By Charlie McCarthy
As a boy growing up in Ontario, Kevin Attard yearned to make his own mark in the family business. The son and nephew of trainers hoped to follow another uncle’s path. “My initial dream was to be a jockey,” said Kevin, whose uncle Larry became a Canadian Hall of Fame jockey. “But I quickly ate my way out of that.” Enjoying a good meal didn’t stop Attard from carving out his own place in Thoroughbred racing.
That’s evidenced by the fact he was the second-leading trainer in earnings at Woodbine Racetrack in 2019 and enjoyed the best year in his nineteen seasons as a trainer. When 2020 began, Attard owned a 475-485-380 record in 3,067 career starts and $20,687,570 (USD) in earnings according to Equibase.
“I’m happy. We’re headed in the right direction,” Attard said recently after arriving in South Florida for Gulfstream Park’s winter meet. “I have a good crew with a lot of guys who have been with me a long time, and I think that’s very important. I couldn’t do it without them.”
In all likelihood, he wouldn’t be where he is without his forebearers, either. Joseph Attard and wife Connie emigrated to Canada from Malta in the 1950s. They later were followed by Joe’s brothers Larry, Tino and Sid. Joe, Tino and Sid all became trainers. Larry also began training after his tremendous riding career. At 68, Joe died from cancer in 2001. Tino, Kevin’s father, still has a few horses but also assists his son. Sid has compiled more than 2,000 career wins and remains a strong presence at Woodbine, where he often trains horses that compete against those of his nephew. “It’s hard to walk around Woodbine without bumping into someone who’s an Attard or related to an Attard,” Kevin says with a smile. Kevin began helping his father as a youngster on the family farm in Tottenham, Ont., about 35-40 minutes north of Woodbine. It was there Tino first took notice of his son’s ability with horses. “When he was nine years old, he used to walk a tough horse named Fozzie Bear,” 72-year-old Tino recalled. “It showed me Kevin had a lot of heart and loved to work. ”It was while working for his father years later that Kevin, then 24, was injured seriously in the stall of a horse named Undue Influence. The bay gelding kicked the right side of Attard’s face, causing major facial damage and a concussion. “He just spun around and double-barreled me in the face,” said Attard, now 44. “I was lucky. A doctor told me, ‘If he kicked you a little more in the center of your face, you might not even be here.”
After recuperating for several months, Kevin Attard returned to the stable. While working as an assistant trainer for his father in 2001, Frank Stronach called to offer him the job of farm trainer for young horses at Adena Springs North in Ontario. “My first year of training actually was just a barn full of two-year-olds for the Stronach Group,” he said. “…training off the farm, shipping into Woodbine, working and prepping them that way. ”Kevin Attard’s first career win came courtesy of a two-year-old bay named Jade Eyed in a $42,000 maiden claiming race at Woodbine on July 12, 2001. Little more than two weeks later, the filly won the Nandi Stakes at the same track. El Soprano, a two-year-old son of El Prado (IRE), gave Attard his first graded stakes win in the Gr2 Summer Stakes at Woodbine that September under Gary Stevens.
“The horse had a horrendous trip, and he still won the race,” Attard said. “If you watch the replay, you’re in awe. For a young horse to have that kind of trip and win… that’s a race I remember really well.”
Attard’s success in 2001 would prove to be hard to build on. “The next year, I went to Fort Erie for (Stronach), the B track,” he said. “I didn’t want to be labeled a ’B track trainer,’ but obviously it was a good outfit, so I decided to give it a crack. I was sent there, had a great year. As the year went on, we were kind of getting down in numbers; I took outside clients.“It was a strong year, but my heart wasn’t at Fort Erie—I wanted to be at the A circuit.” Fire Rock Stable’s Megan’s Appeal won the Shady Well Stakes for Attard at Woodbine in July 2003.
Then things got really tough. “It was hard to get horses,” he said. “In Canada that year, there’s only a select pool of owners. It’s not like in the U.S. where you have horses coming from everywhere. ”Attard’s earnings surpassed $600,000 in 2001 but then decreased each year until 2005, when his runners earned just $55,757 and won just four races. Clearly, being part of a Canadian horse racing dynasty didn’t make Kevin Attard immune to the struggles many trainers face. As a husband with a wife, a toddler, a baby and a mortgage, Attard took steps to secure an income. He had a degree in accounting from Humber College— coincidentally located five minutes from Woodbine.
“I was ready to pack it in,” he said. “I actually had sent out resumes … for anything.”
That’s when Larry called to offer his nephew a training lifeline saying that Knob Hill Farms owner and Toronto businessman Steve Stavro desired to get back into racing in a strong way and wanted a private trainer. “He said, ‘Kev, are you interested?’ Kevin said, ‘For sure!’”…