Harness Racing Shows Its Heart

Published: October 26, 2013 09:27 am EDT

In harness racing, the will and heart of the horse is what most people value above all. That can also be said about not just the horses, but the people within the industry.

On August 14, photographer Sylvain Gagnon was taking photos of the races on the edge of the track in St. Aime des Lacs in Quebec. While taking a photo as the race had just started, disaster struck. The outer wings of the gate hit Gagnon in the face. He suffered ten fractures to the skull and jaw, including the roof of his mouth, a concussion and permanent vision loss in his right eye.

"I was looking at the pictures I just took because the series I took before, they were overexposed...I goofed with my settings," said Gagnon, giving more detail to how the accident happened. "I was very relaxed. Next thing I know, I wake up at the hospital."

Gagnon stated that the location of where he was hit was somewhat fortunate as just a few inches could have resulted in a different and more devastating outcome.

"They told me that the gate hit where the bone structure is most dense. If it was just a bit higher, or a bit lower, different story."

As a freelance photographer, Gagnon's source of income for his family was immediately severed. Enter prominent Standardbred owner Jim Carr.

Carr, who resides in Hamilton, Ont., offered a breeding to Big Jim for auction through the Standardbred Canada website. Owner Georg Leber was the first person to enter a bid of $3,000. His bid ended up as the only bid, but he wasn't done. When Carr told Leber that the breeding was his for $3,000, Leber told Carr to make it $4,000. Carr then chipped in an additional $1,000 and the cheque was cut for $5,000.

"It's tough to auction off a breeding six months before the breeding season begins, but Georg was a real gentleman," said Carr.

After a few days, Carr and Gagnon touched base and made arrangements for the cheque to be delivered. Carr sent the cheque in the mail to Gagnon, who wanted to thank Carr in person. So the two racing industry participants, who had never met each other before, arranged to meet at SC's office in Mississauga on Friday, October 24. Gagnon traveled to Toronto via train, just to thank the man that gave proceeds from a breeding to a complete stranger.

The two gentlemen shook hands and posed for the camera with the still-unopened envelope, which Gagnon said he didn't want to open until he met Carr in person. For Gagnon, it was also important to give Carr the credit and show that the owner of Big Jim is a man of his word.

In what's just short of a miracle, Gagnon explained that he's not done with his photography career.

"The eye doctor explained to me that the eye is just a tube for the brain to see. So, the next day after seeing him, I was at the track...trying out the other eye. It's just a habit," said Gagnon, raising a mock camera to his right eye.

Gagnon's not quite out of the woods yet. His mouth still isn't closing properly so doctors need to re-break the jaw and reset it.

"I'd given myself a recovery period of up to Christmas, so I'm doing little assignments here and there, but the races are ending soon," stated Gagnon. "At a small track where they run ponies, I went there a couple of times to make sure -- I'm going back to Hippodrome 3R in the spring -- so I wanted to build my confidence up and not spend the whole Winter wondering if I can do it."

The two gentlemen are sure to stay in touch, and in fact left SC together. Gagnon needed a ride to get to the subway in order to catch the train back to Quebec. Carr gave him a lift.



Jim Carr is one amazing person. I wrote a piece back in APC earlier the summer about his donation of a breeding to a fellow horsewoman here who lost all her horses in a horrific barn fire. This was a great read to know that the people in this industry look out for each other . Jim and George truly are fine examples of the heart of harnessracing.

Jim Carr and Georg Leber are undoubtedly among the most notable and well known people who care about other people. Our sport is replete with numerous personages who care and would be among the folks you would like to be with in a foxhole. I'm sure that there are probably other industries that can be proud of the altruistic folks in it, I would be willing to wager that on a percentage basis there are none better than those involved in Harness Racing.

Jim Carr is one of the most decent human beings around. It is a privlidge to say he is a good friend. Jim and George both stepped up to show what great people we have in our industry. Ronda Markle

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