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"I've been fortunate to represent a lot of good riders..."- a conversation with Bob Fowlis

Aug 11,2021 Curtis Stock for Horse Racing Alberta

It's not a coincidence. Name an Alberta champion jockey over the last 25 years and the chances are very good that one thing remains constant: Bob Fowlis will be or will have been that jockey's agent. "He knows every horse that's on the grounds," said Fowlis' leading jockey Rico Walcott, who has been with Fowlis since 2012.

Walcott, who came from Barbados in 2007, has been Alberta's leading rider every year since he joined up with Fowlis other than in 2019 when he had brain tumour surgery. "He does his homework pretty good," said Walcott, who is tied for the lead in the jockey standings with red hot Enrique Gonzalez, who had three more wins this past weekend while Walcott, for the first time in memory was blanked. "He's like a good teacher who has a class to teach. He does his studying. He's very good at what he does," said Walcott.

"Most of the time I just check the entries and see what I ride. I gallop horses in the mornings but mostly I just show up on race days and ride the horses he has picked out. If there are two horses in one race that he likes we'll discuss it together. Especially in stakes races. But most of the time I don't have much to stay. I have full confidence in him."

Dane Nelson, a jockey who is expected to return to Alberta in the near future after having trouble crossing the border because of Covid 19, once said almost exactly the same thing. "He's the man," Nelson said. "Whatever Bob says I ride. He knows everything. He's the one who does all the work. I just ride and try and deliver."

Before Walcott, Fowlis had the book for Quincy Welch who led the jockey standings eight years in a row in Calgary and five times in all of Alberta after also coming to Canada from Barbados - this time in 1997. And before Welch there was Real Simard, who Fowlis had when Simard was Alberta's top jockey for the first time in 1997.

There's no secret to Fowlis' success. He works hard and he's one of the best handicappers around. "The key to being a good agent is good riders, good horses and good trainers to deal with," said Fowlis, 63.

Working as a team, together Fowlis and his riders have been dynamite for a long time. "I remember a former agent, Garth Tobin, once saying to me 'You sell Coca-Cola; I sell 7-Up,'" said Fowlis, who got started in horse racing when he used to go to the races in the 1970s with his father, John, a former Calgary race manager.

At first Fowlis never really thought about being an agent. "I wanted to be a trainer," said Fowlis, who was born in Manitoba, lived in Saskatoon for a while and then moved to Edmonton in 1971. Fowlis worked at Northlands doing labour and as an equipment operator - until moving to Calgary in the early 1990s.

"I went to work with former trainer Ira Donald one spring and fall around the same time - the early 1990s. But I soon realized it was going to take way too long to be a trainer. Ira said I should try to be an agent; so did trainer Dale Saunders. I spoke to John Heath, who was the top agent for many years, and decided that maybe that was something I should try."

Starting out with jockeys Jamie Santos and Rick Stevens in 1996, Fowlis also picked up Simard, who had briefly retired as a jockey before making a most successful return. Fowlis' success came quickly and it never changed. Year after year he has almost always represented the leading rider. He has also had plenty of other solid riders. This year in addition to Walcott, he also represents Antonio Whitehall, who is tied for third with Rafael Zenteno Jr. - each with 23 wins just seven behind Walcott and Gonzalez- and Corrine Andros.

"You try to know every horse on the grounds; you try to know how each horse is doing," said Fowlis. "I chart every race in a binder I walk around with. One tries to find the best horses for my jockeys. It's as simple as that."

But the sport has changed a lot over the last several years. "There is just less of everything. There are less horses, less trainers winning races, less races and less horses per race. There's just not enough mounts to go around for everybody. We used to have 110 days of racing a year. Now we're lucky to be racing 50. Hopefully it will get better; we are anticipating 65 races a year in 2022. It's more and more difficult to make a living now then it was before. When I started out and they were racing 100 days a year my riders would win 3-400 races a year. Last year we won about 120 races. And there will be less this year."

Agents get a percentage - which can vary but is most commonly 20 to 25 per cent - of how much their jockeys win which is why it's so important for an agent to find winning horses for their riders. Usually at the track by 6:45 a.m. five days a week, Fowlis and other agents 'hustling book' visit with the trainers to find out if they have any horses to ride.

A salesman offering a product, always carrying a condition book which shows what races the racing secretary has carded - this weekend's condition book has 30 races of which seven or eight of the races won't fill - Fowlis said "Some trainers come to me but mostly I go and see them and see if they have any horses for us to ride."

Some trainers will give you a 'call' to ride their horses four or five days before a race. Some will give you a call the day before. Some wait until entry mornings. Highly respected, Fowlis said the toughest part about being an agent is trying to keep everybody happy.

"When you have to tell someone you can't ride their horses it's hard. You can only ride one horse in a race. Turning someone down can be tough. Some of the trainers I deal with are my friends. I kind of feel like I'm disappointing them. You try to balance everything so it doesn't hurt your business too much. I try to be honest and professional."

Almost every jockey has an agent though some riders try and do it on their own. In the early days of horse racing, agents were almost non-existent. The big stables employed contract riders and if a jockey wanted to ride a horse that wasn't part of those stables they needed permission to do so. Now, it's virtually wide open with agents trying to lure the best horses no matter what.

"I've been fortunate to represent a lot of good riders and work with a lot of good trainers," said Fowlis, a former athlete who competed in football - with the Edmonton Huskies two years as a tailback, two years as a wide receiver - hockey, golf, rugby, ran track and field, baseball and basketball, Fowlis also coached the Ross Sheppard senior high school basketball team to two provincial championships in 1988 and 1990.

"I've been fortunate and blessed to work with so many good riders over the last 26 years."

STOCK REPORT - There were two two-year-old stakes races this past weekend at Century Mile - both on Friday night. Perhaps not surprising, leading trainer Tim Rycroft won them both: the $50,000 Canadian Juvenile for two-year-old colts and geldings and the $50,000 Princess Margaret for two-year-old fillies.

Asyoubelieve went wire to wire after briefly stumbling at the break to win by eight and a half lengths to win the Juvenile. Owned by Shot In The Dark Stable, Asyoubelieve was coming off a 15 1/2 length maiden-breaking effort. The winning time was a swift 1:09.94.

"The colt was very impressive. He ran like we thought he could. But they're babies. So you never know. He's improved every week. Every week he gets more mature. He used to be a handful. But he settled down. He was good going in the gate. He was good in the paddock. He looked around a little bit down the stretch. Mauricio (jockey Malvez) did a good job with him. He's got a big set of pipes on him. He doesn't seem to get tired. It looks like he'll run on."

Then it was Diplomatica who stormed up from mid pack to win the Princess Margaret by a length and a quarter over She Loves Winnin in 1:12.28. Owned by Crystal Cates and Gonzalo Anderson, she came off a wide, second-place finish in her maiden debut.

"She started in Florida. Crystal bred her. Enrique (jockey Gonzalez) gave her a good ride too. She could have hung down the stretch but she too looks like she wants more ground. She ran a very professional race. The colt just did it on raw talent. He blew out of there and they couldn't catch him."

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