It was a banner day, literally and figuratively, for the beloved champion and those who had gathered to welcome him to his new home.
The racing rockstar received the warmest of receptions on a cloudy, chilly day at the expansive 100-acre farm in Erin, Ontario, the serene place where over 50 retired Thoroughbreds reside.
A banner heralding Pink Lloyd’s arrival waved as the striking chestnut stepped off the van after the 50-minute trek from trainer Robert Tiller’s barn on the Woodbine backstretch.
Over one of Canadian racing’s most remarkable careers, ‘Pinky’ made a lasting impression on those fortunate enough to watch him race and the many more who tracked his numerous exploits.
At his new home base with LongRun, one of the continent’s most respected horse retirement and adoption organizations, and the first industry-funded adoption program in Canada, he made an impactful first impression on a new group of admirers.
“The second he walked off the trailer, he struck a pose,” said Lauren Millet-Simpson, LongRun’s farm manager. “He knows he’s special. He’s a true professional. He took everything in stride. He knows he’s important, but at the same time, he’s a gentleman. He likes the attention, but he’s also super respectful. It will be really cool to work with a horse like that.”
His entourage on that early December morning at LongRun included Frank Di Giulio, Jr, one of Canadian racing’s highest profile owners and lead member of Pink Lloyd’s ownership group, Entourage Stable.
Seeing the nine-year-old son of Old Forester settle in nicely to his new surroundings was yet another special moment for Di Giulio.
“He received a great welcome. To see how he was welcomed, the support he’s received the last few days, it’s overwhelming that’s he been so well loved from all over. It’s nice to know he’ll be at a place where he’ll be well looked after, so appreciated, and be able to enjoy himself.”
For Pink Lloyd’s connections, it was yet another fairytale ending for the future Canadian Horse Racing Hall of fame inductee.
Less than a week earlier at Woodbine, Pink Lloyd put the finishing touches on an outstanding career with a brilliant score in the Grade 2 Kennedy Road Stakes.
Charging hard down the lane, he roused the crowd to its feet as they feted the decorated star with a chorus of cheers at the wire and then as he made his way to the winner’s circle.
Smiles, tears and the highest of praise awaited Pink Lloyd.
“I think it's amazing,” said Tiller in his Kennedy Road post-race interview. “You know, he's a legend. He proved today he was a legend. I didn't think he'd win today. It looked awful tough to me and the only thing I liked was all the speed in the race because I've been saying all along, and not too many people listened, but he loves to run at horses. I was just hoping Rafi [jockey, Rafael Hernandez] would get room. I said at the head of the lane, ‘You know what? Here he comes.’ We're blessed to win this race and it's a tremendous way to go out. You know he's been Woodbine's horse and he's been Canada's horse.”
It was fitting ending to a racing life that yielded 29 wins, 26 of them stakes, three seconds and two thirds, from 38 starts, 2017 Canadian Horse of the Year honours and over $2.4 million (CDN) in earnings.
His numerous triumphs include four straight (2017-2020) champion male sprinter trophies and a pair of champion older male titles in 2017 and 2019.
In 2017, Pink Lloyd won all eight of his engagements, en route to his Horse of the Year title. He won four consecutive editions of the Vigil Stakes and Jacques Cartier Stakes, along with three triumphs in the Shepperton, Kenora and Kennedy Road.
Not bad for a $30,000 purchase at the 2013 Canadian Premier Yearling Sale.
Bred by John Carey, Pink Lloyd’s popularity isn’t likely to wane even though his days of taking on the best sprinters in Canada are over.
The crowd-pleasing gelding will continue to draw big crowds on a new stage.
“I hope people take advantage of it,” said Di Giulio. “I hope he is a nice attraction for LongRun and brings attention to what they do. It really is a win-win for everybody. He’s so well loved. Even if people don’t know a lot about horse racing, they’ve heard who Pink Lloyd is. Hopefully, he can attract new fans as well. To see him right up-close, that’s a rare chance for a lot of people.”
Photo opportunities with Pink Lloyd for those who visit LongRun won’t be an issue for the sought-after celebrity.
“He stands for photos like he knows what he’s doing,” noted Di Giulio.
A picture-perfect horse for an organization that continues to play a major role in the welfare of retired Thoroughbreds.
“He is so relaxed and chill,” said Millet-Simpson. “He’s never been here before and he doesn’t know who I am. I’m holding him, his head is up and he’s so proud. He just calmly looked around, took in his surroundings, checked out everything… you can tell how super intelligent he is in the way he looked around when he first got here, checking things out to see what was happening. To have a horse like him with us, it’s just wonderful.”
Pink Lloyd’s connections, which also includes assistant trainer Tom Lottridge and groom Michelle Gibson, might have to stand in line to reconnect with their beloved horse, but none of them perceive it as a negative.
Knowing that racing fans, young and old, new to the game or longtime supporters, can meet one of the sport’s true talents face-to-face, is an honour for those closest to him.
“He’s going to be here for many, many years to come,” started Di Giulio. “I’m biased, but I think he’s one of the greatest Canadian-breds ever, especially, Ontario-sired, I’m proud of that too. What he’s accomplished and his longevity, I think that’s what makes any athlete great, is when they can do it over and over again. The Gordie Howes and the Wayne Gretzkys, that’s exactly what they did. I think that makes him so special. Knowing he’s going to be well looked after is really very comforting. I don’t think we could have ended his career any better than the way he did. We got to race him for a long time and watched him accomplish so many great things, so now other people can have their chance to see what it’s like to be so up-close with him.”
A rare opportunity, offered Millet-Simpson, to make a connection, even for a brief moment, with a Canadian horse racing icon.
“Fans, they see these horses on the track, but now they get to see this beautiful horse and feed him a carrot. You don’t get to do that very often. So, that personal interaction with a great champion, I think it’s going to be very cool for people, something they will always remember.”