Monday, October 31, 2011

What you don't see on the program.

When I was 18 years old in 1983 I went to the races for the first time. I was in Grade 12 at that point. I graduated high school the next year and I decided I would like to train horses. I just never got around to that and it seemed that I never would. That dream got put on the back burner for about 15 years, but opportunity and fate knocked on my door again in 1998. This is the story of probably my greatest training feat.
Almahurst Loraine is a horse I have mentioned before briefly in a few other stories. Of all the horses I trained and owned, she taught me the most. But lets go back a bit first.
I have always liked gray horses. They strike you when you see them. Roans are nice too, but a true out and out gray gets your attention. Laag was one of those horses. He was striking. But he was not just striking. He was also huge and built like a truck. He was also fast and very talented. I went to my first horse race in August of 1983 and I knew nothing about horse racing. By 1987 Laag was one of the better horses around. By then I knew the difference.
Laag in his paddock as a Stallion

Laag was also a loon and everyone knew it. He wasn't above rearing up and standing on his hind legs on the track, or just flat out jumping sideways over the rail. In fact in a big race at Blue Bonnets in Montreal, he did just that, refusing to be rated and stay under control, driving right into another driver and causing a huge nasty accident in The Prix D'ete, the biggest race of the year in Montreal. (See video I have posted titled "Harness Racing Accident. 1987). After his 3 year old year, he went to stud and was very much in demand.

Laag warming up before a race.

I met Vince Li in 1988 at Greenwood Racetrack. He had money. Lots of money. As it turned out, he only lived 5 minutes from my house and we started going regularly to the track together. By 1990 I had graduated University and had a good job, and some money to spend. We decided we would buy a yearling together.

Vince had some pretty good success with owning horses and I decided I wanted to have one myself. We went to the yearling sale at Mohawk Raceway and we were intent on buying a yearling by Laag.
I saw a few of his yearlings from the first crop, but the good ones were well out of my price range. Vince and I did not want to pay what they were going for even though we looked at several. They were all good looking horses, but most were gray like him and brought a higher price than their pedigree and probable ability suggested they would. They were a bad investment. Pretty is one thing, but performance is what pays the bills in the business of horse racing. We weren't in the show horse business. We didn't race for ribbons, we raced for purse money. As it turns out, the three Laag's we looked at in that sale barely raced and never earned back anywhere near what they cost that day. I learned something that day that I have never forgotten. Grays always sell for more than any other horse, and then don't race any better because of it.

(above is the Sale page for the gray Laag yearling we didn't buy. He went for $38000 and I had him marked at $10000 tops. I think he made $20000 lifetime, before expenses. On the right is the front page of the sale book. You could see it was a nice day and I smudged ketchup from my hot dog on the front of the book)

As Laag's first crop raced there were some very very good ones. One was named Ghostly, and she caught my eye. A pure gray, and a super nice horse to watch race. As a two year old she was ready very early (Mid May) and could not be beat most of that year. She came back okay at 3, but was not the same as at 2. Her owner/trainer was a guy named Gino Toscani. He was a real estate developer who decided he would train horses with no background in it. He seemed to do very well, and Ghostly was his best horse.

Ghostly's father was Laag, and her mother was by another great horse named Niatross. To that point, it appeared Niatross was arguably the greatest Standardbred ever. Certainly if not the greatest, one of them. There was no dispute on that. He was virtually unbeatable and was the first harness horse ever to break the 1:50 barrier. (See video I posted entitled 
(1980 Niatross Time Trial - camcorder).
He was also noted to be a bit stubborn and he himself had gone over the hub rail once all by himself in a very famous race that shocked the harness racing world. (See video posted entitled "Niatross Loss At Saratoga")

Since we did not buy a Laag yearling, or any other yearling that year, we bought a racehorse later that winter named Come By Chance, and she did very well for us. Times were good for me.  I was just out of University, had a good job I liked and had just gone out on my own to live for the first time.
Come By Chance did well for us right away and I got my first win as an owner with her. I have posted that win picture below. I have a great story about her second win as well, but that is a story for another day.

(Above is the win picture Of Come By Chance at Greenwood, my first ever win as an owner)

(Above is the Winners Circle picture of Come By Chance. Vince Li is in the black suit, I am in the Green shirt, The blond lady in the green outfit was named Patti, she was the trainer Rick Fifes girlfriend. Rick is in the red and white silks. The guy holding the horses head is Nat Varty, who went on to be a very successful trainer of his own, and someone I owned a few with later)

Later that year that all ended when I lost my job and ran out of money.
To pass the time, I started to go to a lot of live music.
 I was heavily into the blues music scene and had stumbled onto a great duet blues singing team called Blue Willow. I didn't know them personally at the time, but I was captivated by one of the group members, named Loraine Ingle.
Every time I saw her at the Monday night jam I was at I couldn't take my eyes off of her. I have a story about her later, but safe to say she had my interest and I was enthralled with her for a year or so.

(Above is a picture of Loraine Ingle from back in the early days of Blue Willow)

One Friday night a few months later I was at the track and hadn't seen the program before hand. I usually did look at the program, but not this time. I now had no race horses and a crappy job which barely paid enough to let me eat, never mind own any racehorses. I worked long hard hours and had little time for anything else.

 I came to the track blind. The first race was a maiden race.Those were always fun because most of the horses were young and you didn't know them. I got to the track late and the horses were already on the track and parading and warming up. I opened the program..and there she was...Almahurst Loraine..the 8 horse. Big, strong and fast, just like her father, Laag and her grandfather, Niatross. In essence she was bred exactly like Ghostly.  She was also trained by Gino Toscani, and she was eager, like most of his. But, she was not Ghostly, and was never going to be Ghostly. She was not that type of classy horse. She looked the part, but she did not have the pedigree to justify that type of performance. She did have one striking feature though...she had a big huge gray patch on her rear..just above her hip. Otherwise she was completely bay,and a very beautiful horse to look at. She had that big roman nose and jug head that most Niatross foals did, just like Niatross himself. Being that both Laag and Niatross were noted to produce stubborn hard to handle horses, it was no surprise she was an insistent frontrunner. Add in that Gino Toscani was noted for goosing horses to make them go fast as they can as far as they could, and she was doomed to be that way from day one.

(Above is a picture of Niatross (his breeder/trainer/driver Clint Galbraith in the purple and white silks) with his big jug head and roman nose, Almahurst Loraine looked exactly like him, she even had the big ears and the exact same star on the center of her forehead)

Being that I was enamored with Loraine Ingle at that time and all the other factors I mentioned, I took notice of her right away. I was not going to bet a front runner with an 0 for 10 record from the 8 hole, but I did watch her race. As expected she went right to the lead and maintained that until mid stretch, where she promptly packed it in and finished second to last. That was the last time I saw that horse until the following fall, one year later.
By the next time I had seen Almahurst Loraine she was now in the care of Gerald Sloan. Gino Toscani liked young horses with the ability to make good money and win stake races. Loraine was never going to be that horse. Even if she was, she was ruined by being pushed too early. That strategy worked with Ghostly, but while they were identically bred, Ghostly was a champion. Loraine was not.

Gerald Sloan was an okay guy, and a competent trainer, but he was nothing special. I remembered him mostly for a horse named Viewstar. He had bought her for $5000 and she turned out to be a great horse and made him half a million dollars. But other than that he rarely got any decent results. He was just another trainer just eeking by trying to scratch out a living. It was now 1995 and by then I was doing better financially and  I had a few horses with my friend Terry Wood. Terry was from the same town as Gerry Sloan. We were racing a young horse named Winwood Dancer and she was winning money and stakes races. Times were good. Almahurst Loraine was doing okay, but not winning and not making money. She was now almost a 4 year old and had been a failure as a young horse.

(above is the first lifetime win for Winwood Dancer in her first lifetime start.)

I came to own half of Winwood Dancer because Terry had bred her.  He, like I, had started out as a fan, then became an owner of Winwood Dancer's mother, Fortunes Alibi, then kept her and bred her and had gotten Winwood Dancer. He tried to sell Dancer at the sale, but didn't get a high enough bid. I said if he didn't get the bid he wanted I would buy half of her for $6000, and when he did not, I kept my word.

(above on the left is the sale page for Winwood Dancer as a yearling and on the right a win by a nose at Sarnia for Winwood Dancer)

As the next spring came Winwood Dancer did okay but was not the horse we thought she would be. She won a few minor races at Sarnia, but she did not turn out to be the stakes horse we thought she would be.

(above is a win at Sarnia for Winwood Dancer, she just held on that night and we did not expect her to win)

While I was at Sarnia I noticed a nice little horse named Edward Seelster. He was nothing special but he looked steady and I was looking for a nice little cheap stable horse for me and my friends to own. After the next time I saw him, we claimed him. Terry was to train him and we did pretty well for him for about two months.

(above is the second start and first win for us by Edward Seelster. The pic on the right is the winners circle pic, My high school friend Ron Anisman, his cousin Marty and his kids, on the far right me and Terry. Note that Marty dedicated this win to his father, who had just passed away a couple of weeks before.)

Almahurst Loraine got passed around a bit and ended up in Ottawa with Phil Doyle, where she continued to flounder. Both Almahurst Loraine and Winwood Dancer had poor years and I was so busy with work, and life and hobbies that I sort of lost interest in all of it. I still owned Winwood Dancer and I had two others with Terry Wood, Edward Seelster and Eddie Lebec. I had gotten married in the summer of 1997 and had a very busy job, so I had limited time to pay attention to the horses.
I had bought Eddie Lebec as a project and Terry and I went in as equal partners on him. He was unraced and looked to be a very iffy proposition. I always liked those types.

But I had never forgotten about Almahurst Loraine. One late winter day, around March, I was at the track and there was a Mixed Sale happening the next week. I flipped through the Sale Book and I noticed Almahurst Loraine was in that sale. She was also racing that day so I watched her race and she got 4th at the big track. I decided that if the price was right at the sale, I was going to buy her.

I went to the sale and she went for well within my price range, and she was mine. Terry was there and she shipped back to his barn. A week later he told me that she was one hell of a fast strong horse, but that she was sore and would be better served with a month off to get back in good shape. I agreed that was the best thing to do. He also said she had a mean streak and all the other horses were scared of her. I would come to see that mean streak in later years.

After a couple of months she was back in training and looking good. She was fit to race and began racing. She did okay, but still was not producing results within her level of ability. It was basically the same as with Gerry Sloan, Gino Toscani and Phil Doyle. Terry was a good trainer but he was no superstar either and he got similar results to them. After a very disappointing effort I told him to drop her into a very cheap claiming race. That race was at Flamboro Downs.
I arrived at Flamboro and didn't have time to see Terry before the race. I watched Loraine warm up and she looked fine.
As the race went off she went for the lead, but didn't get there. She was then forced to stay on the outside the whole race, which is a very tough trip to have at Flamboro Downs, which favors horses on the inside. In spite of that she went all the way on the outside and got fourth, only beaten two lengths by the winner. It was actually a good effort. I went back to the race paddock after the race and then Terry told me that there was a problem. Loraine had the starting of a bowed tendon and there would be trouble. As it turns out, Laag's became known for bowed tendons. She wasn't lame yet, that is why he raced her anyway but she would be very lame at some point.

Her next race was at Sarnia and it was a miserable snowy and winter night in November. I told him to put her in the cheapest race he could find and if she got claimed I would take my loss on her. She did not get claimed and raced well and got 2nd. That was the end of the season for her. As well all of my horses stopped racing at that point.
Around February of the next year Terry phoned me to tell me he could not train horses for me anymore. He was too busy with his own and I would have to find someone else. I had a full time job and all of these horses had been in the field for about 4 months, so they were not race ready. It would cost a lot of money to get them back racing, if they could race at all.
By then I was working very long hours and had limited time to deal with this. I was however making very good money and had made some interesting contacts.

  Terry had 4 horses with him that I owned all or part of. Edward Seelster, Winwood Dancer, Eddie Lebec and Almahurst Loraine.
I wanted Edward Seelster and Almahurst Loraine, for which Terry did not own any part of. He did not want Eddie Lebec and said he could not get him to the races. Winwood Dancer was floundering but he wanted to keep trying with her. I took the other three and let him keep Winwood Dancer.
I was head of the dispatch department and one of the drivers was an older guy named Don Altman. He was also a partner on Edward Seelster, as were a few of my friends. I had picked out Edward Seelster for the group and we had done well with him when Terry first got him to train. He tailed off badly and we gave him the winter off.

  Don knew an older guy, Joe Gasparro, who owned a barn about 30 minutes from where I lived. The barn was basically empty and no one had any horses in training there. I went out to look at the place. It was in bad shape, but it was good enough. I decided that I would begin to train the horses myself.
One Sunday, Terry shipped Edward Seelster and Almahurst Loraine to me. Eddie Lebec was to come a month later. So there it was. 15 years later, I was in the horse training business.
My intention was to just train Edward Seelster to start with. Almahurst Loraine had by now that one bad leg due to the bowed tendon, and it was the opinion of most that she would not race again. It had always been my intention to make a broodmare out of her and breed her, so I had thought that would happen that summer. It never did. I turned her out and basically left her there for two months while I worked on Edward Seelster..and then Eddie Lebec.
Edward Seelster was easy. He was a nice little racehorse. I basically knew very little about training, but I didn't need to know much to make him go. I jogged him daily to get him in shape and then I gradually went faster with him until he was ready to race. I could not screw him up..and I didn't.

Eddie Lebec was a much different chore. He was a poor gaited horse and according to Terry and many others, he would not make a racehorse. He had speed enough to race, but had not made it and didn't appear that he would. But, I tried anyway. He had a good pedigree and was willing enough. If anything, at least I would learn a few things trying to make him a racehorse.
Remember,  I still had my full time day job. I would go very early in the morning, and then at night and train these two horses. Then on the weekends I would go and take all day and do more. I was basically alone at the barn, so I did everything.
At mid summer, I had Edward Seelster racing and he was steady and doing well. He never won a race for me, but he steadily made the top 3 and made money.

I had my trials and tribulations with Eddie Lebec, and I will tell those stories another time,  but it was clear to me that he was going to make a racehorse. I got him to the point where he could race and in his first race he won. In fact he won 3 of his first 6 and I was way ahead on him. Terry was amazed that he was the same horse he had trained. Others were surprised that a novice like me could take a horse like that and make him that good that fast. But I had done it.

One of his wins was at Woodstock with Ray Maclean Jr. . Ray was a small guy, young guy, but he was a very good driver and at that time was the top driver on the B circuit which I raced. I did well with Ray that year,  and when it came time to race Loraine, he picked her over many others, just because I told him it was a good idea. But more about that later.
Everyone told me Almahurst Loraine was a waste of time. But I had succeeded with Edward Seelster, then  Eddie Lebec, so I decided to give Loraine a try.
Of course, I had no idea what I was in for.
While Edward Seelster and  Eddie Lebec were smart and easy to handle geldings, Loraine was a hot tempered big strong mare who had to have her own way all the time. The first time I took her out to the track I knew I was a bit over my head. But I trudged on. On that first time, it was all I could do to restrain her. I went one lap and had to take her back to the barn. She was just too strong and would not rate. Just as her father, Laag, had not in that race in Montreal. She was dangerous to drive, even by herself with no other horses around.

  I waited for the weekend to take her out next. I thought that maybe putting her out for a few hours to blow some steam off was a good idea. That worked with most. Not with her. I got her to the track okay but as soon as she stepped on the track she was pulling hard against me.  I held her for one lap, but my hands were killing me. I had to let off a bit, and as soon as I did she decided she was going to go full speed. She had been off 6 months now, had no training at all, had a borderline front leg, but none of that mattered to her. She went full speed,  for what seemed a good 45 minutes. Most horses, when they did that, would either hurt themselves or be so tired that they would be ruined. Not her.
It had dawned on me at that moment. I could not treat her as other horses. She wanted to go all she could go and she could do it.  So I let her. I knew it would not be long for her to be ready to race. I also knew managing her leg was going to be a chore. I developed a strategy to help her along.

  I really did not like driving her. She was scary. It was not fun and I never looked forward to it. I decided to only train her once a week, on Saturday,  when I had the time to do it. The rest of the week I would just let her run around the paddock all day. She was the type that would move so much and so fast in the paddock that that was better than trying to hold her day after day on the track. Most horses would take about 3 months to return off of such a long layoff. She was ready in 3 weeks.
One Saturday, I decided to see just how fit she was. I let her run for about an hour in the paddock, got all of my other work done, then hitched her up and took her to the track. We went one lap slow, then  I let her go all she wanted  to. To this day, I have never trained a horse on a farm track as fast as she went that day. Most horses would have trouble breaking 2:10 on the farm track  I trained her in 2:01, which was astounding. To win her first race all she would have to do was go 2:05 at the racetrack, which was at least 5 seconds faster than the farm track. At this point, she had 50 lengths on the field.

  Because I didn't train her except for once a week, my whole strategy was to just look after her legs and keep her from being sore. Every night after I was done with the other two horses I would make her stand in a bucket of ice for two hours. After about a month, her leg was as good as new. The vet once told me she had never seen anyone manage a bad bowed tendon like that.
It came time to prep her for the race,  and I took her for a practice race to prove she was fit. I put her in with far superior horses, so it would appear that she was not really doing much. She proved worthy to race, but did not stand out. She was the type who was a strong frontrunner..and a terrible horse to drive if you put her directly in behind a slower horse but if you put her in with faster horses and left her in the pack she would behave and just float along out there. She would not stand out in the practice race. I did this on purpose so that when she went to race it would not look like she was fit to win right away.
She came back home and her legs were perfect. All systems were go.

I had to race that night,  and I saw Ray McLean Jr. at the track. Loraine was entered to race that coming Friday and Ray had 6 choices in that race. Loraine had the 7 post position,  which was the worst one, and normally he would never pick a horse with a bad post position who hardly had ever won a race and had been  off 8 months. But I told him flat out. Pick her. She will win. He did pick her.
That first year that I went to the races back in 1983 I went mostly with my friend Ian from high school. Even over the years I had gone with him many times. We even owned a horse together with Vince Li that did not work out well. By this time Ian was a successful businessman and had many very good horses of his own. We talked on a daily basis.
I told Ian that Loraine was a sure winner. That I had trained her 10 seconds faster than the race was going to go and there was no way she could lose

We decided that we would both bet heavy, but make different bets so as to not kill the odds. He would bet the triactor and I would bet Win, Place, Show. In the end, I won more than a thousand dollars betting on her that night. Ian won more than $8000. He called me the next day to thank me.
It came time  for the race on the Friday. Ray was a small guy and Loraine was a big strong horse. I told him one thing. "Just leave her out wide and sit on the outside the whole way. Do not get in behind horses. She is too strong and you won't be able to hold her." The field was very weak on top of everything else and there was no way I could see her losing if she had a clear path, in spite of the long journey she would have. It was like that day at Flamboro, but this time she was fit, sound and in very easy.

We brought her out to the track and it was clear he could not control her. He went one lap of warmup and then brought her off. Two of us then held her head and just made her stand until it was time to race. The horn blew and off they went..straight to the gate. As they were off it was clear she was not going to make the lead and she would just sit outside the leader the whole way. I was happy about that, because I knew she could win that way.
She did just that for 3 quarters of the race, then as they approached the last turn he let her loose and she opened up a 10 length lead on the field and coasted home a very easy winner.

(above is various win pics for Almahurst Loraine,  although none of them are of the win mentioned in this story.)

To this day, it was my greatest training achievement. She went on to win two more races that fall and then come back and be horse of the year the next year.
I learned with her it doesn't matter what others tell you and you have to just let the horse tell you what works best for them. I was the only one that ever got any performance out of her, and that is because I let her be herself.
Oh, and Loraine Ingle, she became a friend  and sang at my wedding. I still to this day know her and her singing partner Dawn Duvall is going to record one of the songs I wrote back when I first met them.

What you don't see on the program.

When you train racehorses you are taught to always do a quick check of your equipment before you head out to the track. Most of us never do. You train so many in a day, and day after day, that you get lazy and complacent. I was one who usually did check my equipment anyway. However, not every time. Of course there would come a time when this would backfire. This is the story of just such a time.
I trained a nice little horse named Emersons Paradise, for who I also owned, as I did with all the ones I trained. I had trained and owned him several years before and made a lot of money on him, then sold him. When he was down on his luck I bought him back and fixed him up. Within a few weeks with me was back to his old self.
He was one of those horses that was meant for me. I could make him go because I knew things about him and knew how to make him go. He was also a very sensible horse.
This particular day it was late evening and he was the last one to go out onto the track. I usually left the best behaved ones for last, because you were tired by then and wanted the easiest ones to train and drive. Being late evening there was no one left at the barn. I slapped the equipment on him and off we went to the track. We went along jogging for about 20 minutes, just as we always had. He was automatic pilot when I drove him. I could zone out and not even take much hold of the driving lines. He drove himself. He knew the game and did what was needed on his own, most of the time.
He did have one quirk, which a lot of them had. Whenever you passed by the opening to go off the track, he would veer slightly to test you to see if he could finish his work and go back to the barn. Some were bad about that and you would have to yank them back towards the track. Some would insist on going off and you would have to fight with them. Most, like him, just needed a tug on the right line and they would just keep going until the time you didn't tug on the right line and let them off.
As we approached the opening to the gate, he pulled slightly as he always had. I tugged on the right line and pulled him back towards the track. No big deal. I had done that a hundred times before. As we ambled along down the straightaway I noticed a rabbit ahead. As with any loose animal on the track you had to be careful because a racehorse will shy and veer suddenly when they see that. If you are not careful and prepared when that happens you can get dumped from the cart in a split second. So I took hold of him. It was at this point that I got that sick feeling in my stomach that all trainers get at one time or another in their training career. As I pulled back, the right line was now broken and all I had was the left line. I had dropped the lines many times before, so I knew how that felt. But in those times, other than a few seconds of panic, I always got them back and the horse under control. This was not going be one of those times.
I now had one line of control, a dangling line on the other side that would make its way between the horses legs at some point, a fast approaching rabbit on the track, and a usually calm horse who would be grabbing on and wanting to go because of said rabbit and the fact that I had tensed the driving lines. life and the horses life was now in danger. Being that I was just jogging the horse and it was a hot summer night, I also only had on a t-shirt, shorts, and NO HELMET.  The horse had no leg protection. Anything could happen. I had never had to actually deal with this and I had two choices to make.
First, I could bail when we slowed down and then take my chances with the fall and hope for the best for the horse and cart. That was tempting but I decided, based on this particular horse, to stay on and do my best. He was sensible and on some level I trusted him to look after himself..and me.
Now, what to do? Being somewhat level headed and calm, I decided to just keep driving him with the left line and getting his attention that way. I couldn't slow him down, nor could I completely steer him but I did have some control. He was a very sensible horse so I hoped for the best. But, he was a race horse and his natural instinct was to go as fast as he could when riled up.
We passed the rabbit and now he was at full speed. My biggest immediate concern was the turns. If he kept at full speed in the turns and did not stay straight I was likely to fall over and off the cart. I had to shift my weight to compensate for that. I had learned to do that with another horse I had trained many years ago.
Back when I first started training horses I had two of my own to work with. One was the very sensible and easy to train and drive Edward Seelster. He did just about everything right and I could not do anything with him that would get me in trouble. He was steady, yet unspectacular. The other was Almahurst Loraine. She was probably the most dangerous horse I ever drove. I take that back. Not probably, for sure she was the most dangerous. She was very very big and strong. She was also bred to be a bit headstrong and strong willed. On top of that she was broken and trained as a baby horse by a guy who is known to push them for all they have got long before they are ready to handle that. I bought her as a 4 year old as a prospect who had never achieved her full potential but had showed that potential many times. At the time I had a trainer and he said she was the fastest horse he had ever driven. He also said she was the strongest and hardest puller he had ever driven. All of those things were true. I have trained many fast and headstrong horses in my time, and none have ever approached her on either level.
When he came to me one winter and told me he could not train for me anymore due to his life circumstances I decided to train these two and one other of mine myself.
He shipped them to me and I began with Edward Seelster who was very easy to train as I mentioned before. Figuring how hard could it be, I decided to give Almahurst Loraine (Loraine) a shot. It became apparent as soon as we headed out of the barn and down the pathway to the track that she was going to be a whole lot of trouble.
She pulled hard, and no matter how hard you pulled back it did not matter. If you let her get one step of any momentum, she was gone and you were just a passenger until she was completely out of energy, which was almost never. Then she would rest a bit and then decide to go full speed again. There were times when she would go for a full hour full speed, while most horses could only go for about 3 minutes. Most horses look to go off the track when they see the opening back towards the barn, as I mentioned before. She was not one of those. She looked to stay on the track and keep going until you made her stop. Even when you did get her off, she would go full speed all the way back to the barn then make a super fast stop right before the door. One time I drove her in a practice race and she didn't even stop for the starting gate, like every other horse does. She just banged her head right into it. Even that didn't deter her. As soon as the starting gate drove away she flew out of there and was on the lead in two steps.

 That first time I realized how much trouble I was in and I pulled as hard as I could and got her off the track after just one lap, safe and sound.
I decided to take another shot at training her a week later. This time I was ready for her. Or so I thought. I got her out of the barn nice and slow and down the pathway. I could feel her start to swell up but I had control of her. She walked on to the track and went the first lap nice and easy. I thought I had her calmed down so I let up a bit on my hold of her.
Big mistake.
 Within two strides she hit full speed and we were off. I have never traveled that fast in any vehicle. To sit behind a race horse of her caliber and go full speed on a farm track in a jogging cart is a very scary thing to have happen. No matter how hard I pulled on her, it had no effect. The only thing that could slow her down was to throw her off stride. Even that was only temporary as she could regain  her stride and start again. At some point I just learned to let her go as far and as fast as she could and just stay on. Staying on however, was a major chore. She had no intention of slowing down in the turns, and many times I was inches from falling off the jog cart because I could not balance myself from the speed she took the turns. I did always stay on, and I learned to shift my weight just enough to last through the turns. At times I learned to take her very wide going into the turn then angle her back to the center so it would slow her just a shade and I could stay on.
This early lesson proved very valuable on this day some 8 years later with Emersons Paradise. He was nowhere near as fast or as crazy as Loraine, but he was still going fast and the turns were going to be an issue. I had my left line to keep him on track, and I knew with him he did not have that crazy stamina that Loraine had. We went around about 6 or 7 times and he was getting tired, but still he was confused. Horses are taught to respect the drivers touch and control, so being out there in total control was confusing for him. As he began to settle down, I started to speak to him. He was one of those horses that responded better to sound than to touch. That was one of the things that I knew about him that other trainers didn't.  I always told the drivers in races "Don't hit him with the whip, he won't respond to it". Some horses are like that. He was one of them. At best you could just gently tap him with it and he got the message. Mostly, if you hit the whip against the shaft of the race bike or jogger, the sound of the crack of the whip was what motivated him and instructed him it was time to step it up. I always raced him with ear plugs so that he didn't hear other horses getting slashed by the whip, then told the driver to pull out the earplugs and let him know it was time to get going.
He also responded to commands in this way.  Knowing all of this, I sensed he was tired and I bellowed out "Whoa". He responded by slowing down to a very light jog, then a walk. We were only about 50 feet from the opening to the pathway back to the barn. He was now walking calmly and if I wanted to I could have gotten off the jogger. But I trusted him, so I just stayed on. As he approached the opening, he calmly walked off and made a light jog back to the barn and towards the barn door. He stopped at the they are all taught to do. I got off and he stood there as I led him in and tied his head into the cross ties.
All's well that ends well.
He got quite a workout that day, and when he raced a few days later he went the best race he had ever gone for me. Little did the crowd at the track that day know, but we were just an unlucky break away from not making it to the track at all. That was not on the program.

Where were you moments....9/11

September 11, 2001 started like every other day that year for me. Got up early, drove my wife to the subway so she could head downtown to her job at Bank Of America. Yes, we live in Canada, but Toronto is a big international city and all of the big international companies have headquarters here. That would become important later. Then I headed out to Mississauga to the barn so I could go train my stable of racehorses. As always, I listened to the Fan590 on the radio. I loved sports talk radio and had it on all day as I traveled back and forth and while I brushed the horses and cleaned the stalls. I had gotten used to listening to the Fan while doing my previous day job of traveling to customers to settle foreign exchange deals. It was what carried my day in the endless chores of training, feeding, cleaning, rubbing and brushing racehorses.
As I approached Hurontario Street on the 401, it was exactly 8:48am. I saw that on the dashboard of the car radio clock. I remember that as clear as day. The brief news update was being delivered and then the traffic was updated as was common in the mornings. Toronto has major traffic issues, as do most big cities, so if you listened to any station you always heard those.
Just as the traffic report was being presented, the morning talk host, Mike Hogan, cut in to say he had CNN on the tv there and that he could see images of a plane crashing into one of the towers of The World Trade Center. It was now 8:50. I thought to myself "What kind of crap pilot crashes a plane into The World Trade Center"? I was now less than 5 minutes from the barn, but I didn't think much about it. As I pulled onto Winston Churchill Blvd. and headed for the barn it was now getting close to 9am. I pulled into the barn and went inside. First chore was always to check on the horses and see if they were ok and give them breakfast. I did that. As they began to chomp down on their breakfast I went into the feed room and turned on the radio. It was now 9:05. Reality was starting to set in. This was not a random plane that hit the tower and something was amiss. Nevertheless, I was busy and had things to do.
Went out to check on the track, see if everything was ok before I harnessed up the horses for the days work. That took about 5 minutes. Everything looked fine. I remember that it was a clear sunny day, as bright blue and as shiny as could be. At that time good hay was hard to come by, but the owner of the barn's son, Lenio,  had cut a whole field of wild grass and exotic plants, so I went out to gather some and pick them so the horses would have a good meal for dinner later after I went home. It was now about 9:20. I came back in and took two horses who were not going to train and led them into the paddock so they could run. Back into the barn and back to the crosstie area. I got the first horse out who would be jogged.
The radio was loud enough so I could hear it while I brushed the first horse. A second plane had crashed into the second tower at 9:15. Oh boy. You knew this was going to be a day for the history books. Being at the barn I had no way to see this visual. It was all on the radio for me until I got home later just after lunchtime. But I could picture it and it seemed very real.
It was now approaching 9:30. It was clear that this day was going to be different than any other day. I decided that there would be no jogging of the horses today. It just didn't make sense. I turned them all out and began to make some phone calls. It was now 9:55. I went over to the grocery store down the street and got some potato wedges that I loved but usually waited until lunchtime to get. Got back to the barn around 10:10. On the way I was listening to the Fan590 in the car. I pulled into the driveway of the barn and it was 10:15. The announcer, Mike Hogan, sounded grim and somber as he reported that the first tower had just fallen.
Within a few minutes he reported that The Pentagon had been hit by a third plane and there was significant damage and casualties. In the meantime, within minutes, the second tower fell. In the matter of two hours the World Trade Center, the poster child symbol for American dominance on the horizon of the most famous city in the world, was no longer there. Just a vast expanse of horizon filled with smoke on top of a heap of steel, concrete, ashes...and dead bodies. The reality of what was happening was now upon us.
It was now almost 11am. I got my cell phone out and called my wife. Of course, there was panic and shock everywhere. I was at the barn, in the country, so I was completely isolated and alone. She was not. Thousands upon thousands of office workers glued to the tv and riveted by the unimaginable. There was mild panic. I asked what she knew. She knew about the two towers, but she and most didn't know about The Pentagon. They also didn't know about the missing plane about to crash in the back woods of Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, where her sister was living. I did.
I told her, as I lay on grass on my cell phone, gathering up more grass and flowers and plants for the horses to munch on later, that this was much bigger than we could all conceive of.
Being that she worked for The Bank of America, in the heart of downtown Toronto, where a big sign hung to show all the world, just steps from another icon, the CN Tower, there was significant risk that they would be a target as well. I advised her to leave work, get on the subway and I would pick her up ASAP. I had no idea how long that would be. I imagined a panic on the scale of The War Of The Worlds and possibly horrible traffic jams on the highway as I headed back to get her and head home. I really had no idea what to expect.
I gathered up the horses and put them back inside, prepared all that needed to be done and was on my way to pick her up. On a normal day it would be a 20 minute drive.  But this was midday and also no ordinary day. I headed for the highway and what could be a long journey back to the subway and then home.
It was now around 11:30. As I got on the highway one thing was very obvious.  The whole city had vacated long before I got there. It was barren and empty, like a bomb scare had happened hours earlier. It was like driving home at 3am. Hardly a car to pass. I got to the subway in 10 minutes, probably the fastest I ever have.
Because I got there so fast I had to wait about half an hour for my wife to make her way up to the station I pick her up at. I waited in the car and continued to listen to the radio. I had my potato wedges so I chomped on those while I passed the time.  It was now noon.
As I waited, I noticed many other cars waiting in that roundabout. It was always a busy pickup circle,  but nothing like this. Many drivers would get out of their cars which was another very odd thing to see. They never did that. As their pickup and passenger would arrive one or other would be crying. Balling. It was obvious that this was affecting them in a way it wasn't me. This happened many times over while I waited.
One in particular sticks in my mind. There was a woman waiting in the car beside me.  She seemed sullen, but still, for about 10 minutes. Then a man, dressed clearly as a Bay Street type of banker got out of the enclosure to the pickup area and met her halfway from their car and the enclosure. They embraced and were crying uncontrollably. It is likely they had a loved one who perished in one of the towers. I will never forget those few seconds I witnessed that. That is my strongest memory of that day,  to this day.
At about 12:20 my wife arrived, safe and sound. She was calm, but a bit shaken. We made our way home,  which was about 10 minutes.
By the time we got home, it was clear who had done this and how large this story and event had become.
We sat on the couch, for hours, probably until midnight, just watching the event. It was our generations JFK moment.
My strongest memory of all the images was watching a stream of people, probably hundreds of thousands walking over a bridge meant for cars from the city to some other destination. Won't ever forget that either.
That is how I remember that whole day.

Not that there is anything wrong with that

I had first encountered Kim at a Blues Society function. I had been going to blues gigs all over town. Any gig really.
It started by complete accident. I had just moved to my new apartment but I had a crappy low paying job and money was tight. Most of the time I stayed in and entertainment consisted of walking my dog Minnie, going to the horse races, betting to show so I wouldn't lose, and watching a lot of television.
One night while flipping channels I encountered a program on the local cable tv channel called 'Stormy Monday'. It was a half hour show that featured clips of blues performers from the Monday night jam at Albert's Hall. I had never been to Albert's Hall but I knew of it because it was legendary.
Not being a drinker I rarely went to bars anyways. Each week though I would make sure to watch this show and each week it was filled with great local performers. The host, Danny Marks, mentioned that anyone was welcome to come down to this jam, but it was on a Monday night and I played floor hockey on Monday nights. The jam started around 10pm, and floor hockey finished at 11pm so I decided one night that I would go down and see what it was about.
The first thing that was apparent when I got there was how hard it was going to be to park. Being in an old neighborhood and on a main street, there was nowhere to park and it meant going into the residential and leaving it there. I was risking getting a ticket. But I was there, so I did it.
I made my way to the main street, Bloor Street, and noticed the neon sign. It of course looked exactly as it did on the tv program.
Albert's Hall was above The Brunswick House,  was a drinking bar for University kids from The University Of Toronto, which was just down the street. As the years went by,  I went in there once, but for the most part, I never went in there. Hanging around drunk frat boys and horny teenage girls wasn't ever my scene. But you had to pass The Brunswick House to get to the stairs up to Albert's Hall, which was on the second floor. There was no cover charge because it was a jam, so you just went right in.
As you turned the corner to go in it was immediately apparent that this place had atmosphere and presence. It was dark, it was smokey and in certain spots it was bright. Being an old venue where many of the legends of the blues had played over many years, it had that 50s feel to it, like it had been untouched by time.
I sat down near the back, on a stool, not a table, as I had come in after it was already started.
I really didn't know what to expect because this wasn't tv, it was real. I guess I hadn't realized that the tv show was staged and taped specifically for tv. This was certainly much different and livelier. One by one, performer after performer would just get up and sing a couple of songs, and it was a free for all. Musicians would just get up and join in pretty much at any time. I saw a few of the performers that I had seen on the tv show, plus many others I had never seen. It was a true jam, and it was captivating and fantastic.A 2 hour ride that was high intensity right until last call.
After that night, I attended pretty much every Stormy Monday for about 3 years, and continued to watch the tv show. I also began to write blues songs, and other songs, and would also start going to see some of the performers from those jams at their own gigs.
As I got into the scene more and more I learned of The Blues Society and their gatherings. I decided since I was now thinking about writing and publishing my songs that I would I went down early and sat through the whole thing. Many of the artists at this event I had never seen. Some I knew of but had never seen live. They were all great. One in particular, Kim Doolittle,caught my eye. She was one I had completely missed along the way.  I had never seen or heard of her before. She was so talented and so unique that she stuck in my mind. Later when I got home I read The Blues Society flyer and saw she had a gig on Church Street.  It was not an area I went to often, but I had to see more of her.
It was a Sunday night, I remember that much. I rarely went to gigs on Sunday nights because I had to work very early Monday mornings. I usually went Friday and Saturday nights, and then of course on Monday nights to Stormy Monday. This place was also very classy, a lot more upscale than any bar I had been to listen to live music. There also weren't very many people in the bar, so unlike Albert's Hall it had no energy and seemed vacant. I made my way to the bar. I didn't drink much at all, but I couldn't hide in here as I could at  Albert's Hall.  I had to order and I did. I ordered a screwdriver. I had always been able to tolerate a screwdriver, because I liked orange juice and vodka was the one alcoholic beverage that I could stand the taste of.
I didn't know Kim and she didn't know me. As I would come to find out in the years to come, that wouldn't matter. Kim has always been the type to talk to everyone and I was no exception to that. The gig had not started yet and it was a solo gig. Just her. Not much equipment. Just her and her guitar. She had already tuned her guitar and plugged in, so she made the rounds before she got started. There weren't many rounds to make, because as I said the place was pretty empty. She approached me and introduced herself.
Anyone who knows me knows I am very approachable. I don't go looking for contact, but I don't shy away either, and when prompted I am not short of things to say or the will to say them. As we started to talk we hit it off right away. I mentioned that I had noticed her at The Blues Society gig and came specifically to see her here. Kim was always very perceptive and she quickly realized that I didn't know the type of place I was in. That would become relevant later on. She mentioned she also had a jam on Tuesday nights at Quinn's on the Danforth,  and I should come out to that. I said I would certainly do that, and I did attend that jam for about 2 years while it lasted.
After 10 minutes, she got up and started playing. She was great, just as I had expected. A true talent. A natural storyteller and had a voice like I had never heard before live. She also just made up songs on the spot, which was something I had never seen before either. I have known her now for almost 20 years and to this day I don't know anyone who can do what she does on that level. We actually wrote songs together after that for a while.
About 30 minutes into her first set, the bartender brought me another screwdriver. I had not finished the first one, nor had I ordered another. I asked him why he brought it to me. He said that it was sent to me and had been bought for me. That had never ever happened before. I looked around the bar and I guess I hadn't noticed that every person in the bar was male, except for Kim. I looked at Kim and nodded to her, thanking her for the drink. She nodded back.
At this point it dawned on me.  I was in a gay bar. I guess I knew that since I was in the Church St. and Wellesley area, which was a well known gay part of town, that this was a gay bar. It just had never occurred to me. Anyway, what did I care? Gay bar or straight bar, I was there for the music. Even if it was sent by a woman it would not have mattered. I loved women, but on this night I was there to see Kim sing.  Not to get laid.
I accepted the drink and paid no more mind to it.
Kim finished her first set and came back to sit with me and chat. I thanked her for the drink. She said she didn't send it. Okay, now I was startled. If she didn't send it,  who did? She knew what was going on, but I did not. At this point I was 28 years old and in very good shape.  I still played a lot of sports and worked out, so I did get hit on a lot at bars by women and was used to it. But if Kim didn't send me the drink,  obviously it had come from a man. I started to become uneasy and Kim realized it.
It was now time for her to go up and start the second set. As she did I asked the bartender "who sent me this drink?" He said that guy over there at the end of the bar. He also now sent me a second one. I told the bartender I didn't want it, but he said it was paid for and just set it down in front of me.
The man at the end of the bar came up to me and said hello. Being the nice guy I was,  I said hello back. Everyone at the bar, which was now about 20 people, knew what was going on. It was obvious to them he was gonna try and pick me up for a one night stand. It was also obvious to all of them that I was not in the least bit gay, or even curious to try it once and find out if I liked it. I have nothing against anyone who is gay, but it is not my thing and I have not then, or now, had any interest in any contact with men. I always make that clear.
In this case, that did not seem to matter or phase this man. He was intent on making it happen. We talked for a bit, and he was hinting at what he wanted. He was in his late 50s and obviously this was something he had done before. As he continued to hit on me, I continued to give off the vibe that I was not going to play ball with him.
Kim's second set now ended and I was a bit pissed. This guy had monopolized my time  so much that I missed most of the songs from the second set. I didn't know Kim at all but being the perceptive woman she was she decided to come to my rescue. She sat down beside me and joined the conversation. Kim and I have now known each other for almost 20 years,  as I mentioned before, and have never had any physical attraction to each other. In spite of that, she decided to do what she thought she needed to do in this case. As she was talking to this man, she put my hands on her hips. When he got distracted for a few seconds she whispered in my ear to play along. He got up and went to the bathroom.When he came back to sit down, she moved my hands a little higher and turned and laid a big passionate kiss on me. She acted like we were a couple. That should have been the end of it. He should have gotten the message.
But he didn't.
She went up to play her third and final set, and he was still there, trying to get me to go home with him. At some point I just flat out told him "Buddy, I am not gay". That was still not enough for him.
He explained to me this is a known gay bar and that if I was in it, I had to like men. I explained to him that gay men also go to straight bars and no one expects them to date women. Still, he was not deterred. He insisted that I had to be gay and that I was just not interested in him.
Finally it took the bartender to tell him to back off, as I was so stunned by it all that I really didn't know what to say.
The next Tuesday I went to see Kim sing at Quinn's. It was a great experience and we laughed about it all. At that jam I met her friend Michelle. She was super hot and when she came at me, there was no hesitation as there had been at the gay bar on Church St. I went home with her that night and it was one of the best one night stands I ever had.
Horses for courses I guess.
I have never since been back to a bar on Church street. Nor will I.

What you don't see on the program.....Buffalo Wings

When you move from a fan to an owner to a trainer you learn a few things about the business of horse racing.
One of the most important things you learn is that what you see on the racing program is not really all there is to know. Sometimes you see the odds of a horse so out of whack with how it looks on paper that it makes you wonder. Those are the easy times to figure that something is there that you don't see. Or know.
Most times however there is much more to it and both the program and the odds board don't ever reflect that.
As you race horses you learn this: In every race, every person and every horse has a story. Many you never know or learn. But those stories are still there. This is one such story.
It was a Sunday afternoon and I had just got home from the long trip to Sudbury and back. Racing at Sudbury was a whole day and night affair. You prepared in the morning, left by lunch time, if not earlier, got there by dinner time, grabbed some fries, unloaded the truck and trailer, spent all night racing two horses,  put them away, grabbed some sleep in a room or in your truck, got up at the crack of dawn, drove 5 hours back to home base, then fed the horses and went home for some rest and sleep.  24 hours of go go go.
This Sunday was no different. I had 6 horses in training.  Two I had raced the night before and two I had raced on Friday night. I did all the work all of the time, so there was work to be done when I got back to the barn. But this time I was tired and I wasn't up to it. I put the two I had just raced in their stalls, put the two who had raced on Friday night in the big paddock so they could run all day and put the other two in the small paddock so they could move around a bit before I got back later to do a bit of work on them. The two who had not raced were Buffalo Wings and King Herc. As with all of my horses I had bought them when they were older and had not named them.
When I got back to the barn at 8pm it was still light out, and the heat had subsided. Just a nice October night. No wind, No rain. Just a calm night. I was rested and it was time to get to work. I took the two out of the big paddock and brought them in. Then I took the two had just raced the night before and put them in that paddock to stretch their legs, eat some grass and reward them for their good efforts the night before. I had come home with a thousand bucks from Sudbury. A nice haul, and the usual. That's why I made the effort to go all the way there. The money was good and the horses were soft. I could race just 45 minutes away and sleep in my own bed, but the competition was tougher and the money much harder to come by. Now I had to get the two I had in the small paddock ready.
The two in that paddock were Buffalo Wings and King Herc.
King Herc was still not racing. He was a project. A favor and a project I took on for a friend in the barn. He was still about 4 weeks from being ready to race, if he ever raced. He had the legs of a warrior and was not to keen to be a racehorse anymore. But he was a nice little horse and I enjoyed working with him. He was a Sudbury horse as well, and had made lots of money there when he was in his prime. He was also a good paddock mate for Buffalo Wings. Two geldings who pretty much ignored each other and went about eating grass and grazing. I had put them out together so they would come back in one piece when I got back to the barn.
Buffalo Wings was an all around nice horse. Sound clean legs, big strong smart horse, nice to work with and would do whatever you wanted with him. He was no champion, but he was a steady earner and I had already made quite a bit of money with him. I bought him with the idea that he could clean up in Sudbury and he had done just that. He was in to race again on Wednesday in Sudbury and this time I was going with just him. He was very low maintenance and just needed to graze all day and eat the rest of the time. I rarely jogged him. He raced every week and stayed in shape that way and with his daily runs in the paddock.
I prepared dinner and breakfast for all the horses then went out to get King Herc and Buffalo Wings. King Herc came right to the gate. He wanted in. Suddenly, though, I noticed that Buffalo Wings was not there. Not anywhere. Normally, when a horse gets out of his paddock (which happens a lot) they usually run to another paddock, or just find some fresh grass and graze. Sometimes they just wander back into the barn and go right into their own stall. In this case none of those things happened.
There was no one at the barn, so he must have wandered off somewhere. I didn't panic. Buffalo Wings was a very sensible horse and I was sure I would find him. I gathered King Herc and led him back to  his stall and to his dinner. All present and accounted for except for Buffalo Wings.
I began the search. It was almost dark now, so if he was far off it wasn't gonna be easy. I had been at this barn now for 4 or 5 years, but other than the barn, the track and the close paddocks, I had not really ever explored all the surrounding land, of which there was lots. This night was going to show me every inch of it, and then some. I learned a lot about what was there, and things I had never seen.
We had horses get loose many times before and we had a gate to keep them away from the road, which was only seconds from the barn. When I had gotten to the barn that night, the gate was not closed. This happened often. Most of us didn't pay much attention to it, and this was the first time that it had come back to bite anyone. I searched through the woods,  which was just on the outskirts of the property. It was dark now, so my only recourse was to call out his name as I searched. My hope was that he would come towards me or at the very least would be startled and run and make some noise so I could find him. It was now 10pm and there was no sight or sound of him. I decided to search farther. By this point I was now off the property, but still well within where he could be.
As I approached a hill I noticed a deep depression. I stopped just short of it. Deep in the small valley, which was very steep,  there was a huge pond. If he had run free and towards this he could have fallen down deep into the pond and drowned. It was dark, and there was nothing I could do about that if he did. Nor could I see if he had. I looked for hoof prints, but I didn't see any. That was a good sign. My mind was racing now. All my hard work, my searching and scouting to find him, making him a better race horse, doing what needed to be done to make a good buck with him, that was all in jeopardy and could be all gone.
I traced back through the woods on my way back to the barn. Still no sight or sound of him. It was now close to 11pm.
He was not in any of the paddocks, nor in the barn.
I went and got the two horses out of the paddock and brought them into their stalls. It was almost midnight. At this point I had no choice, I had to get in the truck and start driving through the back roads, in the hope of finding him  running loose. The trailer was still attached, so if I did find him, I could bring him home. There was always the chance I would find him dead, hit by a car or truck, but really I had no choice at this point but to trudge on and hope for the best.
I jumped in the car and started with the back roads. The barn was located right off of Woodbine Avenue, which was a major street, but if he was there, there already would have been sirens and police cars, or he would have been dead. Either way, not a good place to start. I had been down many of these back roads before. When you ship horses as much as I did, you find that taking them is much easier than having impatient drivers driving up your butt and making you uncomfortable. But I never really paid much mind to them. When you ship horses and take the long trips I did, you zone out your mind and one driveway or farm starts to look like all the rest.
This time though I had to pay attention. So many places he could be. It was dark and late as I mentioned before and there was no light to speak of, other than the headlights on my truck.
I made my way slowly, but it was pretty obvious to me that this was futile. As I got to the end of the first back road I was now at the main road, Warden Avenue. This was quite far but horses when motivated can travel a long distance in a short time. I made a left turn and followed the road. Lots of light this time but still no sign of him. I guess that  was good, the longer I didn't find him on any road,  the more likely he had stumbled onto some farmers property and was being held until daylight.
As I got to end of Warden and hit the intersection of Bloomington Road I made a left. Lots of farms along the South border, and many with horses, so I could easily see him wandering into this area. They were heavily fenced, but horses are crafty and always find a way around that. I knew that to be true this time, because that is how he got out in the first place.
As I drove down Bloomington still no sign of him. I made the left turn at Woodbine and then in seconds I was back at the barn. I got out of the truck, checked on all of the horses and then decided I would go watch tv in the lounge room. No point chasing around at this point and I was getting tired again.
Grabbed a nap for about an hour, and it was now almost 2am. Still no sign of him. I decided I would take another drive around the neighborhood. Being 2am and a very rural area, there was not a car to be seen, so I made the rounds quickly this time. Back at the barn in 10 minutes, I decided to take a short nap in the truck. As I awoke, it was now 3:30am and I got up refreshed. I have always been the type that knew things would just work out if you kept your cool and remained calm, and I was doing that this time.
As I got out of the truck I began to walk the whole barn area again. Still no sign of him. The night was very still and calm, but now quite a bit cooler. I decided to take another run at the forest area, to see if he was anywhere to be found.
As I got far out enough, the brush was now wet with the dew and it was very cold. I did not have a jacket on,  as with all the ruckus of the day turning to night I had forgotten to do that.
Suddenly, I heard a noise. I moved towards it. As I got closer, it was obvious: It was him. Luckily for me, I had put bandages on him, as I did all horses I turned out. That probably saved his legs from many cuts and bruises, and in the end allowed him to still be in good enough to be raced 3 days later.
Unfortunately for me, I did not bring a lead shank out with me.
No matter what, I was not gonna let him go. I had done too much all night to find him, and had stuck with it to this point.
Leading a big strong horse in the dark from the forest, with all the bush and branches, was just asking to get step on or kicked. But it was a risk I was willing to take. Buffalo Wings was such a calm sensible horse that I could trust him to not bolt or kick or bite me. In many ways I felt that he was tired and happy to see me show up and lead him back to the safety of his stall, where his dinner awaited.
After about twenty steps I had him out of the bush and we were walking on the paved pathway back to the barn.
Got him back to the barn and now put him in the cross ties. Now to see what kind of damage may have been done. As I got the bandages off, all appeared good and in order. I noticed some blood near his feet and ankles, and as I cleaned it off it was clear that it was a minor cut, so I treated it and bandaged him back up.
Back in his stall, back in my truck, gate closed and back home to rest up.
I arrived back at the barn around lunchtime, and there was the usual hustle and bustle. No one was any the wiser that a loose horse had gotten away. I went about my usual daily chores and jogged Buffalo Wings to see if there was any reason to scratch him. There wasn't . He was his usual self. Lazy and going about his business, doing what he was told  and barely doing whatever he needed and was asked to do.
I arrived in Sudbury on Wednesday night, raced Buffalo Wings, got a solid 4th, another 800 bucks,  and went home. The patrons and bettors, as well as all the trainers and grooms at the track had no idea what it took to get that horse to that race, and how close it came to not happening. I also didn't know about what might have happened with their horses. Most times, you never do.

Where There's Smoke

When I was young I was even more creative and experimental than I am now. I just channel it better these days.
One weekday when everyone was out I decided I would light a candle and wick up, just to see what I could do. I did this in the living room, on the coffee table. Below the coffee table was a very shaggy carpet that stretched all the way to the kitchen, which was quite a distance.
I would have been fine there if I had stopped at just that. But, I decided I would melt some plastic to see what that was like. As I melted the plastic and it was now inside the container holding the candle and wick, the fire got bluer and higher, almost to the ceiling. At this point I began to get concerned, but there was not much I could do about it. 
I waited a bit and the fire and flame got a bit lower, then I grabbed some oven mitts and headed out to the front lawn. I dropped the whole thing, as it was now very hot, onto the front lawn, and the fire now began to light up the grass. Luckily the garden hose was there and primed. I took the hose and put out the fire, and only smoke remained. After about 30 minutes I got the whole thing cleaned up. To this day, you people are now the only ones in the world who ever knew about this. What was I thinking? Not sure. I don't remember.

First Kiss

When I was 12, my family moved from Montreal to Toronto. We didn't know many people, so at the time we spent a lot of time with my cousins. One of my cousins was very close to my age, as I was only 4 months older than her.
Now the details are somewhat foggy, but I do remember most of it. At the time, I was a major jock. My life had always revolved around either playing or watching sports. On this day, I was in my room, with her, and somehow we were wrestling, on the floor. It was probably to see who was the stronger of the two, as we always did stuff like that. But at this point, we were both maturing and she definitely had beat me to that, as she had blossomed a lot in the last year and had all her girl parts in full bloom, while I had just had my growth spurt and was just barely taller than her at this point.
Anyway, we were wrestling, and somehow she got on top of me, and pinned me down, as she was just barely stronger than me. She had my arms tied up and her legs by my side and her body weight on my literally I could not get up or move. I remember there was a pause..and then for whatever reason she leaned over and kissed me.
Now, I had no idea how to do it or what to do next..but I'm pretty sure she had kissed before. I was startled and just lay there. A few seconds passed, then she kissed me again, but this time, I kissed her back. My memory was that I was lousy at it, but she didn't seem to care. This went on for about 10 seconds. After that, I don't remember a thing, other than to say I was always interested in her in that way for about another year of two. In spite of that we never ever kissed or did anything else again.
So, that was technically my first kiss, but not the one I remember the most.
A year later, I was in high school and some of the cooler kids invited me to a party. Now,  being a jock, I had never been to a party, and certainly not to one where the good looking girls would be. As the night went on, there was some alcohol, some dancing, some music but then the night progressed to the point that most of us (about 15 or 20) were sitting in a circle, and spin the bottle was about to happen. I guess I knew what that meant but I was still pretty naive and didn't really know what I was going to do next. I had never really kissed a girl, except for that little episode with my cousin, which really wasn't a kiss, and frankly I was slightly nervous because on top of it going to be my first real kiss, there were going to be 15 or 20 people watching me do it.
And, after about 5 or 6 spins, it was my turn and the moment was at hand. No turning back now. And so it just happened. The first girl, Sandra (no last names), was someone I knew from french class, but was never really interested in anyway. We kissed, and it was okay, but really zero chemistry. It went okay, and she seemed to enjoy it and I'm sure she had done it before, but it didn't feel right with her.
The next girl I remember spun and got me. I could somehow tell by the look in her eye that she was happy to spin and get me. I knew her from around school and we had chatted before, and sure I was attracted to her but I always thought she was just being nice to me as she was a very popular and pretty girl.
As we got closer I guess I could tell that this kiss was going to be different. It started out much more personal and tender and there was much more hands and body involved than with Sandra. We kissed for probably two minutes and it didn't seem like we were going to stop. There was definitely a strong connection, really the first one I ever remembered with any girl. Her name was Molly..and later we spun and got each other again and each time the kiss was better. Funnily enough though we became decent friends over the years of high school and never dated or kissed again. We did slow dance at the dances and were fairly friendly, but never any more than that. Just never happened for some reason. But I will never forget how that felt.
Later on, I ended up spinning and getting a girl named Lisa. Lisa was a real girls girl. Very curvy, very soft, very pretty with nice soft sexy lips. All I can remember about her is that she kissed great, her boobs were soft against my chest, and her lips were the softest of any girl I ever remember to this day. I don't think we had any connection, but I did feel turned on by her.
In the aftermath of that night, I never kissed nor dated any of those girls, although I knew them all for the entire 5 years of school and was friendly with all of them.
So what do I take from that night with me today? Well, I think for me I learned there are three types of girls you encounter in life. One is the type you have no chemistry with and the kiss is empty and just lips. The second is the type where your head goes all dizzy and its like the two of you are becoming one physical being. The third is the type that feels great, physically turns you on, but it only lasts for a short time and then fades away and doesn't hold your attention.
So, what are your thoughts, experiences, comments about my first time and/or yours.

Scary Dream

The bell rang. It was time. Time for the first class. I barely remembered where to go. I had reassured my mother that I would do okay.  I knew my stuff. But the reality was that I knew nothing. I couldn't bullshit my way through this one.
Now it's forty minutes later. The class is over. Math class. First test. The page is blank. I hand it in. The teacher, a very overweight man in his mid 50's, knows I didn't write any answers down. He offers to help. But he knows, and I know, there is no help for me. I am doomed to fail.
On to the second class. Science class. I have always sucked at science. I barely came to class anyway. I never even opened the book to study. I wanted to make sure I was a complete failure. I had achieved that. This time I have to endure the whole 40 minutes. One agonizing second at a time. Finally, it's over. Another blank sheet. No answers coming out of this body. I hand it in. The teacher doesn't even notice..or care.
Now it gets worse. Time for the third class. I have been skipping school so much that I have never even bothered to go to any classes after the first two. I don't even know where I am supposed to be to go fail. I am lost. Totally lost. I am in the right place , but I have no idea where that place is.
Suddenly, I am walking the halls, passing lockers. Endless lockers. They seem to lead nowhere. It's like I am on a merry go round that never ends and I can't get off. I approach a hardware store. A hardware store in the middle of a high school? Makes no sense. Nothing makes sense. I go in anyway. There are all sorts of cut wood pieces. Everywhere. Why? I don't know. But I am fascinated by them.
The attendant tries to serve me. Tries to help me. That's his job. There is no help for me. I am lost. I don't even know if I should be here. Why I am here. Wait, I know why I am here. I am hiding out. I have been so busy skipping school for the whole semester that I don't want to go back out into that hall. If I did that, I would have to admit to everyone that I don't even know where the next 4 classes are. I can't even go to the places I am supposed to go to fail properly.
Luckily, I wake up. It was just a dream. Reality is actually better than fantasy in this case. Now, do I really want to go back to sleep?

My Elvis Memory

I never really camped much. Maybe 5 or 6 times in my whole life. A jewish kid from the big city doesn't get many opportunities to camp.
Every summer from the time I was 7 until probably 12, we went to day camp for the summer. It was fun. We did fun kid things all day and it kept us out of trouble. There were no video games or the internet in those days.
One year, we went on an overnight real camping trip for 4 days. It was August of 1977. I was 12. This was true wilderness. No phones, no tv, no nothing. We slept in tents we put up, and we cooked our food in a fire pit we built and lit ourselves. It was a great time.
When we got back to town, we were dropped off at home. As I came through the front door, my mom was crying and our next door neighbor Adele was as well. I had no idea what had happened. We were removed from all civilization for four days.
I turned on the tv, and I saw that somewhere within that weekend, Elvis had died.
To my mom, Adele, and their generation, this was a devastating blow. In the days to come, they would go out and buy his greatest hits, and listen to them over and over, day after day, for weeks.
So, when I think of Elvis, part of me will always think about my mother, and that camping trip I took.

HIgh School My School

This morning I was watching a video by The Wilkinsons which reminded me of my high school days. In the video, the young girl, who is now 18 is riding a bus out of town and sees her high school fade off in the distance. This is metaphorical and signifies her old youthful life fading away as she moves towards adulthood and making her way.
So I began reflecting on my high school years.
What did I really learn about in high school?
What have I taken from those 5 years?
How does it help or not help me as I approach 50, some 30 years removed from my high school days.

Well, obviously the main purpose of high school is to teach you about things, and culture, how to speak well, add and subtract, the how and why of science, some physical and sexual education and to prepare you to be a productive member of society.

But, none of those things do I really remember about high school.

For me, I remember the people. The friends, the teachers, the girls, the heartbreak, the drama.

In that way, life never really changes. The lessons I learned in high school I now draw on as I go out there every day and interact with people.

And what have I learned. Well, nothing ever changes. We might grow older but..

  • people will still disappoint you
  • love is still very complicated and never easy
  • the one you love will not always be the one who loves you back
  • real friends are always your real friends
  • everyone has some level of insecurity no matter how secure they seem
  • treat others well, most times you will get that back
  • many more..but that's enough for now.

How bout you, what are your memories of high school and some of the lessons you learned that you draw on to this day?

The Rush

The Rush

I only get two hours.  I spend the other 22 just longing for those other 2. Town to town, hotels and tour buses. Dreary towns that all look the same looking out the window of a tour bus at endless trees and lane markers as they fade away in the distance. That is, when I don't sleep most of the day. The only thing that keeps me motivated are those 2 hours.
The anticipation builds as the time gets nearer. I can hear the buzz, the roaring sound of the crowd as it gets louder and louder, the cheers, the excitement as I wait in the dressing room. Hair and makeup done, vocal warm ups done. It is almost show time.
There is nothing like that rush. That rush you get when you first get out on stage. To see tens of thousands of adoring fans who came to see you perform. Who want a piece of what you have. Of what you offer. They spent 22 hours thinking about those 2 hours they would get to spend with you. They are looking for that rush. You are longing for that rush. It is symbiotic. It is like great sex. Both looking for that rush. That high. And then...we both get that rush, and it lasts for two hours.
The lights beaming down on you as you get to sing the songs they came to hear.  All eyes on you. Twenty thousand adoring fans all focused on you. They want you. I have worked 20 years to get to the point where they all want me. All the one horse towns and playing bars where no one listened or cared. It is all worth it now, for that rush I get once a night for a couple of hours.
Then, the height of it all. Those one or two great songs they came to hear. The ones that have made my career. The ones I never get tired of singing because they mean so much to me. Brings the house down. I am at my highest point of the night.
I feed off their energy and give every ounce that I've got. That energy gives me the rush that gives back to them. It builds and builds and builds until it is all consuming.  For me and for them. There is nothing like it.
As I leave the stage, that rush carries me for an hour or two.
Then the letdown. Back to the hotels and buses. Then we do it all over again in the next town the next night. A new rush for all of them, the same rush for me every night. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

What you don't see on the program. Road Trips.

Racing horses, as in life, is all about timing. You have good and bad streaks.

I had a good run one week with my stock. To my memory, the best week I had in harness racing as a trainer or owner. That came after a very bad run. I went a few months without making anything, when I thought I was setup to do very well.

I had 4 horses racing.  The two on Friday night, Buffalo Wings and Mac Ms R Nukes at Belleville, both won.  I sort of expected that, but you never know. It wasn't a lot of money, $1600 after expenses, but still a nice haul for a Friday night.

I had one horse in to go on Saturday night at Kawartha. Emersons Paradise. He always gave a decent effort, but he didn't always try his hardest to win. He was an honest nice little horse, but he was short on desire. If things went his way, he could win. If he didn't have the luck on his side, I could come home with nothing. I accepted him and that for what it was. Mostly, at the end of each month he made enough to show a decent profit for my hard work to keep him at his best, whatever that was.
This night, I had the top driver at the track, Gord Brown sitting behind him. I knew Gord from around for a few years but he rarely drove for me. He always had his pick of the best ones, and I rarely had the best one in any race. For whatever reason he ended up on mine this time.
It was a perfect summer night.  Warm and breezy, but not too hot. The perfect night to race a horse. Friday night had been the same. I knew I had a decent shot to get some money, but as I said, you just never knew for sure with Emerson.
Gord had never driven Emerson before, but he was always one to ask about a horse before he drove them. That is the true mark of a professional driver. I told him he is perfect to drive, just put him in position and see what he can do. Whatever you do, don't hit him with the whip.  He hated that and would not try one bit if you did, which is the opposite of most horses. He understood and it was on to the race.
Gord drove a perfect race. Had him in perfect position to do whatever he could as they got to the top of the stretch. Even still, you just never knew with Emerson. He might just be content to be in the pack with the other horses.
 This was a soft field, and Emerson was at his best that night, so he had every right to win. Just at that moment he slingshotted to the outside and pulled away from the field.  An easy winner. The weekend was going great. Three starters and three winners. Can't do any better than that.  For this win I got another $2500, so plus the Sunday starter who made about $700 I pulled in $5000. A very nice haul with the band of marginal horses I had at that point.

I had just come back from Sudbury two weeks earlier.  Sudbury had been a disaster. I took four there to race, and I stayed over for a month trying to make it work. It wasn't working. It should have been easier to make money there,  but it was not. My memory is that after expenses I actually lost quite a bit of money. After a while, I just decided to head back home and regroup. The Sudbury stabling experience was over.
It wasn't the first time I stayed over in Sudbury. The previous winter I had stayed over on Wednesday until the Sunday because I had the same horses racing on both days. That went much better and I came home with a good haul that time too. When spring came and Sudbury opened I decided I would try it for a month or two and see how it went. The travel back and forth was killing me and I decided to stay rather than go back and forth. Travel was always the worst part of the racing. It just wore on you month after month,  year after year.
While I stayed those few days in Sudbury that previous winter, other than wait for the second race, there wasn't much to do. I spent most of my days watching the off track racing from all over. I always liked to watch Flamboro because I raced against and knew most of the horses and guys who raced there.  It was really my first small time track I had ever gone to and had always kept my attention. The first horse I ever owned I bought there and raced there.
On this winter day, I noticed a young horse, a 2 year old filly named Pop And Chips. She was nothing special, a so so bred horse with so so ability. But she did show some sire stakes races where she held her own. By December she was still a maiden and was floundering. That particular day she raced so so and earned a cheque.
Being in Sudbury and racing there for a couple of years, I knew what type of horse to bring there to make money with. Racing maidens there was the easiest and best money.  I had just done that the previous summer with Buffalo Wings. Bought him cheap and raced him in a maiden race at Sudbury and made very good money with him all summer and fall there. I took note of Pop And Chips and kept tabs on her for another few months.
When I came back from Sudbury that next summer things only got worse. I raced Emerson at Flamboro on a nice Saturday afternoon and he looked like he should win, but he broke his equipment early in the race and had to be pulled up. It was a horrible run. In racing, as in life, you have periods like that. You just have to keep on trying.  I did.
The next weekend I won all 3 of those races, and was back on the right track. In Emerson's race at Kawartha was Pop And Chips. I had lost track of her while I was in Sudbury, and this was the first chance I had to ever see her live, in the flesh. She was a very big strong horse, and reminded me of Buffalo Wings. Just like him though, she had started out as a young horse with promise, but was very down on her luck at this point. While Emerson had won that race at Kawartha, Pop And Chips had finished last.
The next week I noticed she was advertised for sale and I decided to come train her at the farm she was at, which was only 20 minutes away and see if I liked her.
I did, and I bought her. I had that $5000 and decided to put it to good use. As the summer went on and hit late fall, she made back what I paid for her and then some. She was no champion either, but was a nice solid horse like Buffalo Wings and Emersons Paradise. When Sudbury closed however, it got much tougher. It was the dead cold of winter and if she was to earn me more good money,  I would have to travel with her. This is the story of the incidents that happened with her as I traveled.
With Pop And Chips, it was always something. If it wasn't an equipment issue it was a travel issue. No matter though, through it all,  she made me good money.
Three traveling incidents stick out in my mind with her. On New Years Eve I had her in to race at Kawartha. I thought she had a legitimate chance to make great money and come hell or high water I was going get there and race. I put Mike McNeil on her. I knew Mike from Sudbury where he was the top guy. He had worn out his welcome there and was now in my area and looking for drives. He drove her great and she got third, and could easily have won with a shade more racing luck. He said he really liked her and she should be a good moneymaker for me. I concurred. I had liked her from the first day I jogged her and had high hopes for her. In the long run, she disappointed me, but so many do.
That New Years Eve day at Kawartha she made a $1000. That was the good part. Getting there was difficult but I managed to make it. Getting to Kawartha in any kind of poor weather was always an adventure. The roads were extremely hilly and you had to be careful going downhill and hopeful trying to get back up the high hills in the poor traction on the one lane roads. I managed. Some others didn't.  Many were in the ditch because they didn't take caution. That got me there, but not back home.
By the time I packed up and headed back, the heavy snow had accumulated. My truck was strong,  but had many miles on it. The steep hills were always a chore. As I approached the steepest one I gunned it as fast as I could so I would have some momentum to get to the top. I knew that if I came to a complete stop I was going to be stuck and it would be a long day.
I got most of the way up but the snow was very thick and I started to lose traction and speed. I was now near the top, but it was dicey to see if I would make it. I didn't know for sure, but I was just going to keep full throttle and try. Luckily, as I just seemed to be at a standstill, I had made it. But, not without a price. I had taken a lot out of my old worn out engine, and I knew it. I made it home without incident, but I was later to pay for that journey many times over.
Because she had done well and made me some money, I had paid Pop N Chips into a late closer series for young horses who had not made much money to that point. That was now about to pay off. She had improved quite a bit, but got to race with much weaker horses. It was still the dead of winter and the races were in London, which was 2 plus hours away, but I thought it was worth it.
By then, I had probably raced another 8 or 9 times with various different horses I had in training. The truck was wearing fast, but still running. However, the oil gauge did sometimes go to the red zone, due to the clogging of the filters at that point. I was always carrying extra oil and ready to change the oil on the fly if I thought I needed to.
I was only racing Pop N Chips this day in London, and started early. I had my reservations about going at all. It was a horrible rainy, slightly cold winter day. No snow but there were major traffic jams due to the road conditions. No matter what, I knew I could make good money that night and being brave, I was going.
As I got about 20 minutes away from the farm, the oil light went on and I had to pull over. The only option was to change the oil so I could have a safe worry free trip. I pulled over onto a side street and did that. Problem solved. The roads didn't seem too icy while I was out of the truck, so it appeared I was home free that night. I got back on the highway, but things were moving very slowly. That was no worry for me, as I had lots of time to get there.
Things moved very slow for about half an hour, but suddenly they picked up. I moved to keep up with traffic, but at a safe distance. When you drive a truck and horse trailer, you learn to keep your distance. I did.
As I began to pick up speed I was thinking this night was going to work out. In about 10 seconds, that all changed. The car in front of me stopped abruptly and I attempted to do the same. I had more than enough distance to do that. The problem was, the rain that was underneath the road had now just frozen and I began to lose control. I was about to hit the car in front of me when I turned to avoid him. I missed him, but now I began to spin. It seemed to take forever, like slow motion, but in reality it was probably only a second or two. Miraculously, I missed everyone and didn't collide with anyone. The trailer jackknifed a bit and I had spun around completely at least twice. It was still attached and had not been damaged. I got out and checked the horse.  She was upright, and she was fine. She was a bit nervous, but she was okay.
As I went around to check the trailer, I noticed one tire was completely flat and the rim was bent. A second tire was flat but the rim was fine. I called for help and already 3 police cars were there. I was lucky in that I had spun out into the divide for an off ramp and was out of the way of all traffic. The tow truck came and was able to change off one tire, but not the second one. The hope for the race was now over. I was never going to get there, and considering how much worse the roads could and would get, I was almost happy about that. 
Now, how to get home. Getting the trailer towed would be a tough proposition and very costly. I had that happen before and was not looking forward to it.
One of the policemen suggested I get off the highway and get it fixed.  He advised me that you could drive on just three tires with an attached trailer, as long as you were careful. Considering where I was and how this day was going,  I decided I would try it.
I went very very slow, and it seemed to work. Obviously you had very little balance and could not stop at all fast. So I took it slow.
I was now heading back in the direction home to the barn,  and as I went farther it seemed like a good idea to just keep going, slowly and try and make it home. To change the other flat with the horse out of the trailer, while it was detached, the next day would not be a hard thing for me to do. I went for it.
I drove very slow and stayed on the main roads and took the corners very slowly. After about an hour, I was home. Had to phone my wife and tell her what had happened, but I was safe, the horse was safe and the truck and trailer had no damage. It cost me the race, but otherwise things were okay.
I changed the tire the next day and I was back in business. Two weeks later, I was back in to race in London. It was a nice pleasant March day. No snow. No rain and not that cold. I had a good post and I was sure I was coming home with some good money with Pop N Chips. She raced well and I made another $2000. On the way home the oil light started to go on again. The truck was still driving good and I did have some oil if I needed it, but I decided to just keep going. As I got back to the city, I was only half an hour from home. However, a total blizzard hit and the roads were very snowy and deep, just like that. I had to keep gunning it to maintain my momentum. As I did that,  the oil situation got worse. I decided I had to get off the highway and change the oil. I did barely get off, but it was too late. The damage had been done. Just as I almost got to the gas station, the engine shut off on its own. I put more oil in, and it started back up. I decided to park it and let it cool down, then try to add more oil in a while. It was now 2am and dark. And cold. And snowy. I pulled out of the alleyway and was headed for a gas station to get more oil and a filter. As I got close, I started to hear a grinding and knocking sound. All the oil had been blocked and now the engine was empty of all oil. Just as I got to an intersection across the street from the gas station, the bang came. Metal on metal. The engine completely blew. I was luckily able to get out of the intersection and into the parking lot of the gas station, which was also a donut shop.
I parked and called for a tow truck. The only ones that would come would take the truck, but not the trailer. The horse was still inside, and I had enough hay to keep her busy through the night, but how was I going to get the trailer and her home? I didn't know.
I waited until 6am and as the light of the morning appeared, the tow truck showed up. It took that long because of the blizzard and all the accidents and people who got stuck. I had no choice but to detach the truck from the trailer and leave it and the horse there.
The tow truck driver took me and the truck home to the barn and one problem was solved, for the time being. At the barn, the barn owner loaned me his truck and I had to go back and get the horse and trailer. I did that. It was now 10am. It had been a long day and night. I got her back to the farm without incident and got my wife to pick me up with her car.
A few days later I took the truck to the shop and it cost me $4000 to get a new engine in it. All the money I had made on these trips was now gone,  and all I had to show for it was these stories.
Like I said, the back and forth of shipping horses was always the worst part.