Written by: George Williams

Steve Gaskin will be hard pressed to improve on a stellar 2017.

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Trainer Steve Gaskin will have a tough time topping his 2017 season at Assiniboia Downs as he enters his third year as a trainer, but he’s already shown he can get the job done in numerous categories that elude ordinary trainers.

The 44-year-old Barbados native has never been one to brag about his accomplishments, but in his first two years as a conditioner he proved he could win with both first-time starters and horses coming off long layoffs. Even more impressive was the fact that the horses winning off layoffs were prepared in snowy Manitoba winter/spring training sessions. That’s tough to do. And Gaskin also proved he could win stakes.

In his first year as a trainer in 2016, Gaskin compiled a record of 12-12-17 from 101 starters for purse earnings of $94,974 and won the restricted Hazel Wright Sire Stakes for Bullets Buried Stable. In his second year as a trainer, Gaskin compiled a record of 23-20-23 from 135 starts for purse earnings of $201,253 and won an amazing six stakes, four with 4-year-old Media Melee and two with Manitoba-bred 2-year-old star Why So Blue.

Media Melee won four stakes from 5 ½-furlongs to 1 1/16-miles including the Major Enterprise, Free Press, Smoky Cinder and R. J. Speers. Why So Blue won his first lifetime start for Gaskin against open company in a Maiden Special Weight race and went on to take the restricted CTHS Stakes and Buffalo Stakes before being sent home to the farm with a perfect three-for-three record and a bright future.

Gaskin comes by his talents honestly, having been a former jockey in Barbados, but talent on the back of a horse doesn’t always transfer to talent on the ground as a trainer, as we’ve seen from many a jockey who has failed to make the grade in the conditioning ranks. Gaskin learned how to ride as a teenager in Barbados. His cousin Erskin Grimes had a pony and a thoroughbred in the Barbados, and Gaskin would stop by to ride the horses after school. Grimes also taught successful riders Renaldo Cumberbatch and Chris Husbands among others, and his teachings led to 33 wins as a jockey for Gaskin. You had to work for every mount you got according to Gaskin, and that work included cleaning stalls, grooming, anything that needed to be done, which turned out to be an education in disguise for Gaskin.

A chance meeting in Barbados in 2006 with Doug Addison from Assiniboia Downs resulted in Gaskin venturing to the Downs to exercise horses. He’s been in Canada ever since. And not only did he exercise some of the best horses on the grounds including Manitoba Derby winner Prime Time TV for the late great A. E. “Bert” Blake, Gaskin also worked on the gate crew and in the jocks’ room as a valet. The finishing touches he needed to take a shot as a full-fledged trainer came while working as an assistant trainer for Blair Miller, and in 2016 Gaskin finally took the plunge and started his own stable.

It didn’t take long for Gaskin to start winning, which was likely mainly due to the fact that he likes to spend time with his horses. He has grooms, but he’s not afraid to jump in and help, whether it be in the stalls or on in the saddle. For that reason, he knows his horses better than most, and his horses know him. Gaskin likes it that way and looks forward to the knickers and nods he gets when he enters the barn.

Gaskin started to get noticed when he defeated fit horses with charges coming off Manitoba winter layoffs. He continued to attract attention when he guided Media Melee on his stakes-winning roll for owner John Ganas in 2016. And his skilled work developing Manitoba-bred 2-year-old Why So Blue was the icing on the cake last year.

A big, smooth-striding gelding by Going Commando—Jungle Storm by Storm Boot, Why So Blue showed talent from the beginning and it was Gaskin’s job to harness it for owners Barry, Wayne and Scott Anderson, Bob and Margaret Crockett and Manitoba Jockey Club President Harvey Warner.

“He was very smart, and he always wanted to do more than I thought he was ready for,” said Gaskin. “So we had to be careful with him.”

Beautifully groomed by Jocelyn Edwards, Why So Blue always had something left in his workouts under jockey Prayven Badrie, and when he made his first start on July 29 he was more than ready. Dueling from the inside against some talented rivals that included a few race-fit horses, he drew off to win a Maiden Special Weight going 5 ½-furlongs by 4 ½ lengths.

It was more of the same in his next start, the $30,000 CTHS Sales Stakes going six-furlongs on Aug. 19, as Why So Blue forced the pace from the outside and drew off to win by four lengths. Stretched out to a mile for his final start of the 2017 season in the $25,000 Buffalo Stakes on Sept. 10, Why So Blue rated to the final turn before taking over and drawing off impressively to win by 16 ½-lengths, completing a perfect three-for-three season.

Why So Blue spent the winter at Florent Rivard’s farm in snowy Manitoba and thoroughly enjoyed his holiday according to Gaskin. He was slated to start back in training in early February. Gaskin will also have Why So Blue’s 2-year-old full sister under his tutelage for 2018, so he could be in for another big year. You won’t hear him bragging about it though.

Good trainers don’t do that.