Both Doing What They Were Meant To Do

Trot Feature: Amanda Fine & Highland Mowgli

With a Standardbred trainer for a dad, 23-year-old Amanda Fine grew up around horses. Since she was a teenager, she’s known that all she wanted to do was be in the barn and train horses for a living, and now she’s doing it.

It’s her love of the animals that drives her, and her love of one animal, particularly a two-year-old trotting colt that’s almost died twice, that helped them become OSS winners in 2020 with hopefully the best days still to come for this young pair of fighters. By Dan Fisher.

❝I was around my dad’s horses from a very young age, but it was during my high school years that I really fell in love with them. My dad loved having me in the barn and coming along to help him race… my mom kind of thought that I should go to college or university. If I were sitting in school and wanted to get to the barn to be with the horses, I’d call my dad to come and get me – not my mom.❞ ~ Amanda Fine.

There aren’t many people in this world who are lucky enough to make a living doing something they love. In our late teens or early twenties, we’re asked to choose a career path, and basically spend the rest of our lives doing that thing – so why not be happy with our choice if at all possible?

“I truly looked up some different avenues… different [college] courses and things like that,” recalls Amanda of her late teens. “There was nothing that I found that came close to the way I felt about the horses. In my last two years of high school, I actually took a co-op in the second semester and went to the U.S. to work for my dad [Marty]… he was stabled at Pocono then and would go down to Florida after. I was down in the States with him, basically from January until September, then I came back home to Uxbridge for the first semester of Grade 12, took another co-op, and went back down to work for him again. I loved it.”

As soon as she graduated from high school, the now 23-year-old trainer went right back into her dad’s employ and has never looked back. Recently, with her dad, a career winner of 733 races and more than $8.5 million in purses, taking a step back, the younger Fine has branched out on her own beginning in May of 2019.

“My dad still comes around a bit,” shares Amanda, “especially if I have a tricky horse or am having a particular issue with one, but basically, he’s no longer interested in being around them and has pretty much retired. My mom [Van Till] eventually accepted the fact that this is what I want to do for a living,” she chuckles, “and now she’s actually working for me. She worked at Prince Lee Acres for 18 years – that’s how my parents basically met – so she brings a lot of knowledge to our stable.”

Working away at Classy Lane Stables in Puslinch, Ontario, with her trusty pup Ziya at her side, it’s easy to see that her work is not even like a job for Amanda Fine, and it might not even be a passion racehorse that stands out, as much as makes the true love of her animals. And for at least one of her current stable stars, that love is a big part of the reason he’s even alive today.

Highland Diablo. You’ve never heard of him. That’s because Amanda changed his name to Highland Mowgli – a two-year-old Archangel colt that has won an OSS Grassroots event this year and amassed $58,654 in just eight starts as he prepares for the Grassroots semi-finals. More on the name change later.

“Mary Clark of Highland Thoroughbred Farm is my biggest owner,” tells Amanda. “We have a really great relationship, and she’s been really good to me. I’ve been out to their farm several times, so I saw Mowgli as a baby… I didn’t really take to him more than any of the others at that time, though. Then, when he was just a few months old, he got an infection in his hock. I don’t know all of the exact details, but apparently, the infection started to travel through his body and got very close to his liver… if it did reach his liver, he would have probably died. They sent him to the university [of Guelph] for emergency surgery, and I was living in Guelph, so I went there to visit him every day during his stay. He and I started to develop a bond during all of my visits,” smiles Fine.

“Although he got really sick, they saved his life, and eventually he and [his] mom went back home, but he was quite skinny after that. He got pushed around by the other colts I think, and between his looks, and his big ugly hock, Mary decided to pull him out of the London Sale… she figured he wouldn’t bring enough to make it worth it. Mary knows that all of our horses are well cared for, and she really didn’t know what she’d do with him. She knew that I liked him from our nights at the university and she told me that knowing he’d have a good home, II could have him for $4,000. His dam [Gwyneth Hall] had produced a winner of over $800,000 [Godiva Hall], and I knew that I could never buy a pedigree like that for $4,000, so I bought him.”

Broke with the other babies, the skinny Archangel colt took to his work alright. He wasn’t flashy in any way – he was still on the thin side and had an ugly hock, but in the weeks that followed, something became apparent to his new owner/trainer that he wasn’t just right.

“He never got snot in his nose or coughed or anything, and we pulled blood and nothing was showing there,” recalls Amanda, “but he started going off of his feed sometime in December and he eventually developed a temperature. John Hennessey treated him with bute and Banamine for the temperature, and he tried a few different antibiotics, but nothing was working. He basically hadn’t eaten in days and at one point his temperature was almost 106 with bute and Banamine. I was coming back to check on him multiple times every day and night,” shrugged Amanda. “I spent hours outside of and in his stall. The only thing he’d eat was a little bit of grass. I’d leave the barn each day around one o’clock, come back about six to see if he’d eaten at all, take him out to let him nibble some grass, give him some more bute and leave. Then I’d come back again around ten and do it all again. He wasn’t getting any better though. Doc Hennessey had tried almost everything he could think of, and we discussed taking him back to the university, but he didn’t think they could do anything for him there that we weren’t doing at the farm. “

Frustrated that they didn’t seem to be helping her colt get past whatever this illness was, her frustration soon turned to panic, as one morning, things got drastically worse.

“We had about 22 horses at that time, and my dad had told me not ever to panic if something bad happened. He told me that if the staff saw me panic, they’d panic, but I got really scared one morning. I had just been there with Mowgli late the night before, and he was no worse, but when we came in that morning, his head and his neck had swelled up really badly, and when we put him in the ties, he was literally wheezing… he was gasping for air and could barely breathe – I thought he was going to die. I called my dad and said, ‘You told me to never panic in front of people, but my horse looks like he might die, so I need help,’” Amanda shares her memories of that awful morning.

“Doc Hennessey came right away and he gave him some things to blow out his lungs and help him breathe. He took a Serum amyloid A blood test and it showed that Mowgli had massive amounts of infection in his system – we really didn’t know if he would live. He said that there was a lesser-known antibiotic available that we could try, but it was truly a last-ditch effort, so we had nothing to lose, and he started him on it. For the next week or so, he was still nibbling grass, but then he actually ate some feed one day,” she smiles. “I had bought every different kind of feed there is during that last month or so but he wouldn’t eat any of it… now he was finally eating a bit. Slowly he started eating more and more, and I couldn’t believe the weight he was putting on. He probably went close to six weeks without jogging during his illness, and when we were finally able to start him back we just went about two miles a day for the first week. Eventually, he caught up and joined in with the others… we jog our babies together and leap-frog them before we start turning them. He was doing that with the others before any of them turned, so even though he lost time, he wasn’t terribly behind,” the proud trainer shares.

Mowgli was back to being a horse, and was starting to even look like a racehorse, with plenty of help, love and care from the young woman who was being a horse trainer – things that it seems both were absolutely meant to be. And yes, it was now ‘Mowgli’ and no longer ‘Diablo.’ “I changed his name to Highland Mowgli after the character in The Jungle Book. It’s a reversal of roles, but in that story Mowgli was the boy that was nurtured, cared for and raised by the animals. In our story, Mowgli is an animal that was nurtured and cared for by people… I just thought it fit,” she states.

Fit it does. Whether it’s the breeding, the trainer, the vet, the feed, the love, the care, or the battles he’s endured and his will to live, or whether it’s a combination of all these things, as it most certainly is, once Mowgli got healthy and learning the ropes of his trade, his will to succeed shone through. “He really has a lot of character and personality,” Amanda laughs. “On his days off, it actually takes two of us to walk him to his paddock. He didn’t really show that side until late March, though. When Covid really hit in mid-March, we shut them all down and just turned them out for 2 weeks… when we started them back jogging again, he was a different horse, a real character. He got training so well that we could only train him with our good Somebeachsomewhere colt [Highlandbeachsbest], and he was never out of place with him at all.”

When you see the name of Highland Mowgli in the program, however, you’ll see that he is still partly owned by Mary Clark’s Highland Thoroughbred Farm – how did that happen?

“Mary was out to see her Beach colt train one morning, and she saw Mowgli go with him and then spent a lot of time in the barn with him because he’s such a character. She couldn’t believe how he had turned out – we had been around 2:15 at that time – and she asked if she could repurchase half of him from me. I told her, of course, but he was now valued at $60,000. We agreed, and she bought half back. It’s been great for both of us as he’s making money, and Mary bred the dam back to Archangel.”

Making money, he is. In eight freshman starts, the good looking colt with the ‘funny’ hock has compiled a record of 1-3-1 for earnings just shy of $60,000, including a six-length romp in his latest, an OSS Grassroots victory at Woodbine Mohawk Park that sets him up beautifully for the semi-finals in early October.

The wins and the money seem fine to Miss Fine, but one gets the feeling that all of that is just a bonus to the entire scenario and that the money is truly secondary. When asked about her favourite horses from the past, she doesn’t have to think long – she still owns them and keeps them right at the farm where she lives.

“Alexas Jackpot [p,1:48.4s; $581,521] was my dad’s horse forever, and I really fell in love with him. I still have him at my house, and I ride him. I also recently bought one of my other favourites – Dianes Shark [p,1:52f; $177,172]. He was the first horse that I ever owned… I claimed him with my own money. He was just such a nice horse to be around that even though we only had him for two months [in 2014], he really found a place in my heart. After I noticed he was done racing, I tried to find him through social media, but I didn’t have any luck. Then four or five years later, I got a note from someone that said he was in the slaughter pipeline down in the States. I reached out to Michelle Crawford right away because she’s really involved with that sort of thing, and we found him. I made arrangements to buy him, but then Covid hit, and all the Doyle trucks were full, getting horses back from Florida. So we were able to get him to Carl Conte’s daughter… she’s been riding him and says that he’s got a home until I can arrange to get him brought back. I also have a miniature pony and my puppy, Ziya,” Amanda beams.

So what kind of ‘outside life’ do all of these animals and working hours leave for a bright and friendly 23-year-old? “The horses are really my life, and I’m happy with that,” shares the up-and-coming young trainer who captured a Metro Stakes elimination with her other stable star and Mowgli’s training partner, Highlandbeachsbest, on September 19th. That colt will line up from PP#4 in the $720,000 Metro Final on September 26 (after TROT goes to print) as Amanda attempts to become the youngest woman trainer ever to win that rich event. I was dating [driver] Ryan Guy during Mowgli’s illness, and I want to say that he was a huge help during that time. He was almost always there with me when I’d go back to the farm at night, and he gave me a lot of support when things looked bad. It would be tough to have a partner that wasn’t in our business and didn’t understand how things work, though. Our jobs really are a way of life.”

A way of life, no doubt, as anyone who has ever trained or groomed horses for a living knows. Getting up at 6 am on a cold winter morning, after five hours of sleep that followed a 14-hour workday in which you lost money, is not something that just anyone can do. It’s not a career for the faint of heart or mind, and it seems that Amanda Fine is neither. Amanda is an animal lover who knows how to train a horse – she’s also a woman that’s doing exactly what she was meant to do. Highland Mowgli, Highlandbeachsbest, Alexas Jackpot, and Diane’s Shark are just a few of the sure-to-be many that are much better off for it.

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