view counter
view counter

Ajax's 50-Year Quarter Horse History

Published: May 2, 2019 11:10 am ET

Last Comment: May 2, 2019 2:27 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In 1969, Alex Picov and his family opened the gates on their 65-acre family farm to friends and the community, creating the Picov Downs ‘J’ Track. Live Quarter Horse racing became a community staple.

For 50 years, several hundred spectators have turned out every race day in the sun and amidst the excitement of live Quarter Horse racing. Now, 50 years later, the betting windows are still alive with activity and anticipation – horses, jockeys, owners, trainers, and patrons all watching to see who will take home the purse money.

What started as backyard horse racing matches among friends in nothing more then t-shirts and cowboy boots has grown into one of the most popular sporting events in Ontario.

Picov Downs, now Ajax Downs, has welcomed horses and horsepeople from Canada and the U.S. to compete in these short, but exciting dashes down the dirt track. Alex Picov was one of the original believers in the future of Quarter Horse racing in Ontario. He, along with his youngest son, Norm, opened Picov Downs in response to the local demand and to support for live Quarter Horse racing.

On May 5, 2019, a more lucrative, professional and faster sport of Quarter Horse racing will get underway at its current home, the pristine, state of the art Ajax Downs, just seconds from its original home.

Fan-friendly Ajax Downs gets you up close and personal with beautiful Quarter Horses and the great horsepeople who care for them.

Trackside picnic tables and the popular and always-busy barbecue sit adjacent to the paddock area and a five-eighths-mile oval track with one of the best dirt surfaces in the country.

Each summer, Sunday afternoons are filled with many colourful events with giveaways and a chance to meet the participants and learn about the sport of Quarter Horse racing. Indeed, special days such as Mother's Day, Father’s Day, Canada Day, Craft Brewery Day and Family Day are just a few of the events that pack the Ajax stands and patio.

“We have come a long way, and we're just getting better and better,” said Ralph Pearson, one of the first presidents of the Quarter Racing Owners of Ontario, Inc.

“This is going to be our best year yet, our 50th anniversary!"

An aerial shot of a Canada Day celebration at Ajax Downs.

It was 1969 when the first organized races were held at Picov Downs, moving to the little dirt strip built on land donated by the horse-loving Alex Picov and his family.

“At first were having races at Al Greco's Circle M Ranch in Kleinburg, essentially in his backyard,' said Pearson. “We raced our barrel horses, ponies, just to see who had the faster horse.”

Once they had their own track at Picov Downs, horsemen such as Gerry Armstrong among others, built fences, a judge's tower complete with a jockey's room. In 1971 it became a recognized track with the American Quarter Horse Association and Ontario racing regulators granted the track several pari-mutuel wagering days.

Bob Woodward, Picov's leading rider in 1971, chuckles when he remembers the early days of Quarter Horse racing at Picov Downs.

“Sometimes you didn't really know what you were climbing aboard,' said Woodward. “Some of them were more like pony horses than racehorses.”

Woodward said the sharp 'J' turn often had a mud puddle that riders and horses had to avoid while pulling up.

Ken Richards, who has been involved in horse racing for more than 50 years, remembers one instance when a visiting jockey had trouble after a race.

"Our horses at Picov were trained to turn right after the race, but during a stakes race one year a competing American horse with a jockey turned left and went through the track fence. The jockey ended up with two broken wrists."

And the starting gate they used? Well let's say it was a far cry from the fancy gates they use today.

"It had runners on it like a sleigh, not wheels,” laughed Pearson. "We could only drag it one way and that was down the track to the finish line, so we ran the longer races first."

In the early years, horsepeople raced essentially for their own money they put up to enter in a race. But in the mid 1980s, Norm Picov took over his family businesses, Picov Cattle Company and its iconic Equestrian Supply Store, and began to add purse money himself for each race.

“Picov Downs was a cool little track,” said Bob Broadstock, president of the QROOI. “It was almost like a tailgating party each Sunday afternoon. It was more like a club back then, friends racing their horses against friends and then getting together after the races.”

Broadstock, who trains and races horses with his wife, Marie, came up through the ranks after working for Joe and Christine Tavares, the longtime leading trainer and owner at Picov/Ajax Downs.

When the explosion of slot machines in the early 2000s brought the flashy terminals to a building adjacent to Picov Downs, the Quarter Horse industry, led by Norm Picov, went to work on getting a new racetrack.

His dream was realized in 2009 when Ajax Downs opened complete with pristine stabling for horses to ship in on race day, a beautiful racebook and simulcast area, and a sparkling restaurant overlooking he track.

"It was like a fuzzy dream; very surreal," said Broadstock. "We went from a ‘hillbilly’-type track to this amazing, state-of-the-art place."

As part of the slots-at-racetracks partnership program, Ajax Downs’ racing grew quickly. Licensed horsepeople jumped from 145 in 2005 to over 1,000 by 2012, and the horse population increased from just over 100 to more than 600. Overall wagering on Quarter Horse racing exploded, and reached $3 million, up from $300,000 in 2009.

But, just as quickly, the industry, including Thoroughbred and Standardbreds, lost a lot of participants when the Slots at Racetracks Program was cancelled in 2014. The good news is that the current provincial government has worked with racing to help it return to health.

The list of some of the bigger names of stables in the history of Ajax Downs includes Bill Cruwys, Mel Romaine and Don Reid, to many who still race horses today: Carol and Wayne Proctor, Les Baker, Barry Wood, the Tavares' and Greg and Sue Watson.

The Picov family and its vision was recognized for the incredible growth of the sport in Canada when Norm was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2017.

You want fast horses? How about great ones from the past such as Gina Gay, who won Quarter Horses races at Picov, Woodbine and Greenwood, and champions such as Go Smashing Baby, Rockish and One Kool Wave. It is so easy to fall in love with these equine heroes (and get to know each one's barn name!).

Country Boy 123 ('CB'), who was named Horse of the Year for the last three seasons and was unbeaten at Ajax Downs last year, is expected to race again in 2019.

Today, the Quarter Horse business is back on the rise thanks to the QROOI board of directors and its work with the provincial government, Ajax Downs' General Manager Emilio Trotta and his creative and innovative team, and, of course, the brazenly fast athletes.

Come out to one of the most exciting and fun days you can have this summer at Ajax Downs and help it celebrate 50 years of Quarter Horse racing.




• May 5 through September 1 (post time 12:55 p.m.)


• July 1
• September 9 through October 21


May 12 – Mother's Day
June 2 – Fan Appreciation Day
June 16 – Father's Day
July 1 – Canada Day
July 14 – 50th anniversary celebration
August 18 – Family Fun Day
October 14 – Pumpkin Day

(Jennifer Morrison)

May 2, 2019 - 2:27 pmAlex & Norm have been so

Carolyn Rae SAID...

Alex & Norm have been so incredibly loyal to the horse racing industry.
So sad, that when Norm wanted to add harness racing to this location, on the 5/8 mile track, he couldn't get race dates.

view counter

© 2021 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