Musings on preparations for the upcoming race season at RMTC
It’s the middle of winter, but my mind is still on horse racing, be it recalling the first Triple Crown in decades thanks to America Pharaoh, or the Quarter horses and Thoroughbreds that race at the Rocky Mountain Turf Club.
I published a book last year, Southern Hoofprints, recalling a history of horse racing in southern Alberta, and it was written with love of the sport as its base.
In the book I say I believe horse racing has a beauty and excitement rivaled by few other sports. The thrill of watching a high‑spirited horse prance and paw in the paddock, to see it burst out of the gate and hear the thunderous, pounding hooves of eight charging horses as they jostle their way around a half‑mile oval, as jockeys urge their mounts on, with both riders’ and horses' muscles straining, actually sends chills down my spine.
The winter months leave me longing for the first racing weekend in May at the RMTC, May 14-15. The beginning of racing sees close to 1,000 people, in various aspects of the sport, scurrying about, attempting to have the best horse of the season.
Add to the beauty of the sport you can tie-in the wagering aspect of the sport. Betting on horses, at least to me, isn't gambling it is merely a way to enhance the thrill of the race. As well, many a day I can just sit and watch them run, without laying a penny on any one in particular, and still leave the track with a fulfilled feeling. I have had the thrill of cashing in Triactor tickets, or an Exactor, though admittedly the general rule for me is the ponies I don't bet on are the ones doing the winning, while the ones I bet on seem to have another idea and do the chasing. But, as the old Tommy Edwards tune says, It All In The Game.
Owners, trainers and riders experience a high degree of excitement and acceleration with a win which no fan can approach, no matter how large the wager. The jockeys battle head-to-head each race, calling each other down - then in the dressing room they change for the next race, mentally preparing themselves and virtually ignoring riders they were battling with only minutes earlier.
As well, these same horsemen are front and centre with heartfelt anxiety, and even grief, on the rare occasion a horse or rider goes down.
For the race fan, once the sweating steeds are unsaddled and walking back to their barns, it’s over, and it is on to the next race. As for the trainers... well they look forward to more early morning workouts and more dreams of success during the fleeting seconds on a race day.
Horse racing is a complex, exciting, dangerous extreme sport enjoyed by hundreds of thousands around the world. The live crowds are growing again the past few years and as well race followers can be found in lounges and bars enjoying, and wagering on, live races via satellite feeds from all the major tracks of North America. However, with the advent of Vegas-style slots and casinos throughout the province, many of those who liked to wager a dollar or two on the ponies at the track have turned away, expecting larger returns as their quarters spill out and clank into the tin receptacles - but even that has changed with the almost silent computer payouts.
Whether it’s the Kentucky Derby - which every bush trainer and rider aspires too - or the races at Millarville, Alberta each July 1, a live horse race is still a thing of beauty and excitement - certainly better experienced live than in a noisy TV parlour. As a spectator at a live race you sense the danger and the excitement as the horses thunder past.
As I grow older I believe if there are no horse races in Heaven... well, we’ll all be missing out on a great reason for being up there.
"Every man should have a hobby and a worry - and you can have both with a race horse," said a man who is in the Canadian Newspaper, Horse Racing, Hockey and Football Halls of Fame. To say I admired Jim Coleman would be an understatement. For me he was number one in the newspaper and horse racing business, bar none.
Jim has now left us, but in 1985 I was fortunate enough to listen to Coleman when he was a guest speaker at the Lethbridge Downtown Rotary Club's luncheon. And during these cold winter months I often turn to his outstanding book, A Hoofprint On My Heart.
Those who have read it know what an entertaining man he could be concerning the topic of horse racing. The book, in my opinion, is the best Canadian sports book ever written and ranks among the best books I've ever read - and my library used to top the 2,000 mark.
But as good as it is, it can’t replace the real thing and it seems to be a long ways until May 14-15 when the ponies return to the Rocky Mountain Turf Club in Lethbridge.