Smiling race fans cheering and waving greeted the horses and riders as racing for the fall meet opened at Rocky Mountain Turf Club .
In fact, during a couple of races on Sunday, the start of the race had to be delayed as the betting lineups were filled with patrons trying to lay down their bet on their favourite horses. The weather was perfect and it was almost a collective sigh of relief from racing fans that the horses were back in town for the fall meet.
There were no Stakes races, but a lively Allowance race had fans on the edge their seats as Nellie Pigeau's, "Master's Bluff", locked up in a seven-furlong dual with Jim Depew's, "Captain Will". The two horses were nose to nose out front the entire race. There was some bumping in the final turn and, "Captain Will", who actually edged out the big favourite, "Master's Bluff" for the win, had his number taken down for interference on, "Captain Will".
One of the feel-good stories in Alberta horse racing circuits this year has been the story of Len Hambly.
When asked about his first involvement with horses, he says as a kid he raced his calf against the neighbor's pony and won, he says with a hearty laugh. This comment kicked off one of the most interesting interviews I have ever been involved in.
Len is originally from North River, Ontario. When asked why he came to Alberta, he said with a big smile, "So life could get better with women" After that, Len went on to say that it always got better in Alberta. Len first came to Alberta in 1974 and became involved in construction and farming, working all over Alberta and the Arctic. He says he was three hundred miles from the North Pole, working construction on the ice.
Len's passion was always horses and he rode the mountain trails for over thirty years, all the way from Waterton to north of the Wilmoor with his own group of pack horses and friends.
As he got older, he decided to get into the horse-racing business seven years ago as an owner, and used trainers such as Les Adams, Kevin Obertholtzer and John Poirier. He says John Poirier was his biggest inspiration and that without him, he wouldn't be here doing what he's doing.
This year, Len decided it was time to head out on his own in the training world. Currently Len is training five of his own horses and has had tremendous success. When people tell Len he's doing good he says, "Am I, I don't know the difference", which is then followed by another boisterous laugh.
Last year at the end of the racing season in Century Downs, he claimed a mare by the name of, "Silent Auction", who has had incredible success this year, winning numerous stakes races. Len says he is having the time of his life training horses and his biggest asset, outside of John Poirier, are riders Orlando Foster and Ryan Nelson. Not only do they take his horses out for exercise in the morning and ride all of his horses, they help with the barn chores as well. Len says that without them, he'd be nothing. Len also wants to point out that his wife, Laura, has been the backbone of his operation in support and looking after his ranch in Sterling when he's gone to Grande Prairie. The gratitude and affection Len has for his wife is unmistakable.
Len says that without his horses being what they are, there would be no dream to live. His horses are his pride and joy and Len takes great pride in the progress he's made with horses that wanted nothing to do with anybody before he obtained them, and now he's not afraid to walk under the belly of any of them. He says he loves them and they love him and they would do anything for him. As for his future in horse racing, he says, "One day at a time". He has two new three-year olds coming up next year that he bought at the Alberta yearling sale last year, along with a couple of paints.
Len is also looking forward to the Alberta Bred Stakes that are coming up at R.M.T.C. as he has a couple of Alberta Breds that he will be entering.
Len says the being seventy and living his dream is a special thing, and his advice to anyone getting into horse racing is to love your horses and remember that they are all God's children.