Relax, Just Do It: Training Native Land
An Interview with Anthony “Toots” A. Henson
Native Land’s impressive victories in December 9’s 35th PCSO Presidential Gold Cup and November 18’s MARHO Breeders’ Cup (MBC) Classic merit a closer look at his trainer, Anthony “Toots” A. Henson.
Toots is 32, and has been training racehorses for the past five years. His uncle and mentor is famed trainer Rey Henson, “who has been like a father to me,” Toots says.
With a fearsome reputation for being temperamental, Native Land did not do well in the early part of his career. He was deemed salbahe, difficult to control, so his handlers had him gelded.
When Toots first came on the scene in April 2006, he immediately noticed the wild streak in his alaga. “Mainit sa ensayo si Native Land,” he avers. “Di basta-basta na-eensayo ito. Matigas ang bibig. Paglabas ng pista noon, pag binitawan, tatakbo nalang.” Native Land is also hard to load. “Kailangan dito blindfolded going to the gate,” adds Toots, “at sa loading.”
For all his personality quirks, Native Land, according to Toots, “has the heart of a champion. Salbahe pag nakakakita ng pista, pero babait pag naikabit na ang saddle.” Based on his excited reaction every time he sees the track, we can say that Native Land is truly born to race.
A grandson of the famed racehorse and stallion Fair and Square, Native Land (Conquistarose-Fair Native) is now six years old and it is only within the last couple of months that he has racked up such astonishing accomplishments. “Parang late-maturing ito,” is Toots’s assessment of his horse. He feels that Native Land has finally understood what it means to run – and win. “Mas malamig na siya ngayon,” he says. “Natuto na siyang lumaban. Ang style niya noon de remate, then late last year nagpakita na siya ng speed. Nagkaroon na siya ng diskarte sa katawan.”
But what contributed to Native Land’s positive turn-around in performance? “Ilang taon na rin kaming ginugulpi ng kalaban, tulad nila Real Spicy. In races prior to the MARHO Classic, tinalo si Native Land sa datingan nila Real Spicy at ni Empire King, dalawang beses na. Kaya nag-experimento ako ng workout,” Toots declares. “Inisip ko na mas gusto niya iyong relaxed siya. Kaya ibinaliktad ko ang usual na ensayo. Nagbibigay ako ng mahaba twice a week before the race na pinaghahandaan namin. Ni-relax ko siya na nagustuhan niya naman.”
His reaction to the two successive wins? “Tuwang-tuwa ako. Ang tagal naming sinubukan na talunin sila. Sa (35th PCSO) Gold Cup, inisip ko na babantayan lang naming ang magagaling. Tapos nanalo kami, four lengths pa. After the race, I couldn’t believe it was true, that we had won the most important race.”
How does he feel as a trainer? “Vindicated,” Toots says without hesitation, “na tama ang aking naging diskarte.” There is also relief that the pressure, for now, has eased. “Nakaraos din sa wakas.” He considers the Gold Cup victory as his “pivotal achievement”.
Finally, Toots Henson’s Christmas wish list: “My personal wish is that I win all the major races. For the industry, na sana mas lalo pang umunlad ang industriya para marami itong matulungan, mula sa sota, helper, hanggang sa lahat ng kabalikat dito sa karera.” ***
Photo: Toots Henson with his trophy right after the awarding ceremony for the 35th PCSO Gold Cup. (Photo by Roel Taripe. SLLP Turf Club, 9 Dec 2007)