For Don Monkman Jr., coming to work at Century Downs as track superintendent was a natural transition. While his focus is now on maintenance, it wasn’t long ago that Monkman was a harness racer himself.
Monkman says he’s been passionate about training and racing all his life. He began driving horses when he was seventeen years old, and went on to become a notable name in the harness-racing world. Standardbred Canada named him as one of their Top Winning Drivers for the Year, with 6 first-place wins, 6 second-place wins, and 4 third-place wins in 59 starts. His racing career led him all around North America, including Toronto, New York, New Jersey, California, Vancouver and Calgary.
As a result of his lifelong passion, Monkman has never considered doing anything else. His father, Don Monkman Sr., was also a trainer and racer, giving Monkman a young start in the field.
In terms of his career, it seems to have paid off. According to Standardbred Canada, Monkman hit his 2500th career win in 2006—a significant milestone for harness racers. In purse winnings, Monkman had banked $11.6 million. He’s also won the titles of Horseman of the Year and Driver of the Year. In 2014, Monkman was named as one of Fraser Downs leading drivers through April 2014, with 18 first-place wins in 152 starts.
Of all the races he’s won, Monkman says a highlight was winning the Stewart Fraser race, a memorial horserace named in honor of respected blacksmith Stewart Fraser.
His favorite part of it all?
“Driving the young ones, the babies, the ones you raise,” says Monkman. “[Getting] them to the races and seeing how good they are, how good they aren’t. That’s what you look for, that’s where the money is.”
Annual trips down to Toronto and Kentucky were common for him. There, Monkman would purchase three or four young horses and bring them home to raise. Once they hit three or four years old, he sold them and used the funds to purchase new horses. His career record proved that when it came to horses, Monkman had an instinct for picking the winners. In 2008, one of his horses—a gelding pacer named Red Star Drooler—flew past his competition to claim first place in the Prairie Gold Eliminations and a $15,000 prize. His odds were 18-1.
Monkman brought the same skill and vision as a horse trainer. He previously owned a farm where he trained upwards of 45 horses. By 2006, the horses he trained had collected 1,050 wins and $5.8 million in purse winnings. For his work, Monkman was awarded the title of Trainer of the Year. One of his horses claimed a prize of its own, winning Canadian Mare of the Year. Over his career, he’s traded, bought, and sold countless horses.
While Monkman’s driving career has come to a close, working as track superintendent has brought him back to an area he knows very well—and one that he exceeded in over his career. And he’s still going strong as a trainer. According to Standardbred Canada, he has two two-year-old horses in training at Sherwood Park, Alberta. They go by the names Exclusive and So Sorry. Monkman also owns ten horses of his own, which reside in Olds, Alberta.
Even though he isn’t participating in races anymore, Monkman still loves seeing the horses race. But given how he grew up into the sport and stayed with it through a distinguished career, that’s hardly a surprise.