Trainer of the Month at Tampa Bay Downs, Michael Wright (left), with groom Michael Whitelaw, jockey Isabelle Wenc,, and 7-year-old mare Nantucket Red, owned by Colebrook Farms
Jockey Isabelle C. Wenc was grateful for the opportunity to ride Call Her Joey for trainer Michael Wright in a one-mile turf claiming race on Dec. 31 at Tampa Bay Downs. The (then)-5-year-old mare won, giving Wright his fourth consecutive victory of the meet and providing Wenc with a memorable Oldsmar oval debut.
Strange as it sounds, though, a trip to the winner’s circle takes a backseat to the continuing education Wenc receives around Wright’s barn, where the conditioner inspires employees through his devotion to the horses – and his insistence that everyone, including himself, be able to take a joke.
“It’s fun coming to work. He loves the sport, and he has a good sense of humor,” said trainer Mike Dunslow, who works for Wright as an assistant at Tampa.
“If I were to have any kind of question, he is somebody I can go to and ask, and he doesn’t even make you feel silly,” said Wenc, a 27-year-old Saskatchewan product who is working for Wright this season as an exercise rider. “It’s fun coming to work because he trusts your opinion. We all butt heads occasionally, but we get along pretty well and have a main goal in mind.”
Four consecutive victories is a rarity for any trainer or jockey, but Wright seemed to take it in stride.
“When you come with the right horses, it’s not difficult, I guess,” he said.
The streak started on Dec. 17 with a pair of victories, one by (then)-3-year-old gelding Decimator, owned by Colebrook Farms, in a claiming sprint and the next by 6-year-old mare Nantucket Red, also owned by Colebrook, in a one-mile allowance/optional claiming race on the turf. On Dec. 29, Wright won a claiming sprint with 5-year-old mare Distinctly Blue, who was claimed from the race.
Call Her Joey, claimed by Wright from her previous start on Nov. 5 at Woodbine, is owned by Wright’s wife, Gina Wright.
A clear-cut choice as the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month for his 4-for-4 start, Wright is in the latter stages of a career that has seen him scale some peaks. In the 1990s, he trained for leading Canadian owner Bruno Schickedanz, with Wright averaging 66 winners a year from 1991-1995, primarily at Woodbine in Toronto.
Their top horse together was the Ontario-bred Scotzanna, who won a pair of Sovereign Awards in 1995 as Canada’s Champion Sprinter and Champion 3-Year-Old Filly. Her major victories that year included the Grade 2 Prioress Stakes at Belmont Park under jockey Robin Platts.
“She was a good horse right from the start,” Wright said of the $10,000 yearling auction purchase. “She’s the best horse I’ve ever had.”
Wright, a Manchester, England product, moved with his family to Toronto when he was 14. He sent out his first starter in 1967 or 1968 at Woodbine and has compiled 795 victories. He began competing at Tampa Bay Downs during the 2013-2014 season. It marked a pleasant change from cold winters spent at Woodbine and Laurel in years past.
“We went on a cruise to Mexico, and when we got back I said, ‘Let’s stay here (Florida) for a while.’ We bought a house and now my wife lives here year-round while I go back to Woodbine in the summer.”
Wright’s son, Michael Wright, Jr., won a Sovereign Award in 1998 as Canada’s Outstanding Trainer. Younger son Andrew helps his father throughout the summer at Woodbine, while a daughter, Natalie, works at a golf course in Maryland.
Wife Gina’s brothers, Dale and Gary Capuano, are trainers, with Gary having trained 1997 Kentucky Derby runner-up Captain Bodgit.
Wright’s reputation for patience results in usually getting the best efforts from his horses.
“He understands them. He takes good care of them and spots them well,” said Dunslow.
Wright also understands people. A groom, Michael Whitelaw, who has been with him for decades, says “he treats me like his son.”
Although his pace has slowed, Wright is having too much fun to contemplate retirement.
“You have to keep going, because if you stop, all of a sudden it’s over,” Wright said. “I’ve been fortunate. I’ve always liked the game, and I like to be here in the mornings.”
His ongoing presence is mighty reassuring.
“It’s nice to work for somebody who genuinely loves what they do,” Wenc said. “It’s a fun environment to be part of.”
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