Thanks to Veronica Gizuk
Sep 08, 2021
Growing up in Brampton, Ontario, 27-year-old Nicholas Tomlinson never imagined he’d be where he is today. Nicholas currently lives in Boyton Beach, FL, and is an assistant trainer for HOF trainer Mark Casse at Palm Meadows Training Centre. He met Mark at Keeneland back in 2015 and expressed his interest in furthering his career in horse racing, the pair exchanged numbers, and a few months later, Nicholas started working for Mark and has been with him since.
Nicholas was brought into racing at a young age when his parents parted ways. He would spend weekends and summers with his father, and most of their time would be spent at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. “Anyone that knows horse racing knows that it’s a lifestyle; most of our time together was spent at the track,” said Tomlinson. At 13, he started walking hots for Peter Berringer on weekends and in the summer. After spending a year walking, Nicholas wanted to learn how to groom. Peter would let him groom the odd horse, so he was able to start gaining experience. Nicholas went on to work for Mike Pino until landing himself a job with now-retired trainer Malcom Pierce and his wife, Sally. While working for the couple, Nicholas would spend his afternoons on race days working the starting gate. After a lot of hard work and dedication, he wrote his assistant license under Malcom. Nicholas was successful and received his AT license, and started doing a lot of their traveling when the pair would ship horses.
Being the main AT in Florida, it’s safe to say Nicholas spends most of his time in the barn or at the track. With Gulfstream Park being the closest to Palm Meadows, that is where the majority of the Casse FL string runs, with the odd few shipping to Tampa Bay Downs. This past winter Nicholas had both 2021 Kentucky Derby starters Helium and Soup and Sandwich training with him. Helium went on to win the Tampa Bay Derby impressively. “I gave Nick a lot of praise for Helium’s victory, and I mean that because Nick did a wonderful job with Helium,” said Mark. Over the years, Nicholas has proved himself to be a vital part of team Casse; this summer, the duo sent out an impressive 21 winners.
Q & A with Nicholas Tomlinson
Q: This year, you saddled your first KD starter Soup & Sandwich. What emotions were you feeling in that moment?
A: In the moment and moments after, there were a lot of thoughts, reflecting, and emotions. I reflected on where I started and how far I’ve come. Knowing only 20 horses each year make it into that starting gate and, for some trainers, they never get that opportunity; for me, it was one of, if not the, biggest highlight I’ve ever had in racing. Also, how far the horse had come in such a short amount of time. Our team did an amazing job with both horses to get them to the derby. Overall it was a very proud moment, and I’m very grateful to Ms. Weber, Mark, and David Carroll for the opportunity to saddle him.
Q: Favourite racehorse you’ve worked with?
A: That’s an extremely difficult question to answer. I’d have to say March to the Arch. He’s more than a horse to me. I could be having the worst day, and he would find a way to make it better.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: I like figuring out a horse as a team and seeing them thrive in the mornings and afternoons. Especially if they’re a difficult horse, it makes it that much sweeter.
Q: Do you plan to go out on your own?
A: I do plan to go on my own by the time I’m 35. If the right opportunities come along, it could be sooner… we’ll see how long it takes Mark to retire 🤣
Q: What does a typical day at the barn look like for you?
A: Every day is different. On dark days we train from 5:30-9ish. After training, I’ll do our training chart, setlist, entires if we have any, and if there’s any horse that needs to be checked again, we’ll pull them out and go over them. I come back for feed in the afternoon; once everyone leaves, I’ll look at the PP’s for our upcoming races then head home. Race days are an all-day affair. When training is finished, I’ll get ready then come back for my crew that I’m taking with me to the races. We’ll head down to Gulfstream and hope to have some racing luck.
Q: What’s something you would like to see change within the industry?
A: There’s a lot that could be changed. In saying this, it’s just my personal opinion; not everyone will agree. I think that the Kentucky derby ruling has gone on too long. If you break a rule, you should be punished for it. I know if I break a rule and I’m punished for it, then that’s my fault and, I take full responsibility for my actions. Having this drug out, to me, makes our industry look bad but, it also gives the people who are willing to take an edge more confidence to do so. If it comes back on them, they can say, “well, if he’s getting away with it, why can’t I” no matter who you are, rules are rules. If this were a $6,250 claiming race on a Thursday afternoon, it would have been all over with by now.
Q: Since you’re from Canada, do you prefer the Florida Heat over the Canadian winters?
A: Weather-wise, there’s no doubt about it. I’ll take the Florida heat over the cold winters any day. Canada’s home will always be home. If I could have my family, friends, and career with great weather year-round, I’d have a perfect life.
Q: What do you think racing needs to do to attract the younger generation?
A: I feel like a lot of people don’t really know what goes on behind the scenes. If we could offer job shadowing, apprenticeships, even scholarships for young teens to come and work for a summer and at the end they’re granted a little scholarship towards college I feel like it would attract the younger generation. I think syndicates like Nexus are a great thing to get younger people involved. If we could have a similar concept to Nexus or even Darley Flying start and take them behind the scenes, have them work, and give them different venues to choose from, I think it would attract younger people to our industry.
Q: If you were to look back where you started, did you imagine you’d be where you are today?
A: Looking back, I would have never thought I’d be where I am at a young age. I always thought I’d never leave Canada. Everything has worked out for the best, and I’m grateful for every person and horse that’s helped me get to where I am today.
Q: Favourite Racetrack to run at?
A: SARATOGA. The racing, the crowds, that walkover when you’re in a big race, there’s no other feeling like it.