The barns and the racetrack at the Olds Exhibition grounds just 45 minutes north of Century Downs is the temporary home to a number of trainers, drivers, grooms and 110 Standardbred racehorses. The opportunity to spend the first season competing at Alberta’s newest racing facility has attracted a number of prominent out of province horsemen. Trainer and driver Jim Marino has made the move to Alberta with his stable from his home base in British Columbia. Jim has recognized the potential of the Alberta racing industry, and as a driver who has 1,900 wins and over $11,000 Million in career earnings, his decision shows the level of respect he has for the quality of Alberta racing.
Jim’s love of Standardbred racing started at a summer camp in BC when he was a child. The family who owned the camp had a stable of race horses and during his first summer at the camp Jim not only learned to ride, but he improved his reading skills when he devoured 10 years worth of Harness Horse magazines that were lying around! The photos, pedigrees and race reports captivated him, and he dreamed of one day building his own version of Hanover Farm. By the time he had finished high school, Jim was completely hooked. He’d been a groom during the summers, had met a number of drivers and knew that he wanted to spend his life in the industry. In his first few months as a trainer he sent out 6 horses, and had 2 wins, 2 seconds and a third for an incredibly successful entrance to the business! If he hadn’t already fallen in love with the sport, that early success would have sealed it for him!
Jim has embraced all aspects of Standardbred racing – he’s been a trainer since 1996, a driver since 1998 and is also an owner and a breeder. To say that his life revolves around the industry, from dawn to dusk, 365 days of the year is an understatement! Unfortunately, after a very strong start to the year, life changed in an instant for Jim. On January 23, 2015, he experienced every driver’s worst nightmare and he was involved in a very serious spill at Fraser Downs. Mood Light, the horse he was driving, broke stride and made a very abrupt deceleration and the horse just behind them couldn’t change course in time and hit the bike from behind.
Jim was launched in the air, and landed hard on the track. Drivers are no strangers to spills during training and racing, and in the past Jim has suffered broken wrists, broken elbows, a separated shoulder, broken ribs and a broken ankle, but this accident was by far the most dramatic and his injuries were severe. He tore his left ACL, broke his left femur and broke both bones in his left wrist. In the days after the accident, after multiple surgeries to put him back together, Jim said that there wasn’t one piece of him that didn’t hurt! A true horseman, he was much more worried about the horses in his barn and his commitments to his owners than his own recovery. Family, friends and fellow horsemen at Fraser Downs rallied to support him, and a number of people jumped in to help run the barn and manage the horses.
Jim literally spent a couple of months in a hospital bed after the accident. He followed doctor’s advice, and is still putting significant time and effort into physiotherapy and strengthening exercises. The scars are livid on his wrist and knee, and he is still a bit unsound, or as his phrases it, “I’ve got a bit of a head bob”! For most people there would be some hesitation to get back into the bike in a race, but Jim is emphatic when he states that “I didn’t sit in the hospital bed for months having to rely on friends to help with the barn and help with my recovery to not get back into the bike and keep doing what I love”. Jim made his comeback at Century Downs on June 26, and since then has made 22 trips to the winner’s circle, so the recovery efforts have been worth it and he’s definitely back to his winning ways. Jim also points out that Mood Light, the mare he was driving during the horrific spill was fine, and in fact she’s back pacing and is also at Century Downs!
Jim is passionate about his chosen career. After 18 years, he still talks about how to learn from great drivers like Hall of Famer and O’Brien Award winner Keith Clark, and from each horse he trains. He talks about the high quality of horses and horsemen that he competes against in Alberta, especially with the opening of Century Downs. With an increase in the number of race days and the purses, as well as the re-building of the fan base for racing in southern Alberta Jim sees a very bright and positive future ahead.
With the sincere emotions of someone who has lived through the worst kind of accident, Jim talks about his gratitude to the racing industry. After spending 42 days in a hospital bed just a few months ago, Jim knows how to appreciate every moment spent in a bike behind a horse. It’s more than a career. It’s his life. And for now, he is happily living his life in Alberta, training at Olds and racing at Century Downs and making ever more frequent trips to the winner’s circle.