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Recalling A Day With The Champ

Published: June 28, 2015 11:07 am ET

Last Comment: June 29, 2015 7:40 am ET | 4 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

“I marvelled that it was the harness racing greatness of San Pail that first brought us all together and now effortlessly created a magical day for one of his biggest fans when she – and we – needed it most.”

Garnet Barnsdale, a lifelong racing fan, handicapper and promoter of racing, shared his greatest harness racing memory, telling the story of how a superstar trotter and some awesome people helped to ease the pain in his family’s worst time of need.


Last fall my 53-year-old sister Linda, an avid harness racing fan, was told that she had only three months to live. Tragically, cancer had ravaged her body. Knowing Linda was a huge San Pail fan -and proud member of the “Pail Posse” – my wife Kim suggested that I ask Susan Hughes for a picture of the great trotter. Susan’s response was better than we could have hoped. “Rod says why don’t you come and get a picture taken with Pail?” That was all we needed to quickly put the wheels in motion.

On the day of our trip all we told Linda was that we were going on a day trip and kept the destination a secret. “Have you ever been there?’ she inquired. “No, I haven’t,” I responded matter-of-factly. She paused for a few seconds and a light bulb seemed to appear over her head. She turned to look at me and spoke. “Where we are going...does it have seven letters?” she whispered. I didn’t speak and only nodded affirmatively. Immediately her tears flowed and she nodded back knowingly as I struggled to stifle my own tears so I could see to drive. “Three letters in the first word and four in the second!” I blurted out. Linda’s tears of joy flowed more freely.

We arrived at the Hughes farm and Rod’s dad Jerry, who has been San Pail’s caretaker his entire career, brought the big horse down to the stall closest to us and Linda wheeled closer for a better look. Linda spoke to the champ and posed with him for some pictures, beaming the entire time. We finished our visit and thanked Rod for allowing our indulgence to enjoy a few private moments with his great champion. “Anytime!” he replied as we shook hands. After a nice visit with Susan, Jerry and Rhonda Hughes at their home it was time to head back.

We set off for home and soon we arrived back at Baycrest and settled in. Linda insisted on immediately displaying her memorabilia; the plaque facing in leaning up against her window, a 4 X 6 picture of San Pail winning the Breeders Crown in her tiny Christmas tree. “Thanks a lot,” she gushed. “It was the BEST day. Ever."

We headed west on Wilson back toward home and all I could think was how fortunate we were to know a caring, giving family like the Hughes. I marvelled that it was the harness racing greatness of San Pail that first brought us all together and now effortlessly created a magical day for one of his biggest fans when she -– and we -- needed it most.

Linda passed away 13 days later and the visit to see her harness racing hero was the last time she was physically able to leave the hospital.


This was a memory shared by Garnet Barnsdale and entered in the I Love Canadian Harness Racing Fan Club’s Favourite Racing Memory contest. This is one of five stories that will be featured leading up to the Bring A Friend weekend that will be happening nationwide from July 9-12.

June 29, 2015 - 7:40 amThis story of kindness and

This story of kindness and caring for people brought tears to my eyes, such a simple thing and look what it did for a family that really cared. Thanks to the Hughes family and to Garnet, who just wanted to make a difference and allow a few moments of pleasure to a terminable ill person.

June 28, 2015 - 7:30 pmwhat a wonderful thing you

what a wonderful thing you guys did for that lady, thanks for being so kind. mel.

June 28, 2015 - 12:49 pmmore great people, and

jim cauchon SAID...

more great people, and animals, making a difference.

what a warm, emotional way to great a dreary sunday am in toronto.

thanks for that story and the pictures.

heartfelt thanks to all involved.

jim cauchon

June 28, 2015 - 12:47 pmA Beautiful and very well

A Beautiful and very well written tribute to a wonderful and sweet person.

Just Breathtaking


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