Bobby Raymond was preparing to start his Thoroughbred training career in the late 1970s when Emilio Rodriguez, a conditioner at Suffolk Downs in East Boston, invited him to learn how to talk with horses.
Teacher and pupil sat outside Rodriguez’s barn, their eyes trained on one of his runners. Other than an occasional reminder from Rodriguez to “keep listening,” little conversation took place.
Finally, after about three hours of observation, the horse shifted a front leg awkwardly. “You see, he just talked to us,” Rodriguez said. “That’s where he’s hurting.”
During the last 40-plus years, Raymond has never lost sight of his mentor’s instruction in “listening” to his horses. “They do ‘talk’ to you. They teach you things, if you just read what they’re saying,” said Raymond, the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month.
Kathy and Bobby Raymond outside the Tampa Bay Downs paddock
The 74-year-old Woonsocket, R.I., product has been conversing with horses, owners, fellow trainers, bloodstock agents, jockeys, exercise riders, grooms and bettors since beginning his career at Suffolk Downs in 1979, a few years after marrying Kathy, his wife of 48 years.
They knew entering the business that horse racing is filled with peaks and valleys, but the highs have far outweighed the lows. Raymond has trained 1,288 career winners, winning the 2019 Inaugural Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs with Zaino Boyz. He continues to compete successfully at the Oldsmar oval, where he currently is tied for ninth in the meet standings with 11 victories.
On Saturday’s Festival Day 42 card, no trainer won more races than Raymond – well, Chad Brown did, but no one else. Raymond sent out Joseph Gentile’s 4-year-old Florida-bred filly Night Cap to win the first race, the $38,000 Manatee Overnight Handicap, then won the third race for maiden claiming horses with John Marceda’s 3-year-old gelding Rocky Dice.
“I’m an old guy. Winning a race is winning a race,” said Raymond, who seemed more excited when Clarke Cooper – the colorful co-breeder-owner of Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby winner Classic Causeway – took a picture of the Raymonds after Night Cap’s victory.
“What a friendly guy,” Raymond enthused a few days later. “Here’s this guy who owns his own jet, excited for us to win that race – just unbelievable.”
Certainly, the backstretch community at any racetrack is close-knit, and trust is the foundation of a successful Thoroughbred operation. Raymond has been training too long to think he knows everything, and having three extra sets of eyes during the morning is invaluable to his ongoing success.
On a recent pleasant morning on the Tampa Bay Downs backside, Raymond sat in a golf cart while his assistant, Pedro Posadas; exercise rider Alex Mendieta; and groom Arturo Dela Cruz attended to the 10-horse string. In addition to their galloping duties, Posadas and Mendieta both own a few horses, and the men bounce ideas off each other throughout training hours.
“It’s a team thing. Without these guys I couldn’t do anything,” Raymond said. “I’m having a little trouble walking, and the only time I run is when I win a race.
“They’ll all tell me what they think is wrong with a horse, or what they think needs changing, and we’ll make a decision what needs to be fixed. Just like any other good barn. If that doesn’t work, we’ll try something different. We’ve had a lot of success here the last month, and it’s been all of us working our butts off, talking and asking questions.”
The Raymonds have a 23-acre farm, Bobkat Stable, in North Smithfield, R.I., cared for by the trainer’s brother Fred. Raymond plans to head to Delaware Park when the current Oldsmar meeting wraps up in early May.
Raymond enjoys regaling visitors to the barn with tales from his heyday at such New England racetracks as Suffolk Downs, Narragansett Park, Lincoln Downs and Rockingham Park, all now sepia-hued memories. He has trained two outstanding mares he considers virtually inseparable in ability: Technically Wicked, who earned $221,195 from 15 wins and 15 seconds, and Dreamed a Dream, who earned $221,177 from 10 victories.
Raymond’s love affair with horses goes back as far as he can remember, to when an uncle took him to Bobkat Stable when he was 4 and bought him a pony (it’s so easy hooking kids that age on horses). He enrolled in a blacksmith school in Oklahoma when he was 21 and after returning home to Woonsocket, he went to work shoeing horses. He worked on various racetrack starting gate crews before taking over 12 horses from Rodriguez and going out on his own in 1979.
After those two Festival Day 42 winners, as it turned out, Raymond would need one more to earn the Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Award. It certainly couldn’t happen in Sunday’s fourth race with Mendieta’s 5-year-old mare Magicgirl, could it? At 29-1, the longest shot in the race?
But when he delivered the pre-race instructions to apprentice jockey Madeline Rowland, Raymond detected a familiar spark. It was the same look of brazen confidence he saw in the late Jill Jellison, a jockey he mentored during a career that produced 1,913 victories before she died in 2015 after battling breast cancer.
“It seems like when I see these young kids starting out as jockeys, I think of Jill,” said Raymond, who predicted Jellison would become a jockey when she was 4 and later hired her to work at his farm after she dropped out of high school.
“We did very good together,” Raymond said after Jellison’s death. “Every horse she got off of she tried to help.
“She was tough. She was kind. And she loved her animals.”
On Sunday, it felt kind of eerie watching Rowland, who appears to possess those traits, carry out Raymond’s orders to the letter in the 7-furlong race – taking Magicgirl back to last early, then finding position along the rail to commence a stretch-long drive that resulted in a neck victory.
“I could see Jill all over again,” Raymond said.
That’s two, OK, three Magicgirls if you’re counting, helping to remind folks of guys such as Salt Rock Tavern Trainer of the Month Bobby Raymond – individuals who devote their lives to a sport in which the valleys are merely temporary dips on the climb to the peaks.
Around the oval. Leading jockey Samy Camacho rode three winners today. He won the first race on 7-1 shot Pretty Princess, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Tage Boohit and trained by Karyn Philipp. Camacho added the sixth with 3-year-old gelding Oxbow Kid, owned by Anthony Munoz and trained by Donald F. Hunt. Oxbow Kid paid $54.60 to win.
Camacho’s third winner came in the seventh race on the turf with 9-10 favorite Forbidden Dream, a 4-year-old Florida-bred filly owned by Rod Garcia, Inc., and trained by Juan C. Avila.
Thoroughbred racing continues Saturday with a 10-race card beginning at 12:15 p.m. The card features four turf races, including a pair of $30,000 maiden special weight races, the sixth and the 10th.
Tampa Bay Downs races on a Wednesday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, with the exception of Easter Sunday, April 17, when the track is closed. Otherwise, the Oldsmar oval is open every day for simulcast wagering, no-limits poker action and tournament play in The Silks Poker Room and golf fun and instruction at The Downs Golf Practice Facility.
“Kids & Family Day” is Sunday. An additional “Kids & Family Day” celebration will be held in the Backyard Picnic Area during Sunday’s card. Admission is free.
The event gives newcomers to racing a low-key introduction to the sport, while providing plenty of fun for the youngsters, including bounce houses, carnival games and fun food items. Attendees will have an opportunity to meet track mascot Mouse the Miniature Horse.
Patrons are allowed to pack their own lunches for a full day of entertainment and racing.
Post time for Sunday’s first race is 12:15 p.m.