view counter
view counter

Youth Movement In Alberta

Published: August 21, 2018 11:14 am ET

No Comments | Jump to Comments

Any industry that has hopes of moving forward has to provide opportunities for young people to learn, to practice, and ultimately to succeed. Harness racing is no different.

Keith Clark, Rod Hennessy, Gerry Hudon, and others of their generation won’t be around forever. They have set the bar high in terms of professionalism, care for their horses, and achievement on the track. They have also served as tremendous mentors to those who are coming up the ladder behind them, and who aspire to write their own stories in both the sport and the business.

Take Justin Currie as one example. Just 27, he is building a good resume with a group of solid horses. He’s had a quieter summer at Century Downs after a career year in 2017, which was highlighted by the performance of then-three-year-old star Mateo. Currie started off well in Edmonton in January, with a 7-3-2 record from his first 13 starters. Currently, he’s right around the top 30 among trainers in Balzac. Nevertheless, he keeps working at things, as he moves horses in and out of his barn and looks for the next star to appear.

Justin has been helped by the return to good health of his partner, Christine Cutting, who suffered a head injury during a mishap at a nearby farm back in June. Christine is just about ready for a full return to barn duties. Also, Christine and Justin’s son, Jackson, recently celebrated birthdays (the little guy turned one).

“She’s getting better and it’s nice to have her back and able to help,” Currie recently told Peter Watts in a piece for Horse Racing Alberta. “She’s a big part of everything we do here.”

(Christine Cutting, pictured left with Justin Currie, centre with Mateo, and right with son Jackson)

Currie qualified Jewels Dragon, a two-year-old son of Custard The Dragon earlier this month. Christine owns part of the colt, along with Paul Sanders of Surrey. “Maybe he’ll be the next one,” Currie said. “He paced the last quarter in :28.1 and he’s still learning.”

Another of the ‘Under 30’ crowd who’s making his mark is driver-trainer Paul Davies. Nobody was surprised that he recently steered home three winners on a race card. Among his winners was the two-year-old colt Outlawgrabbingears, who Davies co-owns, trains and drove to a new track record for the class, in 1:55.2. Davies bought the son of Smart Shark from breeder Connie Kolthammer earlier in the spring. He recently found success with the bay in a division of the Alberta Sires Stakes’ Alberta Rising Star at Century.

Davies is right up among Century Downs’ driving leaders this season. He has also made quite an impact in the trainers’ standings. His focus at this point has been building his driving skills, but clearly, he’s able to recognize a good horse when he finds one and he knows what to do to get it to be better.

Then there’s Chris Lancaster. Like many of the younger crowd, Lancaster can trace his own lineage and interest in the sport back two or three generations. At 23, he’s showing signs that he too can be a force in the industry in the years ahead. He’s working for Rod Hennessy while starting to build a modest stable of his own. His work ethic and sharp eye for horses has caught the attention of Chris and Tara Lambie, who are new to the sport of harness racing but who have been breeding Hanoverians for two decades.

“Good owners are the most important part of a successful stable,” Lancaster said. “A good owner will watch the budget, but he or she will want to be part of the business because of a love for the animal. You can’t replace that. We talk about a lot of things and we have a plan to move forward primarily with fillies and mares which we will use in the future in the breeding business. And I’ve learned from Chris and Tara about things like animal nutrition. Even with the limited experience I have in this area, I can already see some good results.”

Nathan Sobey is 26, Preston Shaw is 23. Both of them are building stables and learning what it takes to win consistently on the track when at the controls of a racehorse. Sobey (driver/trainer) is currently battling it out at the top of both the drivers’ and trainers’ standings at Century. Shaw (driver/trainer) is also putting forth a solid showing for himself, although his stable has just a fraction of the number of outings by the bigger stables.

“I’m learning,” said Shaw, who can trace his lineage in the sport back through his father, Doug, to his grandmother, Marie Stone, who was still driving in races into her late sixties. “I’ve got eight horses at the moment and I’m lucky to have my girlfriend, Emily Leak, and Mike Raymond, helping me in the barn. Mike was ASHA groom of the year last year and worked for my dad for many years before that. I don’t have any stars in my stable. I’ve had to work hard for everything I’ve gotten, and that’s the way it’s been since I started working for my dad when I was a kid.

“But I’m lucky to have some good owners. Les Bell has had horses with my dad since before I was born. He’s carried on with me. Cam and Thallia Martin own half of Run And Tell with me and we’ve been top three in each of its last seven starts. Not bad for a $3,000 investment. Darlene Wheatley is another owner who’s come back to racing.”

One of Shaw’s other strengths is shoeing. “You learn a lot about a horse when you’re taking care of its feet,” Shaw said. “I shoe for Kelly Hoerdt’s stable, among others. I think it helps when I catch-drive for guys like Gord Abbott. I know the horse and I know what I need to do to get it around the track and give it a chance to win.”

As for Sobey, he’s a competitor. “I didn’t know a lot about my family’s involvement in the sport back in the Maritimes,” Sobey said. “I just love to compete. I was like that when I played hockey. I’ve never lost that enthusiasm for winning even though now it’s focused on harness racing. You’re always looking for the next star, and you’re always trying to make the stock you have, better.”

Sobey’s also taken on the role of driver representative on the Alberta Standardbred board. Anyone who has ever held one of those positions knows that it is not easy. You rarely get credit for things that are done well, and you invariably become a target when something breaks down. But you learn, and you contribute – and if you’re lucky, you leave the sport in better shape than you found it when you took on the role.

Finally, 18-year-old Kaitlin Haining is another member of the youth movement at Century Downs. She’s worked in the shed row of her father, Harold, almost since she learned to walk. She got her trainer’s license last November and already has a couple of winners on her resume.

These are just samples of the Under 30 crowd which is making its presence felt this summer at Century Downs. There are some others, too. It gives hope that as the sport and the business continue to grow, the people who are a part of it will continue to grow as well.

(With files from Peter Watts /

view counter

© 2020 Standardbred Canada. All rights reserved. Use of this site signifies your agreement and compliance with the legal disclaimer and privacy policy.

Firefox 3 Best with IE 7 Built with Drupal