At age 16, Patrick Husbands became the youngest rider to win the prestigious Cockspur Gold Cup, now known as the Sandy Lane Gold Cup. Today he is one of the most successful jockeys on the international circuit.
Having come from a horseracing family, it was no surprise when the young Husbands decided to pursue the sport of kings as a career. He followed in the footsteps of his dad, Walter and his two brothers – Anthony, an outrider at Woodbine Racetrack in Canada, and Simon, a US-based jockey.
“Anthony was the first . . . who was licensed to jockey, then it passed on to Simon who got his licence in Barbados and in six months he went off to Jamaica and achieved success, and I was the last . . . . I had been riding in Barbados for three-and-a-half years and in 1995 I moved off to Toronto,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“My brother Anthony, who moved here [Toronto] was begging me to come up here and start my riding career. I was having such a fantastic time in Barbados and enjoying myself as a teenager, I never had plans to come up here. I would just come on vacation.”
Husbands had visited the city several times before, but when the 19-year-old actually moved he quickly realized that visiting was much different from actually living there.
Adjusting to the cold while settling in at Woodbine was enough for him to make several attempts to return home, but his brother persuaded him to stay.
“He begged me to go to Fort Erie, which is in the Niagara Falls region and . . . I had to start all over again. My first ride I did, I won and I didn’t like it. I was more focused on going back home, and then Anthony begged me to stay at Woodbine and give it one more shot.”
Husbands agreed to stay. But it would be three years before his first major win at Woodbine. In 1998, he won the Royal North Stakes riding aboard Going to Extremes, and also captured the Kennedy Road Stakes with Uncle Woger. That year, he finished third overall in the standings.
Husbands’ performance was just a taste of what was to come. The following year he won the Sovereign Award, an accolade bestowed by the Jockey Club of Canada to outstanding thoroughbred riders and horses. He would go on to win seven more of those awards.
“It took me three years to get to the top . . . . But it was a rough road coming up in terms of riding at Woodbine. Jockeys from the Caribbean, everybody who go there, their experience is ‘it’s prejudiced’. But being there and working hard, to me I didn’t find it was prejudiced. I just found that nobody wanted to give in to the outsiders, they just wanted to keep everything ’round the Canadian circuit.
“But when they get to realize that the outsiders [were] there every morning and the outside riders like the guys from Jamaica, the guys from throughout the whole North American circuit, [were] doing good, then it start to change, then the Canadian riders start to falter, then it opened the doors for everybody,” he said.
Husbands believes it was his hard work that helped him overcome the early challenges.
“I’m a hard worker and I believe that for anybody to be successful in any business, in any sport, you have to work hard and keep your mouth shut. I used to work hard and hear people call me names and hear people say this about me, but I just worked and everybody see how I work and said ‘we should give him a shot’. And I’m proud of myself, and I’m proud of my brother for making me stick it out.”
Husbands is now one of the most successful jockeys in Canada, having won countless races and awards. In 2014, he won 170 races, and captured the Woodbine Oaks and Queen’s Plate.
At home, he was honoured for winning the Triple Crown in 2003 with Patrick Husbands Day at the Garrison Savannah in January 2004, which featured several Woodbine-based riders. He has also made the Independence Day honours list, receiving the Barbados Service Star.
Husbands’ advice to aspiring jockeys is to stay focused and work hard.
“It doesn’t matter where you start. People only read about you when you get successful . . . .The key to my success is: don’t let nobody pull you down and don’t let nobody stop you from doing what you love.
“You got to turn off your ears and do what you do best and forget about the whole world, just do what you got to do and you’ll be successful,” he said.
Husbands said the sound advice he got as a young rider from his father also put him in good stead.
“He taught me that horseracing is dog eat dog, don’t let the left hand know what the right hand is doing,” he added.
Although he has gained Canadian citizenship, Husbands’ heart is in Barbados. He remains busy on the track at Woodbine but the former Christ Church resident is still hoping to make it home for the 50th Anniversary of Independence celebrations next month.
“The rock of Barbados is a blessing.
I’ve been so busy, but I’m trying to make it back for Independence. You know, all Barbadians cannot wait for that day to come. I’m here based in Toronto and everywhere I turn everybody say they going home . . . . It’s amazing.”
Husbands continues to enjoy success on the track and has not given much thought to retirement.
“All my close friends begging me to do something else, play golf, but you know what? I’m just about the horses. I love horseracing. I don’t know when I retire what I’m going to do with my life, but I know it will be a bumpy road,” he said.