The Rocky Mountain Turf Club lost two of its former riders in the space of a single week - two fine men, may they rest in peace.
First to go was Jody Buxton, a young man who made his mark riding and training, many years for his parents, Ken and Anne Buxton. He also rode and trained for many horsemen through the years, not only at Lethbridge but across the bush tracks of southern Alberta and onto the A tracks as well, "riding a lot of Quarter horses along the way," said his mother Anne.
Only 53, Jody passed away in Saskatoon in a vehicle accident, likely the result of a heart attack.
When Jody ventured onto the A circuit he made his mark training the great Tango King, ridden to countless victories by Elijah Bourne. Jody also trained Josh's Hero right up to the day he won the Canadian Derby.
"I'd say Jody, who didn't want to be rich or famous, made a lot of other horsemen wealthy," said his mother Anne, the first licensed female jockey in Alberta.
"Jody had an extra touch with a horse, he was well respected around them." She remembered the afternoon at the Calgary Stampede when Jody rode Julie McLaughlin's Quarter Horse Terri Jane.
"They won the very first recognized Quarter horse race at the Stampede that day. Ken (his father) was ponying for him - that mare was quite a handful." In the same week we lost 80-year-old Jerry Sarka, a man always with a smile on his face as he frequented the track in recent years, and always willing to sit down and tell you his racing experiences, and his golf game.
Jerry was born at Grassy Lake in 1935, where his father was a house mover. But Jerry grew up in Picture Butte. He was tiny, so everyone said he should try riding. That's when he set out to be a jockey.
"The first time I ever got to race was on a track at Traver's Dam." said Jerry. "After that I went to Stavely with Ned Northwood, a real Scotsman. I apprenticed with him. We ran in Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon and the bush tracks. He was a real great guy. Ned would make bets on us and come around and give us a couple of hundred dollars out of the blue. He only ran $1,000 horses and had. seven head." Jerry's slickest piece of riding, coming out of the one hole, came in Lethbridge when he was lined up to go a mile and an eighth. Some of the horses were having trouble loading, so they shut off the tractor, which pulled the starting gate, to calm them down. The bell sounded, and everyone was off and running.
As he headed down the backstretch at the head of the pack Jerry could see Pinky MacDonald running and shouting across the infield, but Jerry kept on trucking. Then as he rounded the back turn he realized there was a problem - all the other riders were pulling up. Jerry tried to pull his mount up, a horse owned by Phil Wiest, but it was in a racing mode and didn't slow down.
Up ahead on the track the starting gate was still sitting there; the tractor wouldn't re-start and the gate was stranded in the middle of the race track, just at the top of the stretch. Race announcer Brent Seely was shouting for the riders to pull up, and most of them heard him, but not Jerry until it was too late.
"Fortunately someone had left all the gates open, and I shot right through the number one gate, for the second time in the same race! When I went through I burned the toes out of both my jockey boots. I crossed the finish line ahead of everyone, but I didn't win. The stewards cancelled the race." Jerry always had a big laugh when he told that story.
After a wreck in Montreal Jerry decided to leave the riding business behind.
"But a few years later, coming back from Athabasca we stopped in this little place, with a race meet going on. A guy asked me to ride for him, and we were all pretty juiced up and I said yes. Well, there was no starting gate. They just started the race with a shout. It scared me and it scared the horse, but we were off and running. I won by a whole bunch. I guess that was my last race."