Different But The Same

Bulldog Hanover is a big, strong, strapping horse that overpowers his competition. He’s almost always on top by the half-mile pole, usually wins by open lengths, and often can’t even be pulled up for a half-mile or more after annihilating his foes.

So Much More is about half his size. She wins by getting away first, last, or anywhere in between, and she rarely wins by more than a couple of feet.

Sylvia Hanover is an absolute creature who has only been defeated once, averaged over $100,000 per start at age two, and almost always paces home in :26 and change… but to watch Bobby [McClure] have to go to work on her just to make her pace a second quarter slightly faster than :30 seconds, you’d sure never know it.

The three superstars are all so very different; yet, especially when it comes to winning, they’re all so very much the same. Between the three of them they won 38 races last year for just shy of $3.2 million.

It’s one of the most beautiful things about our sport - the different and unique personalities that you come across. Not just with the horses either, but with the people. Oh, the people. The stories I could tell. Many have said that I should write a book, but my usual reply is that “nobody outside of the horse world would believe half of it.”

A few weeks ago, my new Associate Editor, John Rallis, and I spent a night in the Mohawk paddock - talking to and interviewing people - in this case, caretakers. There are personality profiles on 10 of them amongst the pages of this very issue (beginning on page 60) and we’re proud to have a photo of a bunch of them on this month’s cover. To the best of my knowledge it’s the first time that a group of grooms has ever graced the cover of TROT - and it’s about time.

The people we spoke to that night were all just as different as Bulldog, So Much More and Sylvia. They were also all very similar, especially in the way they each intently cared for their horses as they took the time to share their stories with us.

On the cover, with that photo of our unsung heroes, you’ll also see the term ‘Racing’s Lifeblood’, and it’s true. Most people realize that we’d all be in big trouble without them.

We do now celebrate our caretakers for a week or so every summer, thanks to Standardbred Canada’s ‘National Caretaker Appreciation Day’ - a wonderful gesture appreciated by most no doubt. But what else do we do for them? Considering they’re the lifeblood of our sport?

Do we automatically pay them a small percentage of what their horse makes? I realize, as an owner, it’s tough making a buck in this game, but even if they made 0.5% and their horse had a $100,000 season, it’s still a nice $500 bonus. We’d spend $500 in a heartbeat to inject the ankles of a horse that made us that kind of money, but we can’t pay it to the person that cares for the horse 365 days/year? I do realize that some trainers pay nice bonuses - but some do not.

I suggested in this very space a few years ago that there’s no reason whatsoever that caretaker-names can’t be in the program, and announced in every post parade, at every track, year-round. We announce them on OSS Super Final night and Breeders Crown night - it’s not rocket science. People might fluff this off as being meaningless, but I’m sure that the gesture would be appreciated in many circles.

What about aftercare? We have great organizations such as OSAS, New Start Standardbreds and New Vocations, to name a few, for our horses. Who keeps an eye out for our lifetime caretakers, ones with little family, as they grow old?

When I interviewed John Burns for this month’s popular ‘Where Are They Now?’ piece, he mentioned to me that Gord ‘Fancy’ Dolson had been battling cancer. He said that he seemed to be doing ok now, but that they had to remove his voice box, etc. and that he had been through a lot.

If you don’t know ‘Fancy’, he was a lifetime-groom around Greenwood and Mohawk for decades. I think he worked for just about everyone in the backstretch at one time or another. I may not know him well - he was there a long time before I ever arrived, and for many years after I left too - but he was quite a character. He was a very good person and a good groom. Everyone knew Fancy, and looked out for him too if need be.

The news about Fance made me both sad and reflective, thinking of many of the lifetime-grooms in our sport from over the years. Wondering where many of them ended up after the Mohawk backstretch dorms closed. Burnsie said that Fancy’s longtime friend and employer Allan Waddell was still helping him out and keeping an eye on him. News that warms one’s heart.

Ask any trainer: we’re currently facing a dangerous shortage of good help in our industry. Most of today’s caretakers are younger - look at the cover. Many seem to do it at a young age and then move on to other things for whatever reason. There’s probably not just one simple answer, but it seems that it’s no longer a career option for many - hence our shortage.

Joanne Colville (OSAS), Kimberly Ann Hale (New Start) and Dot Morgan (New Vocations) all do a wonderful job looking out for our retired equines. But so do people like Allan Waddell, looking out for our retired people. It may be different, but really, it’s the very same.

Dan Fisher [email protected]