One of the fan favourites at the Rocky Mountain Turf Club – and a favourite along the backstretch as well – is a fellow who has put at least four decades of his life into horse racing.
As well, Randy Cunningham has a horse contesting for the Quarter Horse Derby crown this weekend. Separate Jess finished third in the trials with veteran rider Scott Sterr aboard. Unfortunately Scott will not ride in the Derby, after going down hard on another of Randy’s horses and breaking his sternum. Separate Jess, is owned by Dale Zukowski.
“I rode for 33 years and then I quit the game for about seven years,” says Randy, now a trainer. His seven year hiatus was due to health problems, starting with kidney cancer. Doctors successfully removed his affected kidney. “Knock on wood, everything has been good ever since,” he said. “When I got well I decided to come back to riding, but first I had to lose 40 pounds. It was 1997 when I decided to comeback to racing, after the cancer.”
But upon his return to the saddle Randy was only about five rides into his return when he was in a bad wreck. “I broke my leg in 23 places and it required three operations to repair the leg,” he said, his ever-present smile fading with the memory. “A two-year-old started bucking right at the gate – I don’t know why, it just started bucking, and I went off,” he explained. “Six months later the doctor told me I was done riding.”
Without the ability to ride again, Randy turned to training and was assisted by numerous people in many different ways. Randy initially bought four horses from Bar None ranches. As time went on one of his owners, ironically, became Dr. Story, the man who put Randy’s leg back together. Randy considered the qualifying weekend for the Quarter Horse Futurity and Derby a “real bad experience” even though he saw Separate Jess qualify. His longtime friend, and onetime fellow jockey, Scott Sterr, went down hard in another trial race and broke his sternum.
“I’m still worried about Scotty; we rode together for many years, back when Scotty and I were around 16 years old. “I came here this Spring with about 15 horses, but some have been sent home and other things occurred and now I have about five of the best of them here.”
This past summer things turned around for Randy. “I only had nine horses up at Grande Prairie and I tied for third leading trainer... I won 10 races. “It takes a good team to win in horse racing, from the owner to the trainer to the rider, the groom and all the other people involved around the barn who work with you.
“You know, horses are like kids, some workout, some don’t. You’ve just got to love what you are doing.”