Accomplished horseman Roger Attfield was so impressed by Canadian-bred horse Rapid Release, he wanted to buy him.
Problem was, a couple from California were pretty sure about him too.
In fact, they were so sure that when the mount came up for sale in Attfield's native England last fall, the couple paid $127,000 for it, outbidding the Canadian trainer.
But there was something else the couple were willing to bet on – Attfield himself.
"They wanted him, but wanted me as the trainer," Attfield said of owner David Mueller and his family, who operate under the formal name Dolantori Racing.
Given his track record, choosing the 69-year-old, who came to Canada in 1970, wasn't much of a gamble.
Attfield has trained a record-tying eight Queen's Plate champions, three of which have gone on to win Canadian Triple Crowns.
His last Queen's Plate victory came just last year, thanks to the work of horse Not Bourbon and expert rider Jono Jones.
This year's Queen's Plate, on the 150th anniversary of Canada's most prestigious horse race, will see Attfield and Jones come together again, with Jones set to ride Rapid Release at Toronto's Woodbine Racetrack on Sunday.
"It's special not just to me, but to everybody in the racing world," Attfield said. "It's like the Stanley Cup to a hockey player."
If they win, Attfield's ninth Queen's Plate title will put him ahead of Harry Giddings, who won his eighth Plate in 1942, when Attfield was two years old.
If that happens, it will be yet another record of many for Attfield, who was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1999.
Other claims to fame include an unprecedented six Sovereign Awards as Canada's leading trainer. He has also trained six Canadian horses of the year and in his more than 30 years at Woodbine has won more stakes races than most can recall.
Other numbers speak loudly.
As of November 2008, he had 8,380 starts, recorded 1,523 wins, placed second 1,229 times and came third in 1,130 races.
In total, his race earnings have reached nearly $73.4 million.
'A natural horseman'
Jones says much of Attfield's storied career can be attributed to his intuitive nature with horses – he has more than 40 under his charge at present.
"He literally looks at every aspect of them - their eyes, their ears. It's the detail he pays to the animal. Some [trainers] don't pay as much attention. I think he's just a natural horseman," Jones said.
While Attfield credits much of his success to a solid team of people around him, he also says, "I do believe I have a gift to really understand animals."
Treating them like human beings, he said, is key.
"I'm with my horses every day and I watch their attitude going to work. If I see a situation where a horse is not really that happy … I'll figure out if I'm doing too much with him, or whatever it is. It's important to understand that," he said.
"You've got to make sure the horse is in a happy environment, because they've got to be happy and healthy to run their best," he continued.
"If we're not happy in our job, we're not going to do a good job. Same with a child in school - if he's not happy in his class, he's not going to be his best."
As for his job, it's clear Attfield is more than content. With more than 30 years of training in the sport, there's no sign of stopping - at least, not just yet.
"The Kentucky Derby's still out there…. So that's obviously a major goal. And I haven't won the Breeders' Cup race either," he said, noting it's his love for horses that mostly keeps him going.
"I'm far more happy training horses in the morning than going to the races in the afternoon…. It's hard work, and there's a lot of disappointments, far more disappointments than highs, but I really enjoy it," he said.
Given his training schedule, he would have to. A typical day begins at 4 a.m. He's with the horses by 5:15 or 5:30 a.m.
"Some nights you go for dinner with the owners, and then crawl out of bed at 4 the next morning. It does get tougher as you get older," he chuckled.
Leaps and bounds
But one thing that hasn't changed is his success. Rapid Release came third in this year's Plate Trial.
"I feel very good about his chances, he's coming along in leaps and bounds," Attfield said.
Rapid Release has 11 starts to his name, more than any other Plate entrant. He placed second in two races run in England last year - that's when Attfield first saw the horse's potential for the Plate.
"Roger only got him in the winter, but every time I've ridden him he's improved," Jones said. "He came third in the Plate Trial, but Roger's won it eight times. He's going to have it spot on."
Attfield hopes the jockey is right.
"We were fortunate enough to win the Plate together last year….It would be very special to win the darn thing in the first place, but if the two of us do it together, it would be extra special," he said.
"But if he wins the Plate, I'll have wished I'd have bought him, won't I?"