Since 1996, Max Gibb has been in charge of the whole racing show in Lethbridge, as CEO of the RMTC. Whoop‑Up Downs, under the RMTC, now features many Quarter Horse sprints. They go by quickly and my money lasts only twenty or so seconds instead of a minute plus with the Thoroughbreds.
I remember jockey Elije Bourne telling me a rider’s secret to winning on a Quarter Horses was to "hold on tight and don't fall off."
Speaking of Quarter Horses, there's the classic call of a Quarter Horse race ‑ attributed to Boomer Rees ‑ which in its entirety was: "They're off; they're here; it's a photo; there's an enquiry!"
Personally I like those mile and an eighth runs so I can watch my money fading away over about two minutes rather than in twenty seconds. But those Quarter horse sprints are exciting.
Back in the 1980s, Steve Wilson, Don Mattern, my son Jason and I had some great days at the track. Those were the good times, as most days at the races are if you dwell on the thrill of the race and not the loss to the pocket book – or in some cases the winning.
I spent the first spring and fall of my retirement in 2002 visiting Whoop‑Up Downs, sadly it was a lot more often than I had in the previous decade. I was happy to see many of the same faces, like Howe I. Pickem for one, but I missed a few who were gone, like Mahlon Bourne (Elije's dad), the Smith brothers, Arnold and Percy, Mr. Marshall at the rail with his big cigar, and Whitey Rimstad, of the 1951 world champion Maple Leafs. Whitey used to give me a tip or two from time to time, sadly though, he was as bad as I was at picking a winner.
One thing about the track, the old stories are still fun to re‑hear and re‑tell, and with a legacy dating back prior to the first Lethbridge Fair in 1897, they are part of the way we were right here in Lethbridge and southern Alberta.
Now anyone who has been around a race track for any length of time knows some horses have mighty peculiar names. But, as of last weekend, topping my list, has to be Jacqueline Smith’s five-year-old gelding Ginwillmakeusin. Just say it slow.
In researching my book, Southern Hoofprints, every piece of information I found seemed to lead to another and soon I was having fun.
Lethbridge had all types of running horses, in flat races, with sulkies, and pulling chariots and chuckwagons.
The chariots were a fun addition to many southern Alberta race meets and fairs and the chucks are, after all, part of Thoroughbred racing. The sulkies, in reality, have never been much of a factor on the southern Alberta horse racing scene, at least in the last fifty years, though personally I quite enjoyed those proud horses with their rhythmic pace and flying manes.
History reveals that at the turn of the last century it wasn't uncommon for neighbour to challenge neighbour to a horse race – kind of like in the movie Friendly Persuasion. To give himself an edge in their neighbourly runs, and at accredited horse meets, Bill McIntyre, of McIntyre Ranches, brought in some pretty fair ponies from Utah, said veteran horseman Mel Depew.
"Ray Knight, Dick Kinsey Sr. and Jim and Will Meeks, also had some pretty fast horses," Mel said. "Apparently, the Knights, the Kinseys, and the Meeks brothers, soon got tired of always running second and third to Bill McIntyre, who had brought in his speedy horses from Utah, so they decided to go to Kentucky and buy some racing stock. Together, they brought in six head. Two horses - Mac Johnson and a well‑bred mare named La Dextra - went to the Meeks brothers; two went to Ray Knight ‑ Barlight and Herman Johnston ‑ and one each went to Kinsey and McIntyre.
Charlie Kinsey, whose brother David Hammond was the foreman of the Knight Sugar factory, came to Raymond about 1901. He purchased one of the six head of Thoroughbreds bred to La Dextra, a prize horse Billy MacIntyre brought into the area from Kentucky.
Charlie was prominent in horse racing circles much of his life. He died March 30, 1923.
The Knight Ranch, twenty-five miles southeast of Raymond, was formerly known as the Kirkaldy and is now owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints. The ranch was the original property of the Knight Sugar Company and was run under the management of Ray Knight. It included about 80,000 acres. In early times the ranch was the main source of Raymond Stampede stock.
"Needless to say, the racing improved greatly over the next few years,said Depew. The Meeks brothers registered their horses and joined the Prairie Thoroughbred Breeders Association. Just a few years later, they acquired a stallion named James T. Clark.
The horse had been a contender in the Kentucky Derby in 1922 and was a fantastic animal, capable of blazing speed at all times.
"From 1925 to 1931, the Meeks brothers were the leading breeders on the Prairie Circuit, having won $42,858 in 21 starts, with horses like Silent Pardner, Silent Messenger, Esterel Ancierl Weapon, LaRue M., Ester Clark, Silent Stranger, Silent Clark and Lady Clark.Race fans used to talk about Herman Johnson and James T. Clark, the pride of the Meeks brothers racing stable. James T. was the sire of more winners in the west than any other stallion. Johnson was Ray Knight's top Thoroughbred had cost $1,000. Ray made that back in one match race on Dominion Day, racing against a Cardston horse with a side‑bet of $1,000.
After Herman Johnson died, Knight brought in Berlight, son of Sir Barton, and another stud called Centurian. These Thoroughbreds were crossed with big Percheron mares to produce Ray's large, strong and famous line of rodeo broncs.