Friday, 27 June 2014 16:01

The Ladies of Millerville

Written by Garry Allison - Rocky Mountain Turf Club
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With the Millarvile race meet this July 1, it should be noted that ever since 1996 the Rocky Mountain Turf Club has been in charge of the racing, and the one-time $100 purses are now in the thousands of doallars each July 1 at Millarville. For a direct tie-in to Lethbridge racing, did you know the running of the 50th Millarville Derby was won by southern Alberta's Anne Buxton.

Anne and her husband Ken, who passed away late in 2013, were still in the race horse business at the RMTC five decades later. In her younger days Anne was first female jockey to ride in official races on a recognized A-class pari-mutual track in Alberta, at Millarville. Born in Gleichen in 1930, Anne learned to race ride with the young Blackfoot boys of her day.

"Old Chief Crowfoot used to give me pointers," she said with a smile. "My mother always thought I was just exercising my school pony. I rode in races for many years before she found out.

"I can't remember not riding. My main horse, Greydon Power won the 50th Millarville Derby, and that's where Kenny and I met. We both wanted that horse, but I got him, so Ken married me so he could get the horse," she said with a laugh.

Greydon Power was a good one. He had run fourth in the King's Plate.

When the 100th running of the Millarville Derby came around in 2005, the Buxtons didn't have an entry, though they wanted one. That year Max Gibb, CEO of the RMTC, presented an all-Paint feature, the Remittance Derby over a distance of 350 yards, and an all-Arabian race of five furlongs.

Gibb's own Paint, Royal Woman, trained by Ross Brigden, won her third race in a row, to take the lion's share of the $10,300 purse. Scott Sterr was aboard, as a last-minute replacement for regular rider Janine Stianson, who broke an ankle earlier in the day.

Stianson later went east to race and earned the Eclipse Award. The Arabian feature, with a purse of $5,300, was taken by Special Edition, ridden by Laurina Bugeaud and trained by Irene Miller.

It was also quite a day for the ladies at the Millarville races, July 3, 1962.

Horse-wise, two "ladies" of the turf - Virden and Penny Pie - accounted for the major events of the day.

Virden and the grey Penny Pie were shipped in from Edmonton where the latter won Saturday and paid $28,50. Virden was owned by Dale Saunders of Bowden, and captured the Sam Kieran Memorial Cup over a mile. Penny Pie - with Anne and her late husband Kenny - saw the Buxtons win the Millarville 56th Anniversary Plate, also at one mile. Millarville will always be near and dear to the heart of former Lethbridge steward Boomer Rees, who started his racing career as a jockey there in the mid-1940s. He later became a trainer, and from 1984 until the close of 2008, was a steward for Horse Racing Alberta.

"I rode in Millarville in the 1950s, and it was like a big county fair," he said. "I still enjoy Millarville. The average purses when I rode were about $50 and the Derby only paid $100. In the old days the infield area used to be full of cars and people. Right in the centre used to be big tubs of ice filled with beer. Then the Mounties stepped in and started to pinch people.

"The last year I rode there was 1945, but I've been back there in other roles." The Millarville Derby itself was once taken by Ted Meeks's Raymond horse, Harley Glen, with Pinky McDonald in the irons.

Levona Lahd was the only female rider of the day to win, bringing Sonny home on top in the fourth race.

In 2006 Iris Glass, who rode as a jockey during the 55th running of the Millarville meet, was still assisting her grandson Jason Glass with his chuckwagon team, hitching and unhitching, recalled that eventful day in Millarville.

"You should have heard the commotion when I rode at Millarville . . . one guy told me I couldn't possibly ride against all those male jockeys," Iris said with a laugh. "When I asked him why, he said 'you can't be around the men with all that swearing going on." "I told him: 'I could swear along with any son of those sons of a s$#%!*&##@!@. He just looked at me in shock and said, 'lady you're gonna ride.' Pretty soon, after we started, some other girls started riding too, but not too many. The four of us early girls had a fine go, and the guys got used to us.

"One Millarville weekend every one of us (Iris, Anne Buxton, Babe Lauter, Joanne Armstrong) won at least one race each, and they never said a thing from then on." Iris, who has now passed on, won the Millarville Derby twice, she believes on Grey Pilot and Seldee.

"It was a long time ago," she said with a laugh. "One time I went in there with a new horse, and a guy said I couldn't do that. 'None of us have got a new horse,' he told me. I just unloaded and said 'too bad.' And I went on to win." Iris was 10 years of age when she rode in her first race in Pembina, and she won.

Her career began on the ponies, and as she grew older the horses grew larger. As her career progressed she rode on virtually every small race track in the province.

These ladies at Millarville really paved the way for the female riders of today.

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