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Kathy Wade's Blog


The Renaissance of Racing in Calgary

Published: May 4, 2015 8:54 am ET

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It was a bitterly cold and blustery day and threatening clouds loomed over Canada’s newest harness racing facility but that didn’t prevent droves of racing fans and first timers from making the trek to witness Calgary’s first card of harness racing since the curtain closed on Stampede Park’s final day of harness racing in 2006.

I had the opportunity to take in all of the action trackside from my perch in the I Love Canadian Harness Racing Fan Club booth. Trainer-drivers Kelly Hoerdt (the Fan Club’s newest Face of Racing), Gerry Hudon and Travis Cullen staffed the booth for 45 minutes, chatting and kibitzing with racing fans, autographing photos and posing for photos. Smiles were miles wide, and music, food trucks, prize draws, cheerleaders, and a beer garden provided a festive and high spirited atmosphere for the racing fans. Not even the weather gods were going to spoil the party at Century Downs.

Premier Jim Prentice assisted officials and board members from Century Downs, Horse Racing Alberta and the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association with the first race presentation to veteran trainer-driver Rod Hennessey who brought the winner home and then went through a red ribbon enroute to the winner’s circle to commemorate the occasion. Amidst a throng of media people with cameras, microphones, and video cameras, Rod was ecstatic, surrounded by family, friends, presenters, and the Calgary Stampeders Cheerleaders!

Over the course of the weekend, I must have talked to dozens of fans, horsemen, owners, breeders, and racing officials. Never in my 30 years of working in harness racing have I heard so much positivity, enthusiasm and excitement for the future of racing. It was absolutely FANTASTIC! It is racing’s best good news story of the year…maybe decade. The stable area is still undergoing construction, etc. but everyone was able to improvise. Permanent lighting, a drivers’ room, a PA system, TV monitors for the horsemen are not completed or installed but are coming. But it didn’t seem to matter or bother anyone. There was one finished barn and three sets of portable stalls for the horses and a couple of construction trailers that housed the offices for Racing officials. What more did they need? The most important thing for horsemen is the racetrack surface itself and that was the focus. The track was in great shape and received nothing but rave reviews thanks to the around the clock efforts of former trainer-driver, now trackman, Don Monkman.

Race Secretary Jackson Wittup was really happy with the way things went for the weekend, “ The horsemen have given their support and we’ve all had to pull together to get everything ready for the opening. Now the horsepeople see that the industry has some stability, things are only going to get better.”

Drivers were buzzing about how great it was to drive in front of a crowd of people and hear the fans yelling and cheering as they came down the stretch. “It was great to see a full Tarmac again and people cheering from the fence, “ remarked trainer-driver Kelly Hoerdt, “ it gave all the drivers a renewed sense that we were a real source of entertainment again, we haven't had that feeling out this way for a long time, great to see lots of the old fans and meet many new ones.”

Sure, there’s still lots of work to be done at Century Downs and it will get done time...but the most important thing is that there is horse racing in Calgary again!

Congratulations to the Owners, Management and Staff of Century Downs, their industry partners at the United Horsemen of Alberta, Horse Racing Alberta, the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association, and the horse people for putting on a great show on the weekend! Looking forward to many more!

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