Written by: Kim Izzo
Queen’s Plate favourite, Dixie Moon, is connected to a Canadian equestrian dynasty through trainer Catherine Day Phillips.
Catherine was destined for a life with horses. Her grandmother, Mrs. C.F.W. Burns, was a life-long Thoroughbred breeder and owner, and a sponsor of Canadian Olympic dressage rider Cindy Ishoy and her iconic mount, Dynasty. Her father, Jim Day, won gold in show jumping at the 1968 Olympics, and her mother, Dinny, was an accomplished Thoroughbred racehorse trainer. Combine that pedigree with her husband, Todd Phillips, and his own family’s deep roots in equestrian sport and the odds are that you could predict that the equestrian legacy would continue.
Todd’s own family counts two show jumping Olympians in uncles Mac Cone and Jay Hayes, and his brother is professional polo player Brandon Phillips who spends his life traversing the globe playing in tournaments in places as near as Toronto, New York and Wellington and as far flung as Europe and South America. But it was Brandon’s older brother Todd, who first galloped across a polo field. “With Todd being older he obviously was into horses first,” said Brandon. “My entire mother’s side of the family were show jumpers and horse trainers, and our father also show jumped.”
By the time Brandon was born, Todd was already playing polo. And even though their mother started Brandon’s riding career by showing ponies, it wasn’t long before he caught the polo bug and followed in Todd’s footsteps. “My brother was a huge influence in teaching and practicing, he quickly became my role model growing up,” Brandon said.
Despite their heritage, ending up full-time horsemen wasn’t necessarily a predetermined path for the brothers. “Neither Brandon or I grew up thinking that we would be in the horse business,” admitted Todd. “But horses are definitely in our blood, I think the horses chose us.”
Todd’s own polo career took an unexpected turn in 1998 when he met the glamorous Catherine Day. After her mother passed away in 1983, her father encouraged Catherine to come to the track and train to be an exercise rider. “I really enjoyed watching the young horses develop into racehorses and develop through their career while I worked with my father,” explained Catherine. “I fell into training. My dreams came to reality.”
In addition to her horse racing career, she had also taken an in interest in polo and as fate would have it, Todd Phillips was her instructor. He asked her out – several times – before she gave in. “I was mortified at the thought of dating a polo player,” Catherine admitted with a laugh. “They didn’t have the greatest reputation.” But after getting to know Todd she soon realized he was a far cry from the cliché she had expected and the two married in 1999. The couple have two children, Blake and Colton, and run Catherine Day Phillips Racing, where Catherine trains client’s racehorses, as well as their own homebred program that race under the Kingfield Farms banner. They also manage a 40-horse barn at Woodbine during race season.
During his polo career Todd says he was more of a casual follower of racing, “But when I fell in love with Catherine I learned so much more about the intricacies of the sport that I was soon in love with racing too.” His role in the partnership is running their farm, which entails horses coming back for rest or rehab before getting them back to Catherine to continue training. “Catherine and I discuss everything, but she is definitely the brains of the operation,” he explained. “We inspect all of the yearlings at sales together and compare our notes before we buy or recommend any horses to clients. We have been married for almost 19 years and have worked together the entire time.”
Catherine was among the many Woodbine stars featured in the 2018 Queen’s Plate Style Guide:
We couldn't be more excited to share this year's Queen's Plate Style Guide with you! The 159th running of the $1M Queen's Plate takes place Saturday, June 30th as part of The 2018 Queen's Plate Festival. Get your tickets to the soirée of the summer now at http://www.QueensPlate.com!
Posted by Woodbine Racetrack on Monday, June 4, 2018
This year, one of the stand out horses under Catherine and Todd’s care is Dixie Moon, the three-year-old filly who beat favourite Wonder Godot at the Woodbine Oaks in early June. She had also beaten Wonder Gadot in last year’s GI Natalma Stakes. “She tries really hard,” Catherine said of the elegant filly by Curlin, who is owned by Dorothy and Sean Fitzhenry. “Last year, she was aggressive, now she’s more settled, which allows her to use her energy more efficiently and relax in the race and wait until she’s called upon.” Adds Todd, “Dixie has a very strong personality. She’s the queen of her world and will let you know if she disagrees with you. She has a huge ‘heart’ and burning desire to win. She is all class and all racehorse.”
This weekend Dixie Moon will try to beat the boys in the Queen’s Plate. A double win that has only been accomplished seven times, including last year’s Oaks/Plate winner Holy Helena. Should Dixie Moon find herself crossing the finish line ahead of the pack, it would mark Catherine’s first Queen’s Plate victory. “In Canadian racing the Queen’s Plate is very coveted. It’s the pie in the sky, the ultimate prize, it would be an important thing to do,” she said.
As for polo, she had to give that up due to time constraints with her busy horse training business. But she and Todd do make time to watch Brandon play, as they did this past winter in Wellington. “We had 18 horses wintering at Palm Meadows Thoroughbred Training Centre near Boynton Beach,” said Catherine. “That’s only about 15 minutes away from Wellington. Because we were so close we got to watch Brandon practice and see games. That was a lot of fun.”
If Catherine and Todd are big fans of Brandon, the reverse is also true. Brandon shows up at the track whenever he can, including this year’s Breeder’s Cup. “I have always followed horse racing and thoroughbred breeding, as many of our horses come from the track,” said Brandon. “What I truly respect and admire about Todd and Catherine’s approach to training is their dedication and consistency. It’s a 24/7 commitment to be trainers. And I still don’t know how they get up so early every morning!”
He will do his best to be at the Queen’s Plate this year, but of course his playing schedule might get in the way, not that that will prevent him for cheering for his favourite. “Of course I will be rooting for Dixie Moon!”
Queen’s Plate 101
Event: 159th Running of The Queen’s Plate, first jewel of the OLG Canadian Triple Crown
When: Saturday, June 30, 2018
Horse Type: Three-Year-Olds foaled in Canada
Woodbine Post Time: 12 p.m. ET
Queen’s Plate Post Time: TBD
Distance: One mile and two furlongs
Track Type: Tapeta
Location: Woodbine Racetrack, Toronto, ON
Race Record: Izvestia (1990), 2 min :01 4/5 sec
Winner to Receive: $600,000
Parking: Valet Parking: Gate 10 & 11 $35; Preferred Parking: Gate 12 & Lot A $25; General Parking: Lot B & C FREE
Online Betting: www.hpibet.com