Janeen’s Wall. (Woodbine Photo)
Chris Lomon, Woodbine Communications
TORONTO, On. –There is a quote that adorns one of the walls on the first floor of Woodbine Racetrack, 14 words that never fail to make people stop and take pause.
“My connection with my horses is based on respect, unconditional love, kindness and patience.”
For longtime Thoroughbred groom Janeen Lalsingh, the quote, her own, is far more than words of wisdom. Rather, it is a genuine expression of her bond with the horses she tends to and for everyone that resides on the Woodbine backstretch.
Any photo of Lalsingh together with a horse captures, without fail, the unabashed joy and connection she feels in that moment.
“They are all individuals, and you treat them in that way. You never treat them all the same, other than being good to them. Some need a little more motivation, some need a little more attention, and some horses are all business.”
Born in Valsayn, a town found in the East-West Corridor in northern Trinidad and Tobago, Lalsingh, who has been around horses almost her entire life, began working as a groom at Woodbine in 2002.
Over the years, Lalsingh, whose family has been involved in horse racing for three generations in her homeland, has groomed in several barns.
This year, she is looking after five horses for a familiar face in multiple graded stakes winning conditioner Gail Cox. Lalsingh previously worked for Cox in 2020.
“I spent 11 years with Sam-Son, through [trainer] Malcolm Pierce and I worked for Gail the year after Malcolm retired. I groomed some very nice horses with Gail, including Count Again and Tio Magico, when he was two. I used to go visit Gail all the time when I was working for [retired trainer] Danny Vella, because she’s also a friend. So, I know the horses.”
These days, familiarity with the horses comes through familial ties.
“This year, it’s going to be new horses for me. So, it’s going to be different than in previous years. I know some of the horses in Gail’s barn. I know All Canadian because I groomed him as a 2-year-old. I also know Ready to Repeat and Dancin in Da’nile. I know some of the Sam-Son horses because I groomed their moms or their siblings. I know Gail has a few of those who were bred by Sam-Son. It’s very strange going in there now and thinking, ‘I groomed your mother.’”
Lalsingh has already made connections with the handful of horses under her care.
On this day, a trip to a local grocery store yielded a bountiful haul for Barn No. 38.
“The girls at the checkout, they know why I’m there. From the time I start putting apples and carrots on the conveyor belt, they know. They know all the things that I buy to spoil my horses with.”
And make no mistake, Lalsingh does spoil her horses.
“I look at my life in the barn as my gym. I get my physical workout and I also get a good mental health workout too. If you give to the animals, they give back to you. The horses, they understand you and react to how you treat them. I have fun at feed time because I get to see all the other horses in the barn. I get along with them all. I will give them a treat and interact with them. My five, they understand me, and I understand them. These horses that came in from their time in Florida with Gail, they love carrots. I’m making friends with them that way.”
Lalsingh has developed a fondness for working with and helping develop young Thoroughbreds.
This year, one in particular caught her eye the moment he walked into the shedrow.
“I look forward to the babies. There is a Mendelssohn colt out of the Malibu Moon mare Jademarie, who I am grooming. His name is Maestros Music. He looks like something, a real racehorse. His physique, his presence… he’s very smart too. I love working with 2-year-olds because you are part of their development.”
Whether they win or lose, horses under Lalsingh’s care all receive the same reception after the race is over.
Some, she believes, know when they’ve won.
“I think they know they’ve done something good. Maybe they are thinking that it is a game. In the morning, when you put two together, you will sometimes see that one is more competitive than the other. I had one particular filly, Unto the Hills, a few years ago. When she won, we’d have to take her to the test barn. There was one time, she thought she won – it was a blanket finish – but she finished fifth. Instead of going back home, she wanted to go to the test barn. I had to tell her we were going home, but in her mind, she was saying, ‘But I won!’
“They know they have done something well because they pick up on your feelings, your emotions. I am totally exuberant. If it’s a stakes race, your emotions are off the charts, but even if it’s another race, I’m always excited and happy. If they don’t win or aren’t in the top four or five, I always give them some positive reinforcement. I will pat them and talk to them. My mind is focused 100 percent on them after the race too. I find my horses react to me through my tone of voice. There are sometimes that you have to give them a little talking to, but they know how you feel.”
With a need for more grooms on the Woodbine backstretch, Lalsingh believes anyone who has an affinity for animals should consider a career in horse racing.
“There is the excitement of the sport – there are highs and lows – but you really do it because of the love of the animal. There are long hours and there can be tough times, but these horses really draw you in.”
Lalsingh certainly knows.
To this day, she still has a difficult time wrapping her head around the fact she’s been in the business for 21 years.
“I did grow up in the sport, but my time here in Canada and at Woodbine has gone by really fast. I feel like a grandmom because I have seen three generations of some horses.”
Now, Lalsingh is adding some new faces to her personal scrapbook.
She’ll often share photos, plenty of them, on social media.
“People probably look at my Facebook pictures and think, ‘What is wrong with this girl?’ But I love these horses, every single one.”
Just like those 14 words on the wall say to those who pass by them each day.