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Our Spirit is Strong

The View

It’s the Canada Day weekend. I’m in Montreal, walking along the backstretch of Blue Bonnets Raceway.

The track is abandoned, left how it was on its closing day in 2009. Not a person in sight.

Why is it then, that I can hear fans cheering, and racehorses warming up? There are no discarded tickets on the track apron. But I see them - swirling in a circular motion, near the doors to the grandstand.

The race paddock stands empty, damaged, left years ago to vandals and graffiti artists. I see legends being prepared to race, hardworking grooms and caretakers making final preparations. Why are they here?

I continue walking.

I think about the funeral I attended just one day earlier, in Gatineau. The great Herve Filion was laid to rest. On the final day of the first 250 years of horse racing in Canada, the life of the winningest driver in Canadian history, was remembered.

Later today, I will drive to the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City, the site of the first organized race ever held, on July 1, 1767, exactly a quarter of a millennium to today’s date, July 1, 2017. On my way, I will stop at the now buried St. Pierre River in downtown Montreal, where harness racing took place in the early 1800s.

At both of these historic sites, it’ll be tougher to see the horses and their caretakers. It’ll be more difficult to envision race day and the smells and sounds that were experienced 200+ years ago. But it will certainly not be impossible. For brief moments, my mind’s eye will take me there. To the start. To the finish. To the winner’s circle.

Why? Because horse racing is horse racing, and what horsepeople do this month at tracks around the world is not that different from what they did years, decades and centuries before us. And horses are horses. Surely, they were as remarkable, athletic, and loyal 250 years ago as they are today.

As the world’s harness racing community descends on Canada this month for the World Driving Championship and World Trotting Conference, we are reminded that we are all one global community. We are united by the love of a sport and industry that has no international borders. We all speak the same language.

My walk ends in front of the grandstand. The track lights are off. The giant racetrack scoreboard is dark. For a moment I’m brought back to 2017.

Tracks will go dark, and close. Memories will fade.

Fortunately, we live in a world where harness racing is something we can still experience live and in-person practically every day of the year. We live in a world where training centres and farms are busy daily, where we can still breed, own and experience the incredible highs of the sport.

We live in a world where the connections we make to our horses and to others, make us better people. We will make new memories, and celebrate the next generation of legends. Most importantly, we we will not forget that it took hard work, vision and perseverance to build this sport, and get us to where we are today.

We shall stay determined.

Darryl Kaplan
[email protected]

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