For Brandon Duchaine and Aimee Auger, the road to the Woodbine winners’ circle wasn’t paved with gold or traveled with ease – it took a great deal of hard work and commitment. From farms in Ontario to Olds College in Alberta and then back to Ontario, they learned their lessons well and waited for opportunities to come. And now with their first Woodbine wins under their belts, they agree that every step of the journey was worth it and neither of them can stop smiling!
After graduating from Olds College in 2014, Duchaine rode on the B tracks of Alberta and collected 10 wins and added one win at Northlands Park before he came home to Ontario in September. He was able to capture one win at Fort Erie, but it wasn’t until November 19 aboard Egbert’s Best for trainer Willy Armata that he would get a taste of victory at Woodbine.
“The win was unbelievable. I personally didn’t think that I was going to win on that horse that day. Just to come from as far back as we did, I just followed the instructions right to a ‘T’ and everything just worked out perfectly.”
Duchaine didn’t give his fans much to cheer about early in the race as he was some 12 lengths back in the 6 ½ furlong sprint. He was following instructions though, and he executed the plan flawlessly.
“Willy told me he has one run, and basically what I learned about him is you just let him do what he wants to do - he’s not going to run if you ask him, he’s just going to do it when he wants to. So Willy said keep him wide and eventually when we were coming out around the turn I was gaining on them and then when we straightened for home I still had a ton of horse - I couldn’t believe it!”
The margin of victory was officially charted as a neck, and supporters of the pair were rewarded with a $22.00 win payout.
It was three days later on November 22 when Aimee Auger captured her first victory aboard Clementis in the first race. A 2010 Olds College graduate, she also followed trainer instructions to the letter and found everything worked out to plan.
“Just in the paddock there, Edwin (Knight) told me just bring her from the gate and she’ll probably sit up front and sort of sit patient on her and ask her as you are coming out of the turn there at the quarter pole. I did exactly that, just broke from the gate and as the race was going I was thinking, okay we’re in a good spot down on the rail so we’re good.
“Coming into the turn by the 3/8 pole I just gathered up my lines, got myself organized, and then coming out of the turn at the quarter pole Alan Garcia was just in front of us. I waited, fingers crossed, fingers crossed and then the hole opened up all of a sudden and I saw daylight and I just tapped her on the shoulder and she just went on, she just kept going, she kept running and running. It was the coolest thing! It didn’t click in for a while that I won until I guess a few days after.”
Clementis won easily by 4 ¾ lengths and returned $25.90 to her backers.
Although it was her first win lifetime, Auger didn’t resort to fist pumps or any celebration at all. In fact, she was in a state of disbelief that it had happened. “It just felt so natural. It just felt like finishing any race but it was weird because I was in front and there wasn’t one other in front or two others in front of me. So it was weird for me – it just didn’t clue in. One of the outriders pulled me up, and he was like, ‘You did it!’ and I was like, ‘I did it, I did it,’ all the way back I was saying, ‘I won, I won!’ It still doesn’t seem real.”
With the Woodbine meet ending on November 29, both riders are trying to add to their wins for the year but are happy to just keep getting out there and learning. Both of them are also planning for the upcoming winter with trips to Florida possibly in the cards.
“I wasn’t going to go,” Duchaine explains. “I was going to work at a training centre here, but I think I’m going to go south and work horses all winter. I want to fine-tune some things and there’s a guy down there that last year had an Equicizer (mechanical horse) so he had me on there and he was helping me out so I’ll try to do that again this winter and come back ready to go next year.”
Auger’s plans are still in a state of flux, but she plans to keep busy no matter what happens.
“As of right now I plan to go to Florida, but if it doesn’t work out I’ll take a few weeks off, rest up, then go work on the farm starting horses. I have an Equicizer so I’ll get fit and come back next year ready to kill it.”
Duchaine is excited for what the future holds. “I’m happy with the amount of horses I’m getting to ride and people staying faithful. The riders have been good helping me – it’s been phenomenal!”
As for Auger, her already beaming smile grows a bit as she considers how far she has come on the trip of a lifetime. “I want to get back out there and continue with the win pictures and be so successful in this. Each time I’m out there I’m learning more and more and the more I’m learning, the more I love it and it’s just like a dream come true.
“This is exactly what I want to do. It’s a childhood dream and it’s finally coming true and, you know, I’m finally living it instead of dreaming it. It’s pretty cool!”
One thing is for sure – the journey from Olds College has taken both young riders in the direction of their dreams.