The King is back: my photos from the Wando Stakes at Woodbine Racetrack

My two worlds are colliding at the moment. Days after the Stars On Ice tour landed in Toronto, a group of Queen’s Plate hopefuls tested out their legs in the Wando Stakes at Woodbine.

The race is named after a spectacular Canadian colt called Wando, a copper-coloured gentle sort that became the first to win the Canadian Triple Crown in 10 years, back in 2003. Nobody has swept the series since. Only seven have ever won it.

Now, 14 years later, Canada’s best 3-year-olds are preparing for the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Queen’s Plate, which Wando won by nine lengths. Wando, bred by Toronto developer Gustav Schickedanz, died three years ago and is buried at Schickedanz’s Scomberg Farms, beside another of his Queen’s Plate winners, Woodcarver, as well as one of Schickedanz’s favourite riding horses.

The Wando Stakes on Sunday was a contest between Queen’s Plate winterbook favourite, Tiz A Slam and Sovereign Award champion 2-year-old from last year, King and His Court, both from powerful stables.

The following are photographs I took at Woodbine on Sunday:

 

This is Tiz A Slam, trained by Hall of Famer Roger Attfield. If Tiz A Slam wins the Queen’s Plate this year, it will give Attfield a record ninth victory in the classic race. Canada’s top jockey, Eurico Rosa da Silva, rides.

In the other corner is King and His Court, ridden by veteran Gary (Boo) Boulanger. He is trained by Canada’s perennial top trainer Mark Casse, who had one of the favourites for the Kentucky Derby last Saturday.

 

Breaking from the gate in the Wando Stakes. King and His Court is No. 3, Tiz A Slam is N. 4.

Pounding in front of the grandstand for the first time.

Down the homestretch, King and His Court battles it out with Tiz A Slam, with Gus Schickedanz’s grey horse, Megagray between them. Megagray ended up third.

King and His Court, winning the Wando over Tiz A Slam. It appears the King is back after two lacklustre efforts in the United States earlier this spring on different racing surfaces.

Winner’s circle glory for the King.

Gus Schickedanz presenting the trophy to Gary Boulanger.

 

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Kaetlyn Osmond: the empty space has been filled

Just as Kaetlyn Osmond was about to make her way to the world figure skating championships in Helsinki – only her third – the value of silver, down in the doldrums on world markets, began to pick up. The ticker tapes of the world began to spin in the right direction.

It’s good news for Osmond, who has earned buckets full of silver medals this season, none as spectacular as the silver medal she earned at the world championships.

Osmond, 21, started the season at Finlandia Trophy with a gold medal, defeating Mao Asada and world bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya.

A short time later, she won a silver medal at the Skate Canada International, behind only world champ Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia.

Cup of China was next. Silver again, just behind Elena Radionova of Russian. Osmond had won the short program, and finished third in the free.

Grand Prix Final? Osmond was the first Canadian woman to qualify for it since Joanne Rochette in 2009. Osmond finished second in the short program, but fourth in the free, for fourth overall. She was not now going toe to toe with the best six skaters in the world. Behind her after the short program were world medalists from Japan,( Satoko Miyahara) and three other talented Russians. All season long, Osmond was able to spar very well with the tops in her discipline.

Four Continents was an unfortunate hiccup on Osmond’s journey. She says she tries to forget that one. Just as well.

And of course at the world championships, Osmond sped to second place behind only Medvedeva, after finishing second in both the short and the long.

Going into this world championship, Osmond was not thinking about winning a medal or about where she would place at all, despite her successful season. “I was going into worlds thinking I finally wanted to feel proud of how I skated,” she said. “I have had a season of highs all year, so when I went into worlds, I just wanted to end on that same feeling and to feel the best I had felt all season.”

Don’t forget, it’s the first time Osmond got to experience a full season. That idea excited her. She just wanted to feel proud. When she skated the way she hoped and it meant she won a silver medal, Osmond said: “Honestly, it still doesn’t feel believable.”

What is real is hard to explain. Her silver medal is entirely motivating for anything she does from now on. “After I broke my leg, I thought my career was done,” she said. “And the competitions that came afterwards, didn’t go well. It put so much doubt in my head. And I questioned that I would never be able to perform at my best ever again. I hated going home from competitions, feeling like I didn’t compete.

“And I felt lost every time. So this season, each time I went out and skated, I forgot about the feeling that I wanted to find and just focused on finding the love of the sport again. And each time I went out there, that’s what I felt. I felt like that empty piece of me kept getting filled up and filled up. And at the end of my long program [in Helsinki], it was finally like I felt full again.”

She can’t explain the feeling at the moment in which she took her final pose in the free skate. “I just felt like a full human being again,” she said. “It’s something I never realized I felt so lost before that.”

Her silver medal will probably find its way into a case at home full of her other silver medals she won during the season. Aside from an Olympic team silver medal, Osmond hadn’t won silver medals before, she said. “I think I’ll have a box of silvers,” she said. Right now, the shiny world medal is in Newfoundland, her home spot.

One of the first things that Osmond did when she returned to Canada was to return to Newfoundland. She’s lived near Edmonton since she was 10 years old, but the home province is dear to her heart. She hadn’t been to Newfoundland in a year. And she hadn’t been to her hometown of Marystown (population 5,500) in four years, when she was feted for winning her first of three Canadian titles.

Marystown did it up big that day. She rode a red convertible into town, waving all the way. There was no shortage of “Welcome Home, Kaetlyn,” signs. “I wanna be just like Kaeltyn Osmond,” said a young girl’s placard, from her perch in another car. Osmond spoke and spoke. Signed autographs, Posed for photos. Got to take home a quilt. Marystown renamed their rink the “Kaetlyn Osmond Arena.” The town named a street after her.

Kaetlyn Osmond as a young skater in Newfoundland

“Even since post-Olympics, I hadn’t been back,” she said. “For me to get a chance to go home, that was the biggest thing. I have so many supporters in Newfoundland, and so many friends and they’ve kept me going through numerous, numerous things, so it was a chance for me to see them and to hear their stories and for me to share my own.”

Osmond made a trip to the Children’s Hospital, too. “It was a really humbling experience,” said the athlete who has endured a shopping list of injuries, some that could have ended her career. “It reminded me of when I was in the hospital. And seeing so many kids go through way worse things than I was dealing with, was inspiring.”

Osmond has clearly been a star on the Stars On Ice tour this season. And she has easily stepped into that role. With a swish of newly blond-tipped hair, Osmond was spellbinding as she skated to Tori Kelly’s “Hallelujah.” She just looked different, all told. Bigger. More commanding. Soft as she needed to be. Mischievous as she chose in “I Love It.”

“The group numbers are so much fun,” she said. “I love Jeff [Buttle]’s choreography. There’s a reason I go back to him every year now for my long program. [This past season, Buttle choreographed her La Boheme free skate and he’s done exhibition routines for her in the past].

“He’s so much fun and his choreography is crazy hard. But it brings out a different side of me each time and it makes me learn new things. So I love it. Being able to do this tour and perform, it’s why I started skating. And it brings me back to my love of skating every time.”

Osmond was also part of the tribute routine to Jeff Billing, the talented costume designer and director for Stars on Ice for many years before he died last September of natural causes at age 71. If there was a number that pulled at heartstrings in the show, this was it. “It was really heartfelt,” she said. She knew Billings from two previous tours with Stars on Ice.

Before she went on tour, Osmond already completed her routines for the Olympic season. She’s staying mum for the moment on the music being used, but she will say they are programs that are very different from the past season. “There’s two pieces of music that I absolutely love,” she said. “My long program is something that I wanted to do for years and years and years and years and years. So I’m really excited for it.”

Lance Vipond has choreographed her short program for the coming season – always her mainstay in the past – and Buttle did her long program. “The choreography is very different from one to the other,” Osmond said. “But I love them.”

Of course, it means that she will leave behind her short program routine to Edith Piaf, singing “Sous le Ciel de Paris,” and “Milord,” but even though it served her extremely well all season, and it gave her a feeling of strength, Osmond is happy to get it go.

The memorable Piaf routine

“I can tell you right now, if I did my short next year, it wouldn’t look the same,” she said. “I love the challenge of having a new character. And even though some people see my program about eight times a year at competition, I hear it about 15 times a day. You are really looking forward to not having that any more.

“Time to get annoyed by a new program.”

 

Gabby Daleman: standing tall

It hasn’t all sunk in yet for Gabby Daleman, at 19, the world bronze medalist. There is a medal now jingling against her heart, even when she doesn’t wear it.

That medal is proof positive of so many things: that she can overcome, that she’s as good as anyone in  the world, and that she didn’t ever, ever, deserve to be bullied. Ever. For any single thing about her.

On her debut appearance on the Stars On Ice tour, Daleman is skating to Demi Lovato’s “Confident.” Perfect. Lovato was bullied as a young girl, too. And Lovato, too, has overcome to the point that she is a spokesperson for mental health.

“It’s time for me to take it,” Lovato warbles.

“I’m the boss right now

Not gonna fake it

Not when you go down

‘Cause this is my game

And you better come to play.”

“You had me underrated,” Lovato sings. So was Daleman, from the start. For all those who have watched her rise from young Canadian medalist (at 16, she was the youngest athlete on the Canadian Olympic team in Sochi) to world medalist, they’ve seen an exhibition of confidence, of positive messages, of power, speed and will. “She never wanted for self-confidence, that girl,” figured one scribe. And so it appeared.

But Daleman has had to fight every step for that confidence. As a young girl, Daleman suffered from a learning disorder, making it difficult for her to read and write. The bullies came out in full force. And the jealousies, too. Daleman was a whirlwind of activity, learning gymnastics for nine or 10 years and figure skating, too. She would leave class to practice. The others gave her a rough ride, because they didn’t get to do the same. Daleman suffered under a double whammy. She couldn’t win.

The taunts were so bad, Daleman didn’t want to go to school. “Personally, it was awful,” she recalled. “I would not want to do anything. I wore long-sleeved t-shirts to hide my biceps because I was getting made fun of for having too much muscle, for not being pretty enough to be a figure skater.”

At every turn, she was being told that she had to look a certain way to do what she loved. She was told how a girl should look. She didn’t love who she was. She was ashamed of her abs. And her strength.

Gabby’s abs

 

Fortunately, her friends and family picked her up. Her younger brother, Zach, also a figure skater, played a major role in boosting her self-confidence. It’s no surprise that they are so close. About a year ago, Daleman began to do fitness exercises on Instagram, and it caught on. People began to tell her how much they wanted to be like her. She was also experiencing some success in the skating world. Now people wanted to have abs and muscles, just like Daleman.

“That really helped me in a certain way, because I’m like, if people want to do this, why should I not want to look like this?” she said.

It wasn’t a simple task to repair the effects of bullying. Daleman has always been hard on herself, personally and in training. Sometimes, she’ll still show up in baggy shirts when she doesn’t feel good, an effect from the past. When this happens, she’s fortunate to have friends like training mate Dylan Moscovitch, who bucks her up when she needs it. The people closest to her get it.

In the next year or two, Daleman plans to write a book about her experiences, to tell others how to deal with a problem that is rife, everywhere. She’ll be working on a project with Skate Canada, too.

Gabby Daleman: not pretty enough to be a figure skater?

 

And so finally, that bronze medal puts the exclamation mark on what Daleman is: no longer underrated.

“I’ve just been taking it day to day,” she said while on tour. “Enjoying myself. I had World Team Trophy [after world championships], which was a lot of fun. So I focused on that. And now I’m just focusing on the tour and enjoying myself.”

How did she make it happen? One foot in front of the other. Doing the work every day. Training. Trusting herself. Believing in herself. “I had a great coaching team and great training mates there to cheer me on and my parents,” she said. “I had my brother, back home. But not only my brother. My country.”

She felt proud that she strung two solid programs together and boy, does she make her triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination sing – the only skater to max out the points and sometimes the +3s on that jump combination multiple times last season.

Gabby Daleman’s cheering section, back home in Newmarket. (Courtesy CNW Group/Pickering College)

The history of her triple toe loop – triple toe loop combo:

At Nebelhorn Trophy, Daleman attempted triple Lutz – triple toe loop in the short program, slightly underrotating it to get 8.30 points on that element. For the long program, she did the triple toe loop – triple toe loop for 10.60, and seven marks of +3 across.

At Skate America, she more noticeably underrotated the triple Lutz – triple toe loop and got 5.80 for that. Back to the triple toe loop –triple toe loop for the free, she earned 10.30 points, with four +3s.

At Trophee de Paris, Daleman left the triple Lutz combo behind, and did triple toe loop – triple toe loop in the short program, earning 10.70, to put her in second place. In the free, she missed the combo, getting only 2.20.

At the Canadian championships, she had hit her stride, took the silver medal and absolutely maxed out her scores, with all +3s for 10.70 points in both the short and the free programs.

At Four Continents, Daleman won the short program over Kaetlyn Osmond, hitting the triple toe loop combo well enough to get 10.30 with three +3s. And in the free, she got eight +3s for 10.70.

World championships? Maxed out those scores at 10.70 for both the short and long programs, while getting eight +3s in both.

Osmond and champion Evgenia Medvedeva did the more difficult triple flip – triple toe loop combo and each got the exact same mark in the free: 11.00. So Daleman was breathing down their necks with a combo considered easier.

How did she make that combination so effective and ferocious a tool? “To be honest, I don’t even know,” she said. “That’s just how I’ve done it. It’s just more controlled and it’s fluid.” She doesn’t know if she’s keeping it for next season. “Anything can happen,” she said.

So no, Daleman doesn’t back down from a challenge. During the tour, she’s been seen doing backflips with ropes around her waist. At one end of the rope on one side is Kurt Browning, who does them (at age 50) in the show, and on the other end, Moscovitch. “I want to try,” Daleman told them. They gave her tips.

Gabby Daleman, so young at the Sochi Olympics

 

“Don’t untie it,” Daleman insisted. “I’m serious.”

Because they both knew Daleman had years of gymnastics training behind her, they tried one. Daleman landed it. “It felt good,” she said. “Let’s film it.”

“They’re actually really easy and a lot of fun,” she said.  The ropes are there in case she bails out and they help to keep her in the air, not on the ice. With Daleman, they really didn’t need the rope. It never occurred to Daleman to bail out.

Her Stars on Ice numbers were apropos and she skated them with confidence. She sparkled. Former Newfoundland skater Joey Russell choreographed them both. “’Confident’ was to help me feel confident,” Daleman said. “And to tell people where I am now in my skating, and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be. I’m in great shape. I have the jumps. I have the skills. I have everything else everyone has.”

Her other routine is to “Gold,” sung by Linda Eder, a 56-year-old American with a golden voice. Buttle picked out the music for Daleman because he thought it would bring her luck. “It shows a much softer and gentler side,” she said. “And it actually is really touching. I have had people come up to me at the (post-show) meet and greets and say: ‘You made me cry from that program.’ Yes! That was Daleman’s aim.

“I wonder if when all is done

Anyone heard my voice,” Eder sings.

“I know my voice was just a whisper

But someone may have heard

There were nights the moon above me stirred

And let me grab a hold

My hands have touched the gold.”

So onward Daleman sweeps, living the life she’s been given, standing tall through it all.

Duhamel and Radford: We can be heroes, just for one day

Thursday was a good day, said Eric Radford, slipping into a rink-side seat at the Air Canada Centre during Stars on Ice rehearsals in Toronto.

It was good, because he – for the first time since the world championships in Helsinki – landed some double jumps. “And I feel fine,” he said.

On tour, having fun with Gabby Daleman (Stars On Ice photo)

Radford and partner Meagan Duhamel finished seventh in Helsinki when Radford’s back/hip started bothering him badly at exactly the wrong time: the day of the short program. During morning practice, he couldn’t land a triple Lutz. After he returned from Helsinki, an MRI showed his L2 disc (the upper part of the lower back) had herniated.

Actually he figures he had symptoms hinting at troubles back in February. “I had some back spasms just a few weeks before Four Continents,” he said. “I was dealing with them when I was there. Then I had that tight muscle heading into worlds. I think they were all coming from the same place.” The injury got so bad on the day of the short program at Helsinki that he could not skate properly.

Looking back, Radford figures if his disc had herniated three days earlier, it would have given him some sort of chance in Helsinki. Still, he’s also lucky that it’s an injury that came at season’s end. “I’m right at the moment when I have the time to get better,” he said. “And we don’t’ have any extremely important competitions coming up.”

The herniated disc caused the two-time world pair champions to miss World Team Trophy in Japan, and at one point, they wondered if they would be able to do the Stars On Ice tour at all. The Canadian leg of the tour stops at 12 cities from April 28 to May 18, starting in Halifax and ending in Vancouver. For the first time, all of the cast members were Canadians, simply because there are so many powerful skaters in this country. The tour was to mark the first time that Kurt Browning, Patrick Chan and Elvis Stojko had skated on the same tour together. Add up their world championship titles, and throw in choreographer/director Jeffrey Buttle, and you have 11. The tour also celebrated the singular achievements of Canadian women, with Kaetlyn Osmond (silver medal) and Gabby Daleman (bronze) being the first Canadian women to win two of three world medals.

“Sitting at home was horrible,” Radford said. “I did feel very lost. It was so unknown. We didn’t know if we would do Japan, and I didn’t know if I would be able to do the tour even. It’s really nice to be back skating a little more now.”

He had only been doing singles in the last few days. Then his physiotherapist said he should probably try some doubles. He wears a supportive belt when he skates. And he reckons he’ll have it for a while. “But jumping felt good,” he said. “It feels like I felt when I was a little kid on the ice again, by jumping my first double Salchow.” It WAS his first double Salchow in a month.

Duhamel said that she and Radford kept skating when they returned, because they initially thought they would do the World Team Trophy and the tour. But as the doubt grew, Duhamel was also mindful of the fact that fellow pair skaters Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau were forced to pull out of the Stars on Ice tour. “I knew the tour was down some numbers,” Duhamel said. “So I offered my singles services to Jeff Buttle if he needed a number filled.” She grinned.

In the end, she and her partner are doing the tour, albeit only one solo number, although they also take part in the group numbers. “I feel there is nothing I can do to control anything about Eric, so I just focused on myself and being the best I can be,” Duhamel said. She’s been working on some skills and has kept herself in top shape. “With the Olympics coming in less than a year, there is not a day to waste,” she said. “You have to be better than top shape every day.”

And she is. She says she’s in the best shape of her life right now.

Coming on tour had its advantages for Radford. It meant that he was able to have a physiotherapist at any time, and he does physiotherapy three times a day. “Just moving and getting back into skating slowly has really helped [the back] to improve quickly,” he said.

“But I’m not going to be going back and doing triple twists or anything like that soon,” he said.

Their solo routine on the Stars on Ice tour is to a David Bowie Song: “Heroes,” but Buttle, as he did with many pieces in the show, gives familiar music a twist by using a version done by another star. (Tom Jones sings Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song, a number performed by Kurt Browning, and American Idol contestant Tori Kelly sings Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” in a routine done by Osmond.)

Duhamel and Radford skate to a version sung by Peter Gabriel.  “As people know, Meagan and I have been through so much in our career,” Radford said. “Ups and downs. We’ve had to beat a lot of odds and I feel like this song lends itself to that story.”

“I, I will be king,” the song goes.

And you, you will be queen.

Though nothing will drive them away,

We can beat them, just for one day.

We can be heroes, just for one day.”

 

The music was Radford’s choice. Dylan Moscovitch introduced the song to Radford at the Sochi Olympics. Radford loved it. When he presented it to choreographer Julie Marcotte, she loved it too.

For next season, they will return to their “Muse” free program, although it will be refreshed and reinvigorated for the Olympic run. They have a new short program that captures their story, too. They’ll announce it a little later.

Their past season was not ideal. They showed up ready for the world championships, at their peak, ready to do the A game. The morning that Radford could not do a triple Lutz, and the music for their run through was about to start at practice, Duhamel knew she had to think fast. She skated over to Radford – no time to consult with the coaches first – and said: “Eric, we’ll do a triple toe.”

“We didn’t work that hard to go to worlds not to skate,” Duhamel said. “We’d find a way to skate. And I hadn’t tried a triple toe in three months. So I warmed one up and we did it with the music.”

“It was a bit of a different experience. It’s one thing not to practice a jump for three months and do one, but to have to do one at competition at worlds, is a little bit of a scary unknown experience. It’s life and it’s sport.” Curve balls are going to come at any time. Duhamel knows that it’s up to them to figure out how to deal with them. It’s not an option to deal with it in a negative mindset. “You can’t give up,” she said. “You find a way. You work around it and you make it work and that’s what we did.”

Looking back, the whole year was “pretty terrible,” Duhamel said. “The programs weren’t a fit for us. The skating wasn’t working. It wasn’t gelling. It was lacking some oomph and pizzazz. The whole thing, now that I think about it, was just like mush. A puddle almost. But we had two stellar seasons before that. You can’t be on top forever. You have to go through these ebbs and flows.”

They’ve dealt with the disappointment of finishing well off the podium at the Helsinki world championships. They’ve learned much. They know what to do. “We finished seventh. Life went on,” Duhamel said. “So what. It happened. It wasn’t as scary or as terrible as we thought it could be. And that just goes to teach us that it’s not that bad when you don’t win. It’s not the end of the world.”

“At the end of the day, if we go to the Olympics and skate really well and we come seventh, it is what it is,” she said. “But we’re going to do everything that we can and make the changes and strategize so that when we show up for next season for every competition, we are in the best shape of our lives, we have the best programs, that we’re motivated and we’re on the top of our game mentally and physically. And it has to be like that from day one in the season all the way to the Olympics. If we’re able to do that, then we’ll consider it a success.”