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Horsepeople Mobilizing After Fire

Published: January 6, 2016 11:20 am ET

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"It's not just their livelihood: it's their partners and their family. Those horses become their heart and soul… It's beyond heart-wrenching. It's tragic. Very tragic. It feels like they've lost a family member. You don't get over these things in a day."

The above quote comes courtesy of Shelley Purvis, whose husband works for Ben Wallace, one of the six trainers that lost racehorses in the heartbreaking barn fire that claimed the lives of roughly 43 Standardbreds at Classy Lane Training Centre in an overnight blaze that began late Monday night (January 4).

Purvis’ quote comes courtesy of an article by the Waterloo Region Record which also quoted Puslinch Fire and Rescue fire prevention officer Jason Benn as estimated that the fire marshall would probably be on site for a couple of days conducting an official investigation into what started the deadly blaze.

Officials with the neighbouring Sunrise Therapeutic Riding and Learning Centre, which is located directly across the road from Classy Lane, said that Tuesday was a dark day in the area, and that the training centre is an impeccable neighbour.

Puslinch Fire and Rescue chief Steven Goode addressed the media at the site on Tuesday and stated that the tragedy was a big blow to the area. "We consider this a horse community and it is absolutely devastating," he said.

A strong response of support from the North American Standardbred industry came swiftly on Tuesday. The Central Ontario Standardbred Association quickly established an official GoFundMe page to support those affected by the catastrophe at Classy Lane, and the account has raised more than $64,000 in under 24 hours.

Efforts have also been started to find jobs for the grooms and assistants that have been suddenly left without employment due to the situation. Additionally, an equipment / stable-supplies drive has been initiated to help affected trainers start to build their businesses back up. On Tuesday, Ben Wallace stamped how the blaze has completely gutted his training operation. “It’s gone. I have nothing. I have nothing. I don’t even have a stopwatch. Nothing. Anything I owned going forward, as far as my profession, is gone.” For complete information on the official GoFundMe account, the employment relocation efforts and the equipment drive, click here.

Some of the major players in North American harness racing wasted little time in stepping up and calling on the industry to help support those affected by the blaze. Jeff Gural, Ron Burke, Mark Weaver, Michael Bruscemi and Tony O’Sullivan have all announced that they are doing what they can to help, and they want others to follow their lead. Gural has pledged thousands to help kick off a fundraising drive at the Meadowlands Racetrack this coming weekend, while Burke, Weaver, Bruscemi and O’Sullivan stepped right up an immediately announced that they would be donating various percentages of their earnings. For complete information, click here.

On Tuesday, O’Sullivan told Trot Insider that he will be donating his five per cent training percentage from this January and February to those affected by the blaze.

“I’m stabled at Classy Lane, and (owners) Barb and Jamie are my friends, as are many others that have been truly shaken by what happened Monday night,” O’Sullivan told Trot Insider.

“You can’t even describe the looks on peoples’ faces today (Tuesday) at Classy Lane, you just can’t,” O’Sullivan said. “What happened has truly shaken people and left them in a very, very tough position.

“Those of us that are lucky enough to race on the WEG circuit are in a position where we can really step up and help right now, and it would be great to see as many people as possible step up right now when people are truly in a time of need.”

(With files from the Waterloo Region Record)

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