When Hippodrome 3R opens for its 2019 race season on Sunday, April 28, defending two-time leading trainer Francis Richard will have plenty of ammunition in his stable.
By his own admission, Richard’s stable has not counted as many boarders as this past winter, and he currently has 23 horses in training at the farm on the south shore of Trois-Rivieres. Nearly half of the horses (11) in his barn are two-year-olds in training for the lucrative summer Quebec Sires Stakes.
Richard is the first to admit that this winter was a challenging one.
"Snow, in the centre of Quebec, there are as many feet, and if not more, than elsewhere,” Richard explained. “Nevertheless, I do not think I'm so late with the foals turning around 2:50. It's not very fast, but it's on the snow, and for me, it's okay; so, at the beginning of spring I am not one of those who are so in a hurry, who want to run their colts at all costs as soon as possible.
"For me," Richard said, "there is no point in rushing them.”
Richard explained that he has a half-dozen two-year-old foals from his main owner, Brian Paquet -- even a trotter by Archangel, which is something a little unusual for Paquet.
“I also have a filly by Prestidigitator that I ‘tamed’ for Les Fermes SOS and that I finally bought with some owners, including Jean-Louis-Laflamme and Gaston Bibeau,” said Richard. “It is a beautiful project. As I said earlier, the important thing for me is to be ready when the stakes start. There is no point in pushing too hard. Patience is in order."
Richard is training more than 20 horses, and of course that means some of them are three-year-olds.
"My three-year-olds are fine, too," Richard explained. "They roll around 2.30, still on the snow. It's not excessively fast, but they could all do better, around 2.20 if I wanted it. They may be a bit late compared to last year, but not so much. I'd rather be there again in October or November with them than saying they'll be ready in April!"
Trainer Francis Richard (left), Half A Billion and driver Louis Philippe Roy pictured at Hippodrome 3R.
The Richard stable also has some older horses for the Quebec Series.
"I have three or four horses aged four and over," Francis stated. "Most ran until December. I gave them January and February on leave and they resumed training without being completely out of shape. By the way, I think giving the six-year-olds and older ones the opportunity to race in the Quebec series this year is a good incentive for the owners to keep their horses longer, with this new opportunity to race them here, for good money. A step in the right direction, in my opinion."
And how does Richard feel about going for his third consecutive training title at H3R?
"I feel the same as I did before even winning my first title,” Richard explained. "I get up in the morning and think about winning. For sure another training title would be great.
"Now I just focus on doing my job. I wish they would have a ‘team title,’ as I have to give a lot of credit to all my help. We are a nice group having fun working together.”
In speaking of his two-year-olds, Richard explained that he has "a nice group of babies” and that “so far so good – they’ve done all I asked them to do.
"As for my three-year-olds, you have to think about Guinness Panic, he was third in the two-year-old final. (He’s) a fast horse, had a good winter, (and is) now training back pretty [well]. He is all class.”
Speaking of some of his other charges, Richard said that he’s "got some others doing their things, too. Maybe HP Napoleon, a half-brother to HP Patriot. If he puts it all together, he has the ability to be good.
"Most important is that I am looking forward for the start of the season for many things, seeing friends we barely see in winter times, watch the new whipping rules and, of course, live racing!"
(With files from the Quebec Jockey Club)