By Bill Finley
When Pink Lloyd (Old Forester) ended his 2019 campaign with a perfect six-for-six record it seemed almost inconceivable that the he could do any better this year. He would be eight in 2020 and, perhaps, the aging process would do what very few competitors had been able to accomplish over the years–give him a problem.
Not that trainer Bob Tiller was worried.
“Age doesn't matter,” Tiller said. “It's just a number.”
That's not always the case, but the popular Canadian sprinter may be about to add another remarkable chapter onto the story of his career. He is two for two in 2020, with wins in the GIII Jacques Cartier S. and the Shepperton S. Against fellow Ontario-breds, Pink Lloyd wasn't facing the toughest field in the July 23 Shepperton, but it was among the most impressive performances of his career. Carrying 128 pounds, he was blocked for much of the way until finding a hole near the top of the stretch. Once free, jockey Rafael Hernandez didn't have to shift gears. Pink Lloyd looked like he was out for a morning gallop as he drew off to win 1 3/4 lengths.
“I think he's better than ever,” Tiller said. “He just seems to be getting better as he gets older. He's a miracle, this horse.”
The legend continues. Pink Lloyd, who has never raced outside of Woodbine, is 24 for 29 in his career and has won 21 stakes and eight in a row. He's won the Jacques Cartier four times, the GIII Vigil S. three times, the Shepperton three times. He was the 2017 Horse of the Year in Canada and has been champion male sprinter there three times, from 2017 through 2019. He record might look even better if he didn't sometimes have a problem at the break. In the 2019 Vigil, he broke through the gate and was declared a non-starter even though he finished fourth in a race that does not count against his record.
With his catchy name and his winning ways, Pink Lloyd has become one of the most popular horses ever to race in Canada. Both the Jacques Cartier and the Shepperton were originally scheduled to be run on Saturdays, but were postponed and held on the following Thursday. Woodbine didn't want poor betting races with short fields to clog up a Saturday card, but moving the races also allowed for Pink Lloyd being featured on the Racing Night Live broadcast on Woodbine's show on The Sports Network.
“It warms my heart [that he's built up a big fan base]. They should love him. I love him so much,” Tiller said. “The owners love him so much. I'm not saying he's the best horse ever. I'm saying he's got the most heart and charm of any horse I've ever seen, and I've trained a lot of good horses.”
Pink Lloyd has his quirks, but that may have something to do with why he has remained so good for so long. Tiller wasn't able to get him to the races until he was four. Once he started training, he was so aggressive in the mornings that he would run off and chase other horses. Now, Tiller takes him to the track at the last instant and by the time Pink Lloyd is done he will be the only horse out there. Tiller will work him on occasion, but most of his training revolves around long, slow gallops, which leaves a lot left for his races.
“He loves to go out there and hack and gallop very easily. Long miles,” Tiller said. “We have a totally different way of training him than we would with other horses, where we would work them maybe a week before a race.”
Because Pink Lloyd likes to kick when back at his barn, Tiller has also had to create a special stall for the gelding, one that is padded with rubber.
Pink Lloyd's next start will come in the Aug. 15 GII Bold Venture S. A victory would move him one step closer to equaling the longest winning streak of his career, which was 11 straight during his 2017 and 2018 campaigns. Another 11 straight should be well within his reach. Tiller will likely pick out the same races Pink Lloyd runs in every year, which is, basically, whatever sprint stakes comes up next on the Woodbine schedule. As long as he doesn't have any problems at the gate, it's hard to see him losing anytime soon.
But that's also the one knock on Pink Lloyd. He has performed only at Woodbine, only over a synthetic surface and has spent most of his career beating up on the same horses. He has not been given a chance to prove himself against the best sprinters in North America or over a dirt surface.
“There have always been races here for him, so why does he need to go anywhere?” Tiller said. “What does he have to prove? Those have been our reasons for not shipping anywhere. You don't just win 24 races and 21 stakes with a horse. This is the home team. It's his home and all he does is win and the money is good.”
He added that Pink Lloyd's unique stall and training habits would make it difficult to run him outside of Woodbine.
But Tiller has opened the door a crack for Pink Lloyd to head out of town. He said that may happen if some of the stakes on his schedule don't fill, creating a gap in Pink Lloyd's schedule.
“I'm not closing the door [on Pink Lloyd racing away from Woodbine],” he said. “These races here are not always going to fill. If that keeps happening we might have take another look at this. It's not impossible that we might wind up in New York with this horse one day.”
Tiller is already looking ahead to Pink Lloyd running at nine. Once he is retired he will be sent to LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society.
“When he shows any signs of not wanting to do it anymore, that's going to be it for him,” he said. “It will be a sad day but we are prepared for it.”
Some day he will slow down. But it doesn't look like that is going to happen this year.
“This party,” said Tiller, “it's not over yet.”