The hotheaded kid from Weston Highway and Finch was heading down a risky road.
Ricky Dookeran noticed it virtually almost everywhere he turned, the temptations he understood would lead him astray, but at instances emotion powerless to resist them.
“It was different escalating up there,” Dookeran claimed of the neighborhood that lies about 30 minutes northwest of downtown Toronto. “There was not significantly chance for me back again then and if there was, I couldn’t recognize it. It can be either the streets turn into you or the streets choose you. That’s just the way it was back then. I was heading in that route, finding caught up in that way of life.”
In the early 2000s, Steven Flats, a buddy of Dookeran’s, asked him to consider a ride to a place he’d by no means been.
Flats drove the pair 20 minutes west to Woodbine Racetrack, in which he labored as a groom in the barn of trainer Steve Owens.
Sign up for BloodHorse Each day
As they neared the gates top into the expansive backstretch, Flats turned to Dookeran, then in his early 20s, and mentioned, “This is the place I’ve advised you about and here is the probability to make a little something of your self.”
“I desired a little something in my existence, anything excellent,” recalled Dookeran.
Not very long soon after that first take a look at to the racetrack, where he was released to several horse persons, he began lifetime as a hotwalker for coach John Dalton.
It wasn’t satisfying operate, at the very least early on, but the prospect did supply specific advantages that resonated with a vast-eyed Dookeran.
“At to start with, I imagined it was uninteresting, but I appreciated the horses. It wasn’t really the horses that drew me to it at very first. I just cherished the setting. It was anything unique for me. The individuals, getting outdoor and ending a job earlier in the day, all of that designed me content. Waking up early, it was some thing I received used to. It gave me a function in everyday living. I favored all of the people today and getting outdoors was these types of a great emotion. I fell in really like with that right before I fell in appreciate with the horses.
Inevitably, he did drop in like with the horses.
The hours he used day-to-day with the Thoroughbreds amplified and with it, the bond that he forged with all those below his care.
“There was a time when I did not know their names, but seeing how happy they were when we went outside, just walking with them, it manufactured me content. And then it dawned on me a person working day, that anything, which include the horses, produced me so satisfied to be in that environment. I understood I wished to groom horses.”
A lot less than a 12 months into his time at Woodbine, an additional prospect arose, an offer to do the job for Owens.
It would be a transformative encounter for Dookeran, in which lessons in racing and lifestyle appeared to meld, furnishing him with the function he had long searched for but right up until then experienced usually eluded him.
In doing work for Owens and together with Barbados-born Leroy Trotman, then a groom, Dookeran identified mentorship and kinship with the horsemen.
“Working for Steve, it adjusted my existence. It honestly and certainly did. It was there that I fulfilled Leroy. So, Steve, Leroy and Steven (Flats)…individuals 3 adult males saved me. Even to this working day, I inform Steve, ‘I owe you my daily life.’ If it wasn’t for them, I do not know the place I would have been. The daily life expectancy for a child developing up those days in Weston and Finch was almost certainly 24, or at least it felt like that. But I obtained a likelihood to do the job for Steve, and my lifestyle grew to become what I experienced often dreamed about. For the very first time in my life, I experienced anything to glance forward to.”
The as soon as aimless youth was now a targeted youthful man.
Dookeran embraced every discussion he had with Owens and Trotman. He also heeded each and every little bit of advice that arrived his way.
“Ricky, he genuinely listened to what we experienced to say,” remembered Trotman. “He was a younger man back again then, and just like any of us, he had his ups and downs, but he was open up to all the things we shared.”
Owens echoed that sentiment.
“He tries tricky. He demonstrates up every single working day and attempts. More than time, you could see how a great deal the job and the horses meant to him.”
Dookeran was grateful to be educated about the horses.
“I was a sponge. These men taught me every little thing that I know nowadays. They took the time to train me the principles from ground zero. Steve would arrive in the stall and present me, very first-hand, what I essential to know. He was difficult on me, but that’s because he cared. He required me to realize success. I also observed Leroy and his operate ethic. The time and effort Leroy set into me, I actually appreciated it. I noticed how hard he labored. I wanted to be like him. I recall thinking a person day that every little thing in my daily life, it seemed excellent.”
On the night of August 4, 2002, that all changed.
A fireplace in Barn 7 took the life of 32 Thoroughbreds, together with all 14 of Owens’ horses.
Amongst these dropped had been Legal Heir, a homebred Owens properly trained for his family’s Empress Stables, and Highland Legacy, an additional Empress runner who was Canada’s champion 2-12 months-aged colt in 2000. Legal Heir received the very last race at Woodbine the working day ahead of the hearth.
In addition to Owens, trainers Danny O’Callaghan, Cliff Hopmans, and Earl Barnett also misplaced horses.
“We won the race with Lawful Heir the evening ahead of and went out to rejoice,” recalled Dookeran. “When we bought the call and went to the barn, I observed the smoke and the fire. I felt so undesirable for the horses, Steve, everyone. I stood there and I couldn’t speak.”
As he viewed the flames ascend into the around-black, starless sky, a myriad of ideas rumbled by means of Dookeran’s brain.
“For the to start with time in my everyday living, I had some way, but I wondered if that was all absent. It was tricky. I was however younger, but I could understand the glimpse in Leroy’s and Steve’s eyes. They enjoy the horses, and they like what they do. I was misplaced. I didn’t know what was heading to happen.
“Soon after the fire, I was in Florida with Steve. It was there wherever it was nearly like an epiphany. This person who I started doing work for, we had been in the similar house, and we began to seriously understand 1 one more. The volume of regard I experienced for him, it dawned on me how crucial this male was to me. Regardless of what he wished, I would do it. He put so much effort and hard work into assisting me grow to be the person I wanted to be. I was so grateful for that.”
Dookeran faced an unsure future when he returned to Woodbine.
The group in Barn 7 was no longer.
Owens worked tirelessly to rebuild his operation, an undertaking that would consider time to get back on track. Trotman and Dookeran experienced no alternative but to look somewhere else for operate.
As soon as once more, Dookeran felt adrift.
“When we got back to Canada, Leroy experienced long gone on to function at an additional barn. That strike me tough far too. I couldn’t envision working wherever with no Leroy. He was this sort of a mentor to me and it intended so substantially to have him around me. When he still left, I did not know what to do. Our complete crew had dismantled following the fire. It was really the 1st time I felt by yourself at the racetrack. I normally experienced the advice of Leroy and Steve all over.”
A dejected Dookeran carried what he learned from equally guys into the barn of trainer John LeBlanc, Jr.
Hope arrived in the sort of an unassuming chestnut gelding, a durable son of Schossberg bred and owned by Joan Agro.
“When I obtained to the barn, John experienced a horse named Sophia’s Prince that was operating in boasting races. There was just something about that horse that clicked with me. I wished to verify to myself that I can be robust and do this. If not, I might have to return to Weston and Finch. At that place in my lifestyle, I failed to want to go back to that life-style. I experienced a good deal of mates who have been dying. Guns, prescription drugs, and gangs. … I did not want to go back again to that. I couldn’t. I put the operate in.”
So too did Sophia’s Prince.
The Ontario-bred, who experienced loved a modicum of achievement in the declaring, allowance, and stakes ranks, commenced to strike stride by the conclusion of the 2004 time.
Just after two late slide runner-up claimer finishes, Sophia’s Prince capped off his campaign with a gain, also in a claimer, the start of a four-race earn streak, such as a keep track of-document overall performance in the Shepperton Stakes on August 7, 2005, with common rider Simon Husbands in the irons.
“Paying time at the barn and with Sophia’s Prince was the biggest factor. It gave me peace. Simon came to me a person working day and stated, ‘I in no way felt this horse staying any better.’ I would shell out the time, grazing this horse all day. John put him in the Shepperton, and I felt it could be a major day. That day was remarkable simply because getting him more than, he had his head down and his bridle started coming off. He had his head down by his neck and he was so all set to race. He broke a keep track of report (1:14.56) at 6 1/2 furlongs on the aged Woodbine grime study course with simplicity. Then they invited him to race in the Atto (now recognised as Woodbine) Mile (G1T) at Woodbine. I was overcome and quite humbled. He completed seventh, but he in no way gave up even nevertheless the odds ended up versus him.”
Ricky and daughter Vivian Sophia embrace at Woodbine
Just like Dookeran, who named his daughter Vivian Sophia, a indicator of his affection and adoration for Sophia’s Prince.
Now 45, he has used the previous 25 a long time of his daily life at the racetrack, the position that has occur to experience pretty considerably like dwelling.
Trotman, who expended time as an assistant coach to now-retired Hall of Fame conditioner Reade Baker, is now a productive jockey agent, handling the guides of countryman Patrick Husbands and Sahin Civaci, who appreciated a profession-ideal 2022 season.
Owens has remained a staple on the Toronto oval backstretch. Very last calendar year, his Poulin in O T gained four races, 3 of them stakes, and acquired recognition as a finalist for the 2-calendar year-old male Sovereign Award in 2022.
Poulin in O T with jockey Patrick Husbands wins the 2022 Frost King Stakes at Woodbine
As for Dookeran, he is again alongside the guy who gave him his start out as a groom.
“I went back again to Steve. Not for funds. I would do the job for him for cost-free. He was this sort of an crucial influence in my lifestyle. Steven Flats saved my lifestyle by bringing me to Woodbine. Leroy, about the many years, he would usually occur and verify on me. Any thoughts, I went to Leroy. To this working day, I nonetheless do. These adult men, I owe them anything. Horse racing saved my lifetime.”
Dookeran’s affinity for the horses has under no circumstances been much better.
“I really like them. I actually do. It really is the entire natural environment…it truly is the racetrack. I take pleasure in being there and I can not picture myself becoming anyplace (else). When I wake up, I am content. I enjoy to be there, and I appreciate to do it. I like that full hustle and bustle, and how enjoyment it is. It really is a testomony to Woodbine and horse racing. There is so a great deal equal option. It doesn’t matter what race or gender you are. There is equivalent possibility. That is what we have. I like being close to people of diverse nationalities and receiving to know absolutely everyone. When I wake up, I say, ‘Time to get going.’ It excites me to know where by I’m heading to.”
He hasn’t neglected the challenging instances right before horse racing, the days when he would wake up and marvel what his future would maintain or if there would even be one particular.
The person from Weston Road and Finch beat the odds.
“My everyday living could have long gone one particular of two strategies. I was heading the improper way, but people aided me uncover the appropriate route. That is where by I’m going to continue to be.”
This press launch has been edited for material and style by BloodHorse Staff members.