Of the early Raymond racing stalwarts you can’t overlook Mel Depew, the eighth of ten children of Warren and Emma Depew.
He was born in 1916, and worked alongside his father as a boy, a foreman on Ray Knight's Ranch. Young Mel broke and rode horses for the ranch as he was growing up. It was Knight who gave the young Depew his first shot at riding race horses, and when he was seven he won a pony race that paid $8, quite a haul in those days.
Since that day Mel not only raced, but raised many a race horse and attended many race meets, from Lethbridge to Calgary, Edmonton and of course, Raymond.
In August of 1963, Lucky Diamond, perhaps Mel's favourite runner, won the Third Running Calgary Stampede Futurity Stakes, with a purse of $15,000. Jockey for the seven‑furlong affair was the great Sandy Shields.
Mel Depew served as a pilot with the RCAF during World War II, and was part of the massive D‑Day invasion. He passed away at age 85 in 2002.
Horse racing is something that gets in your blood and stays there. As a boy in Raymond, Mel was small for his age and as a result was a natural to start riding race horses.
From there he progressed to becoming an owner who left an indelible mark on his sport, and as well went on to become one of the race stewards at Whoop‑Up Downs.
"Dad always loved horses,” said son Jim. “When he was six, his father bought him a horse from Mr. Rodeback, a palomino gelding. Dad named him Rodie. Along with childhood friend, Smellie Redd, he rode his horse six miles to school, bareback, every day. They would trot and lope. One day towards the end of June, Dad was approached by some older boys to race, so he did. He won.
“The boys told him Rodie was fast and he should enter him in the boys pony race at the Raymond Stampede July 1st. So Dad started to train his horse. He took him down to the track and let him run around it four or five times a day. When July 1st came and the race started, he couldn't get Rodie to go faster than a slow lope. When the other boys were crossing the finish line he was only coming around the last turn. His horse was badly over trained ‑ so he pulled Rodie up and ducked out the west gate. He was really embarrassed."
As a boy Jim had great trust in his Dad. As young as five, Jim would do the ground work with his dad's Thoroughbreds, and then Mel would put him on their backs.
They broke dozens of horses together and would ride on the lease, covering 10 to 20 miles in a day looking for strays or bulls in the pastures.
Mel was also active as a youth and remembered, at age 16, how he helped trail a herd of cattle and horses from the Knight Ranch, back of Raymond, to Lethbridge for a rodeo.
"That was 1932,” he said.
The proceeds from taking horses to that stampede went towards building a church building in Raymond. Mel also rode two horses in the race meet, finishing first in one and second in the other.
"After Dad married Mom, Jim Meeks bought Mom a beautiful strawberry mare, with four white socks and a blaze,” said Jim. “The mare was sired by Silent Messenger and she could run. Dad hauled her around to the different fairs. She was always close, and made him some extra money. At one fair the jockeys didn't show up so all of the owners rode their own horses.
“Mahlon Bourne won this race with Dad coming in second and finally Glen Holman third.”
From his youth through to his final years, Mel stayed involved in horse racing and had many a thrill at the track. But his most memorable moment in the sport of kings came with his first big winner on a recognized track.
"My first win on a recognized track, with an old horse named Snowbank, had to be the greatest thrill I experienced in racing," Mel stated.
His trainer was Gerald “Smokey” Harker, and they went up to Stampede Park in Calgary in 1951 for a seven furlong race. He was a longshot, about 16‑1, and he paid $32 and some change to win. The immortal little Jimmy Fitzsimmons was Snowbank’s jockey.