It was picture perfect. As she crossed the finish line Marjorie Dumont turned to the camera and flashed a smile that was as wide and as long as her four and a quarter length victory.
And why not? It was Dumont’s first win as a driver.
“I just couldn’t help myself. I was just so relieved to get that first win out of the way,” Dumont said of that Sept. 1 victory at Lacombe’s The Track On 2 with Outlaw Fireball, a horse she trains with her partner of 14 years, Jean Francois (J.F. Gagne). “After the race I couldn’t feel my arms or my legs. I was so excited,” Dumont said as the standardbreds get ready to return to Edmonton this Friday - the start of the last horse racing meet ever at Northlands. Before the race I was a nervous wreck. I felt a lot of pressure. I knew I had a great horse. A champion. I just didn’t want to screw it up.”
And yet, Dumont said all those jitters totally evaporated once Outlaw Fireball stepped onto the track. “Suddenly I just felt so calm and so comfortable. I didn’t think it would be like that because I’m a very nervous kind of person. Once the race started it felt like everything was in slow motion. You are going so fast and wheels get so close that they almost touch,” said Dumont, who only had six previous drives coming into the race - one of them a narrow photo-finish loss with Jim Marino’s Shales Storm in the middle of August at Balzac’s Century Downs. It can be intimidating. But I don’t feel intimidated. It’s mostly a lack of experience. After that win I have a lot more confidence.”
Dumont can recall every second of that Sept. 1 race: how she got away in fourth place, sat chilly, got Gary Clark to pull early with You Name It, tipped out on that horse’s back to get the perfect second-over trip, sat just outside You Name It - a horse Dumont was afraid of - and then bided her time - keeping her horse brave - until it was time to pull the ear-plugs on Outlaw Fireball and set sail.
“We weren’t even at the three-quarter pole when I cleared and Lacombe has a really long stretch - it’s like a quarter of a mile long. I was just hoping she wouldn’t quit. I was hoping I hadn’t got to the lead too early. It was a very tiring track that day - slow and deep and horses can easily get tired on that type of surface; it’s like running on the beach.”
But there was no quit in either horse or driver. “J.F. also had Watch My Luck in the race but she drew the outside post and finished third. We talked about 10 different possible scenarios but none of those happened. You have to read the program to know who is in there; there’s a lot of thinking involved in driving. But I try to feel more and not think as much. You have one good brush with a horse. You can’t make three moves in one race. And if you are lucky you win it.”
Outlaw Fireball paid $6.30 to win as the second favourite. Dumont believes Outlaw Fireball would have been the favourite if J.F. had been driving. “It’s true. A new driver… You’re not going to get the same odds an experienced driver would have gotten. But it all worked out.”
Did it ever. Dumont, 38, said she doesn’t know how much driving she is going to do in the future. “Driving in a race is something I always wanted to do. I hope to get to drive a few times. But it’s not a priority. It’s not like I had to drive to be satisfied with my end of the business. One thing just led to another. Maybe when we have entries - two of our horses in the same race. But I will leave that up to J.F. I never want to interfere with business. I don’t want to interfere with us making money. Making money is what our business is all about and J.F. does a wonderful job managing the stable. He does the driving and we train together. If it works out I would be glad to drive again."
“J.F. is magic. He’s such a good horseman. He is so patient. He knows the horses and he is so kind to them. Just like I am. It’s good to see the business from all sides. You can watch a million races but it’s not the same thing as in driving in one of them.”
“Marjorie is doing good. It’s all good so far,” said Gagne. “She’s relaxed out on the track and that’s the most important thing. She’s got ability that’s for sure. And she likes it. It’s not that she wants to do it full time. But it would be helpful when we have entries. And maybe it puts a little more colour in her life because it’s something different.”
After making 10 successful qualifying drives this is the first year Dumont, has been driving as a licensed driver. But, she actually made her first drive in a race in 2012. “My family was involved in harness racing. Both my parents owned harness horses - my mom still owns five or six. Six years ago I went back home for a visit and my mom had a nice trotter that she asked me to drive at an amateur fair meet. I crossed the finish line in second place but just before the wire I must have gotten a little excited and the horse made a break.” Because it was a ‘lapped-on’ break, Dumont was placed third. “That was quite a bit of fun. But I never tried driving again until this year.”
While Gagne and Dumont are both from Quebec and they both had parents who were involved in harness racing they didn’t meet until 1998 in Edmonton. “I was just 18; J.F. was 27 so there was a big gap in our ages,” said Dumont. As so often happens their meeting was purely by chance. Just out of high school, Dumont, who didn’t know how to speak English, left Quebec to visit some friends and an aunt in Vancouver and wound up at Fraser Downs racetrack working for Heather and Tom Burke. That spring the Burkes shipped to Northlands for two months.
Gagne, on the other hand, came to Edmonton at the same time - arriving with an old truck and trailer and a pair of cheap $4,000 claimers. “We both ended up at Northlands and, as friends, we hit it off quite well,” said Dumont. But it still wouldn’t be until 2004 that Dumont and Gagne met again - this time for good.
While Gagne showed his talent and built up his stable in Alberta, Dumont went travelling working, as she said, at different tracks throughout North America. “I was just riding the wave and seeing what opportunities were out there. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do but I always loved the horses. I was going to make a move back to Canada. I was originally thinking of going to Ontario.”
Staying in contact by phone, that fall of 2004 J.F. asked Dumont to come and work for him in Alberta. “He said if you ever want to come back out west I would love to have you. A couple of months later, I agreed to give it a try. “The rest is history,” said Dumont, who has two young children with Gagne. “I followed my heart and I’m sure glad I did. It’s been a great partnership. It was one of those things. When you know, you know.
“We had always been friends but it grew to something more serious. It just felt good to be around him.”
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