Gordon and Helen Empey are longtime Standardbred breeders and owners from Bowden. Last summer, Gordon finally decided that he had watched others for long enough, and he took his Standardbred Trainers test. He passed the test, and then promptly broke his leg! His leg healed and he had 13 starts at Century Downs with three wins, three seconds and two thirds. Now he and Helen are following their hearts and have made a move to Sacramento, California for the winter. Lots of Albertans head south, and Helen laughs and says that she finally gets to be a snowbird, but with race horses instead of golf clubs!
Cal-Expo Harness Racing in Sacramento has a wonderful incentive plan to support horsemen - if a new horse started before November 13, it received $1000. If the same horse makes eight starts it receives an additional $600 bonus. New horses who start between November 13 and December 31 receive $800 and after eight starts an additional $400 bonus. The incentive was just what Gordon and Helen needed to push them from wishing they could go south to actually loading up six horses and hauling down for the winter in November.
Gordon and Helen took two yearlings, two 2 year olds and two 3 year olds. Gordon is loving training on the mile track in the morning, which is literally just outside their shedrow. There is also a smaller training track which is open all day. Their daily routine with the horse is the same as it is at home, but the weather is better. Although California has had a rainy winter, it’s nothing compared to the cold snap we’re having this week. Helen misses her grandchildren and curling team, but with the wind chill at -38 this morning she’s not missing frozen waterers and shoveling snow!
Just after they arrived at CalExpo, Gordon had his first start as a trainer in California with homebred Cenalta Eclipse. Eclipse was 25-1 and was pacing last into the first 1/4 mile but exploded through the field and won by a head in 1.56! It was an incredibly exciting race, and Eclipse made both Gordon and Helen incredibly proud! Eclipse has had 2 wins in 10 starts, Cenalta Diamond has had 1 win, 2 seconds and a third in 10 starts and Cenalta Cougar has had 3 wins and 2nd in 7 starts, so the experience has been well worth it for the horses and for Gordon and Helen!
Gordon and Helen are planning to do a little bit of sightseeing while they are in Sacramento, but this adventure is mostly about following a dream to train their own horses! Helen says “we have our health, and life is a breath away”! They are very excited to work with their young horses on the mile track, and look forward to meeting new friends and learning more about the California racing scene. Their friends Shannon and Steve Crump have raced at Cal-Expo for the past three years, and it already sounds like Gordon and Helen might be racing snowbirds for more years to come. Helen laughingly says that their goal for the winter is to “not shovel any snow!” We think they will definitely accomplish that particular goal, and might achieve a few other milestones as well! Congratulations, Gordon and Helen on your wins at Cal-Expo and on taking a leap to follow your dreams! Enjoy your California adventure!