Racing horses, as in life, is all about timing. You have good and bad streaks.
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
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 slingshot 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 at Flamboro.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
It wasn't long after that when I decided to give up the training of the horses. I didn't want to make those long trips and the only way I could make money with the type I had was to do that. I learned very quickly that the long road trips are the worst part of the business. They end up in great stories (and I have many more or those) but they are no fun and very dangerous at times. Don't even get me started on the moose that go in my way at 1am on my way back from Sudbury one night.