Busier than popcorn in a microwave, Mitch Klimove can’t sit still. But then he never could - racing around life like there was an angry bee on his nose. “I’m at the YMCA now. How about we meet at the track?” says Klimove, who is 93 years old but gets around like a man half his age. “Meet me at 6:30,” he says of a Wednesday night race card at Northlands. “I always bet the Pick 5 with Durwood Ashcroft. So after I do that I’ll be free and we can talk.”
And talk he does: about his affection for horse racing, boxing, restaurants and some of the many people he has crossed paths with. “I’ve been going to the races as far back as I can remember. My father liked to go to the races and he often took me along. Then, when I was a teenager I used to sell the Edmonton Journal at the track,” he said of a job that did very well because the paper would always include betting selections for that day’s races.
“The paper cost a nickel and I got to keep two and a half cents from every one I sold. One day somebody my family knew bought a paper and asked what horse I liked. I can’t remember what horse I gave them - it was probably the No. 6 horse because that was my dad’s favourite number. Then they asked my buddy, who was also selling the Journal, what number he liked. Whatever numbers we gave them worked. They bought us a $1 exactor ticket and it won. It paid $13.00 so we each got $6.50.
“I thought to myself ‘How long has this been going on?’ I was hooked.” Was he ever. “I used to save up all my nickels and dimes to have enough money to make bets at the track,” says Klimove, whose Pick 5 ticket with Ashcroft is still alive after co-favourite Live a Little wins the first race.
“Are you hungry? Let’s go get a sandwich. They make good sandwiches here,” says Klimove, who orders his usual: egg salad on brown bread with mayo, lettuce, tomato and hot peppers at Jerri’s Sandwich Shop. “The best bet at the track are these sandwiches,” says Klimove, whose Pick 5 ticket is still clicking when the second-betting choice Celtic Assassin takes the second race.
Now it’s the third race and Klimove whispers. “I was given a horse to bet in this race,” says Klimove, who is still on the ‘earie’ after all these years - always on the lookout for inside information from anybody and everybody. “I was told to bet the No. 5 horse,” he says of I Miss Back When, a first-time starter from the powerful and hot barn of Tim Rycroft and a two-year-old who only has two works but one in a pretty sharp :35 2/5 seconds for three furlongs."
Klimove, obviously wasn’t the only one to get the word. I Miss Back When wins by seven lengths and pays $4.30 to win as the betting favourite. “I bet $20 to win on her,” he says proudly showing his ticket and a horse he has obviously included in his Pick 5 ticket.
“How about some ice cream?” says Klimove, who, as always, is immaculately groomed and dressed in a grey golf shirt and gray trousers. “I like the ice cream as much as I like the sandwiches,” he says plunking down $7.00 for a pair of Klondike Bars.
Through the years Klimove can only guess how many horses he has owned. “At least 300,” he guesses. “Probably more.” The best horse Klimove owned was Mr. Kip, who won a staggering 35 races. There is no guessing about the first horse he owned.
“It was 1947,” he says with absolute certainty. “I was still going to the University of Alberta, studying to be an accountant. My parents, who emigrated from Ukraine, owned a grocery store, the Crown, on Jasper Avenue and 96th Street, and one of our regular customers was a trainer, Anne Keyes. She told me she thought she could win the first race." Then, another trainer, Tommy Morrison, told him he thought his horse could win the second race.
“I think I had $2 in my pocket. I bought a $1 daily double ticket on them and wouldn’t you know it they both won. The double paid $685.” Sitting in the grandstand at Calgary’s old Victoria Park beaming and counting his money, Klimove overheard a trainer say if his horse didn’t win he would sell it on the spot. “The horse, Three Gees, lost, running third in a $1,000 claiming race. So I asked him if the horse was still for sale. He said yes and I asked him how much he wanted." The guy says "How much money have you got? I said $685. And he said Sold."
“We went back to the barn and he handed me the horse and a water pail.” There was one problem. Never owning a horse before, Klimove didn’t have a trainer. “So there I was leading a big bay mare wondering what am I doing? Where am I going? And what am I going to do with this horse? So I figured I’d go back and see Anne Keyes. I told her the story and told her that I didn’t have any money to pay for training bills."
“I told her if she took the horse I’d give her half of any purse money she won. She agreed and I had my first horse,” says Klimove as he gets ready to watch the fourth race where he has two horses on his shared Pick 5 ticket: Tara’s Way and I Tricked My Ride. I Tricked My Ride runs last but Tara’s Way, the 3-5 favourite wins easily. “Still alive,” says Klimove. “Just one more race to go.
“I’ve got three horses in this last leg: Cotton Candy Cool, Summer Exploration and Pretty Golden.” Unfortunately, this is where Klimove’s ticket dies. Summer Exploration and Pretty Golden both go for the lead but turning for home they both tire. Cotton Candy Cool makes a late bid but is no match for the winner, Phinalywyn, whom Klimove doesn’t have.
After the race is over Klimove shakes his head. “How did that horse ever win? They were running six and a half furlongs and that horse was getting tired running six furlongs. “I can’t believe it,” he says as if he’s never lost a race before. “And that horse has never come from off the pace before. I don’t like any horses on the rest of the card so maybe I’ll just go home.”
But, of course, he doesn’t. As is his custom, Klimove stays to the end - this time without catching another winner. “Well, we had fun and that’s what it’s all about.”
Klimove currently owns two horses with trainer Jerri Robertson. One is a three-year-old: Road Side Kisses, who won as a two-year-old and has a third and a fourth this year. The other is Sparkling Choice, a two-year-old that was supposed to run 10 days ago but never got the chance when she lost her jockey at the starting gate and ran off necessitating a scratch. “I was so disappointed,” says Klimove. “She can run.”
Klimove picked Sparkling Choice out of last year’s Alberta Thoroughbred Yearling Sale purchasing her for $8,000. “I liked her dam side. The mare side is strong,” he says of the filly that is a half sister to Ripple and Dark Halo, who have both won this year. “The dam is 70 per cent of a horse. And I like it when they throw horses that can win as two-year-olds. I had Jerri look at the horse; she liked her too so we bought her.”
Klimove has proven to be an astute judge of a yearling’s talent. “I’ve bought 50 or 60 yearlings in my life and I have an unblemished record. Every yearling I’ve purchased has won at least one race. I used to buy yearlings in B.C. and Alberta but the money is good for Alberta-breds so now I only buy them here.”
As well as horses, Klimove also managed boxers such as Al Ford, once the third-ranked lightweight in the world, and Billy McGrandle, who would twice hold Canada’s featherweight title. He was also president of the Edmonton Oilers in the World Hockey Association and was the third largest shareholder in Dr. Charles Allard’s Allarco, a public conglomerate that included Northwest Trust, Seaboard Life Insurance, Crosstown Motor City, ITV, International Jet Air and plenty of land holdings.
Then there were his restaurants - the Beachcomer, Olivers and most famous of all The Steak Loft on Jasper Avenue which he opened in 1954. “It was once voted the best restaurant in Canada by food critics and Air Canada magazine. “Anybody who was anybody ate there: Liberace, Nat King Cole, Bob Hope, Tommy Banks, Robert Goulet and Jean Chretien. When we opened, a New York cut cost $1.50. A filet mignon cost $1.95. I always wanted to serve the best meat and I did. The funny thing is that I’m a vegetarian but I made a living serving meat.” Seating 280 people, most nights the Steak Loft was full.
Always up early - “I never get up later than 6 a.m. Sometimes I make myself breakfast at 4 a.m.” - Klimove goes to the YMCA and the track virtually every day. “I don’t work out as much as I used to - old age and laziness I guess - but I still make it a point of going. I go to the track every morning too. I go to feed my horses peppermints and talk to people. My life is still pretty full. I like to read, do the Sudoko puzzles and the crosswords. And I also like my game shows on T.V. - Jeopardy, Who Wants to be a Millionaire and Wheel of Fortune. And I never miss America’s Got Talent.”
“Mitch is an amazing guy,” said Robertson, who has been training for Klimove for the last six years. “He’s very sharp, loves the races, loves the horses and he’s the best handicapper I know. He’s always asking me if I like my horses when they are running but I just say ‘You tell me; you know better than I do.’ He’s always on the go. He does everything 100 miles an hour. Even when he walks he walks fast. You really have to stride out to keep up with him. And he’s very generous,” continued Robertson. “Anytime we win a race for him he takes the whole crew out for a fancy dinner. Everybody knows him and he knows everybody.”
Raised during the Great Depression, the oldest child of Sam and Minnie Klimove, he was born Morris Klimove on Sept. 27, 1923. Living in Edmonton all of his life, Klimove went to school with Arthur Hiller, who went on to become a director of such Hollywood hits like ‘Love Story,’ and grew up on the same block as the late actor Leslie Nielsen, who starred in more than 100 films - including ‘Airplane!’ and ‘Naked Gun’ - and over 150 T.V. shows.
“Leslie and I used to be very good friends, too. He was as funny in real life as he was in the movies. Leslie and I would go to a bar, two beautiful girls would go by and he’d pull out this whoopee cushion he carried around with him,” Klimove recalls while making the ‘farting’ sound the cushion would make.
“Arthur and I both went to the Alex Taylor School. There weren’t enough desks for each student, so Arthur and I shared one. Years later, I asked him if we had to share the same desk because we were the two smallest boys and Arthur said, ‘No, Mitch; it was because we were both halfassed,’” says Klimove, who has outlived his five younger brothers and sisters.
“I’ve had a wonderful life; a great life; a full life,” says Klimove, as he buys a program for the next racing day. “If I look back there aren’t many things I would have changed. I’ve had a lot of fun.”
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