroughbred Farm in Ohio, while Wando is at Schonberg Farm in Ontario.
While they had an equal measure of talent, their personalities couldn’t have been any different.
During their 2003 campaigns, Keogh quipped, “Wando is the type that would go shopping with the ladies. Mobil would go to the bar with the guys and have your back if a fight started.”
“That was definitely bang-on,” offered Keogh. “Wando was very laid-back. Mobil, I would graze him on a patch of grass outside my barn and he was downright tough. When Bill Tallon (Canadian editor of the Daily Racing Form) came over one day, ‘Mo’ had him on the run. Same thing happened when John Bell (former jockey and jockey agent) stopped by. I told them to be careful, but Mobil got to them first.”
Not all his racing recollections are happy ones.
“Woodcarver,” noted Keogh, of the 1999 Plate winner, who had to be euthanized after a morning training accident. “That day I won’t ever forget. It still gets to me now.”
Despite the tragedy, it hasn’t affected Keogh’s affinity for the sport of the kings. Twenty years after he first went out on his own, he’s fared quite well. Entering this year, he has 264 wins, including 56 stakes, 15 graded.
“I’ll never retire,” he stated. “As long as people want me to train their horses, this is what I’ll keep doing. Hopefully, there are good things to look forward to.”
But that doesn’t mean he won’t take time every now and then to look back.
“I have a ton of pictures of Wando and Mobil and I have a ton of tapes I watch every so often,” said Keogh. “I watch those Triple Crown races and I still get chills. I usually put them on when I’m not doing so well. It picks me up when I need it. It’s a good feeling.”