During the running of the $250,000 Nearctic Stakes on Saturday afternoon at Woodbine Racetrack, veteran trainer Mike Keogh stood in the viewing area with his arm around his buddy John Siscos, Ontario Racing director of marketing and communications, screaming: “Come on, Johnny! Come on, Johnny!”
There was a little bit of jumping up and down involved as well.
One couldn’t blame Keogh for getting emotional during the race. Not only did his five-year-old bay win, it was City Boy’s first victory in over two years, a nine-race winless drought that including four second-place finishes and a third.
More than that, the dramatic victory couldn’t have come at a better time for both Keogh, the last trainer to win the Canadian Triple Crown with the great Wando back in 2003, and for jockey Jesse Campbell.
Keogh recently returned from a two-week stay at a homeopathic cancer clinic in Germany. The 62-year-old native of Epsom, England has been fighting prostate cancer that had spread into his lymph nodes and bones.
“I’ve been at the clinic once before, last year,” said Keogh. “They got it out of my lymph nodes, but once it’s in your bones, you’ve got it. But they’re managing it. So far, so good. Everything seems good at the moment. They’re happy with me.”
Keogh’s emotions following City Boy’s stirring victory by a head over the Robert Tiller-trained Reconfigure were matched by those expressed by City Boy’s rider, Campbell. One of the leading riders at Woodbine since 2011, Campbell will race for the final time at the Rexdale track on Monday and after that plans to move home to Chicago, where he will start up a residential heating and cooling business. Going out with a victory in a Grade 2 stakes race on a 24-1 long shot (City Boy paid $50.70 to win) with his wife Allyson and daughter Madison in attendance couldn’t have been sweeter for Campbell.
“From the eight pole to the wire, I’m just like, ‘please hold on. I might not ever get to feel a win like that again,’” Campbell said. “He picked the right day to run the race of his life.”
Campbell, 42, is not walking away from racing because of any major struggles with his weight or injury problems, or anything like that, but for family reasons — the same deal with Woodbine’s leading rider, Eurico Da Silva, who plans to retire at the end of the current season in December.
“They’ve put up with me being away for four years and before that my wife followed me around for 14 years. Enough’s enough. They’re irreplaceable,” said Campbell, who won the 2013 Queen’s Plate on Midnight Aria. “For me, time is worth more than money. My wife sacrificed for two decades following me around. I can’t do it no more. She told me yesterday, ‘If you want me to move back up here, I will.’ I’m not going to do that to her.
“When you still have business, it’s hard to walk away,” Campbell added. “In a perfect world, if Woodbine was in Chicago, I’d be riding until I’m 45. There are some really good people here. We got close to some people here and I can’t say that for every track we’ve ever been.”
City Boy, by City Zip out of Princess Ruckus, ran the six furlongs on Woodbine’s yielding turf course in 1:08.18 for owners Donald Howard and the Estate of Gustav Schickedanz.
Rounding the far turn it looked as though Yorkton would take it, but he was caught by Richiesinthehouse at the three-sixteenths pole. City Boy was moving well, as was Reconfigure, and it became a three-way battle to the line in the final eighth of a mile. City Boy held on gamely to hit the wire a head in front of Reconfigure, and Richiesinthehouse was just a neck back in third. Keogh felt that his gelding was due after just missing so many times in the last couple of years.
“If you watch a replay of his last race, he was five wide on the turn, the rail was out and he got bumped down the stretch,” said Keogh. “He gave away a lot of ground and he still finished third.”
As for his screaming “Come on, Johnny” late in the race, Keogh said it had nothing to do with his pal, John Siscos.
“That’s (City Boy’s) nickname,” said Keogh, with a laugh.