TORONTO — Another week, another chance at a milestone victory for trainer Robert Tiller.
The 70-year-old registered his 2,000th career victory Friday when jockey Rafael Hernandez rode the Tiller-owned Have a Souper Day, the race favourite, to the win at Woodbine Racetrack. On Thursday, multiple Sovereign Award winner Pink Lloyd will make his '20 debut chasing a record fourth straight win in the Grade 3, $125,000 Jacques Cartier Stakes, also at Woodbine.
Pink Lloyd is scheduled to break from the No. 5 post in the five-horse race, which will be featured on Woodbine's weekly racing show on TSN.
"That would be astronomical," said Tiller. "There's really no word for it.
"There are no words for this horse, whether he wins or loses. I know he's going to run a big one. I've got him as ready as I can get him. He's a legend. If that (record fourth straight win) were to happen, it would be absolutely wonderful."
Pink Lloyd, Canada's horse of the year in 2017, and Essence Hit Man (2011-13) are the only horses to win the six-furlong Jacques Cartier three consecutive times. The eight-year-old Pink Lloyd comes in having won 22-of-27 career starts.
Last year, the Ontario-bred chestnut gelding won all six of his starts. He was voted Canada's top male sprinter for a third straight year and claimed a second Sovereign as champion older male main track runner.
Tiller, a longtime resident of Brampton, Ont., was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2008. He's been Woodbine's leading trainer four times and Canada's top conditioner on three occasions.
Tiller won his first race in 1972 and has amassed career purse earnings exceeding $66.6 million.
Hernandez will ride Pink Lloyd on Thursday night. His regular jockey, seven-time Sovereign award winner Eurico Rosa da Silva, retired after the 2019 season.
But Hernandez rode Pink Lloyd to victory in the 2018 Jacques Cartier while Da Silva served a racing suspension. That year, Pink Lloyd posted a track-record time of 1:08.05 on Woodbine's Tapeta track.
"It's not a new rider, it's an old rider," said Tiller. "He's won with the horse.
"It was a logical choice, a no-brainer to me."
Added Hernandez: "He's an unbelievable horse. The only time I was on the horse, he broke the track record. I feel good about that."
Hernandez said Pink Lloyd has the ability to put his racing experience to solid use on the track.
"He knows how to run," Hernandez said. "He's an old horse and does everything by himself.
"He just needs somebody on him to make the race official. He's so good, he doesn't need anybody on his back. He can do everything. When he turns for home and he switches leads, he knows it's time to go and the next stop for him is the winner's circle."
But Pink Lloyd can be a handful.
"I guess the best way to describe Pink would be a grumpy old man," groom Michelle Gibson said with a chuckle. "You have to know him to appreciate when he's lovey-dovey.
"He knows when it's entry day, race day or just a walk day and he's very vocal. He lets you know he is the man. The way he comes out of the starting gate is pretty much the same as when he exits his stall to go train in mornings. He loves it. And when he's in his 'spot,' chilling, nothing is going make him move.
"Pink really only does what Pink wants and of course we all allow it. So when you see him switch leads in the stretch and come flying down to the wire, you know that's because Pink wants it."
And Gibson admits she's emotionally attached to Pink Lloyd.
"This horse, he has given me more thrills and excitement than any other horse in my career," Gibson said. "I cry every time he crosses the wire because he just does it with all heart and for the pure love of racing.
"I am honoured and blessed to be in his company every day. I would do anything for Pink and he would do the same for me."
Tiller is expecting a strong showing by Pink Lloyd in his season debut.
"He's doing very, very well right now," Tiller said. "I expect a big race.
"Sometimes he gets too sharp, and he gets goofing off around the gate but he's been really good. If he behaves himself, I think he's going to be very hard to beat."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press