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"A Really Great Human Being"

Ian Fleming

Ian Fleming, currently the racing secretary for the majority of Ontario’s racetracks, is very happy staying behind-the-scenes to do his thing. He’s humble. He doesn’t need to be in the limelight, or in every photograph taken.

And he doesn’t care to talk about himself a lot. But if you ask the people that have worked alongside him, they all have LOTS of great things to say about the HOF’s newest inductee in the Builder category. By Chris Lomon

Although Clinton Raceway General Manager and 2019 Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee Ian Fleming has a multitude of stories, accolades and achievements to speak of, the best person to share it all is anyone other than the man himself.

It’s not indifference nor is it insouciance that prevents one of Canadian horse racing’s most respected figures from being an open book when it comes to his lofty accomplishments. Instead, it’s a measure of humility and self-effacement that continue to define Fleming over his years in the Standardbred world.

So, while he might be resistant to discuss his sizable contributions to racing, others view it as a privilege to talk about one of the sport’s most influential citizens.

Kelly Spencer would be one of those people.

Long revered as one of the most innovative promoters of harness racing in Canada, Spencer led the marketing team at both Elmira and Grand River Raceway for 20-plus years, before last year creating her own communications agency, True Nature Communications, with TheStable.ca and Grand River being two of her top clients.

She’s known Fleming for 20 years.

Spencer offers up a heartfelt chuckle when asked the one thing that first comes to mind with Fleming.

“[For] Jessica (Carnochan, who handles marketing & promotions for Clinton Racetrack) and I, it’s not a stretch to say that he’s a mentor to both us,” started Spencer, who recently joined the OSAS Board of Directors, which also includes Fleming. “We’re always kibitzing about Ian behind his back, but in a very loving way. We always said the day Ian gets inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, we will publish a book of ‘Flemingisms.’”

Flemingisms?

“It’s one of those things that you will talk about, but never get around to doing,” Spencer offered. “Theoretically, it would be a volume of many pages of great anecdotes and one-liners that Ian has, that basically cover every situation in life. For me, that is always indicative of his wisdom. He has an incredible wisdom about everything. He is just a consistently wise, humble man. For me over the years, he’s been a great source of inspiration and a really great friend. He’s that guy – and everyone should be so lucky to have one – who if I ever need a common sense perspective on something, I know I can get that from him.”

What Spencer and others won’t get from Fleming, however, is someone eager to receive adulation for his attainments.

“He’s tremendously humble,” she offered. “He does so many things outside of what people do know about. It just wouldn’t be in his nature to vocalize those things because he doesn’t do them for the spotlight. He does it all through the goodness of his heart.”

Spencer points to the aftermath of the 2016 Classy Lane barn fire as a prime example of Fleming’s generous ways. Part of a committee established by the Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA), Fleming played a major role in the fundraising campaign that aided horsepeople affected by the blaze that killed 43 horses.

“Classy Lane was probably one of the biggest and most public fundraising efforts he’s helped with,” started Spencer. “He’s either spearheaded or helped organize… I couldn’t even count the number of fundraisers he’s done over the years. There are dozens of them over the 20 years I’ve known him. He takes the initiative, gets it done, and doesn’t want any of the credit for it. That’s his modus operandi.”

Although Fleming has cared for, and eventually trained Standardbreds as a youngster, his career behind the desk in horse racing began as race secretary at his home track in Clinton, Ontario. That role evolved into managing the racetrack, and from there he went on to create a centralized race office for several Ontario tracks in the 1990s, which now services most of the racetracks across the province.

The Racing & Gaming Manager at Western Fair Raceway for a number of years, Fleming’s astute business skills are based on cultivating relationships, and a deep knowledge and comprehension of the mechanics of racing and wagering. He continues to lend his expertise to numerous Ontario racetracks and many international organizations, to shape and strengthen harness racing, and also volunteers his time in administrative capacities, sitting on the Board of Directors for Ontario Racing, Standardbred Canada and the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society.

“Ian’s expertise, experience and exceptional perspective on Ontario horse racing make him an invaluable member of the Ontario Racing (OR) Board of Directors,” said Katherine Curry, Executive Director, Ontario Racing Management (ORM). “His reputation as a collaborator and passionate supporter of the horse racing industry is well earned.”

In addition to his racing-related responsibilities, Fleming has been a passionate supporter of the industry and his community through fundraising events such as the bi-annual Legends Day at Clinton Raceway. The 2017 edition of Legends Day hosted harness racing fans from across North America to witness legendary drivers John Campbell’s final career drive.

Fleming, race secretary at seven of Ontario’s harness tracks, also has 467 starts as a trainer, with his most successful horse being the multiple OSS winner Just Call Me Sam. A son of Kandu Hanover, the bay horse that Fleming co-bred and owned won 35 races from 178 starts, along with $262,454 in career earnings.

Veteran horseman Gregg McNair has known Fleming for over 30 years, and over that time has trained for, and co-owned many horses with the new HOF’er.

“He never wants to do anything wrong,” said McNair. “He has a lot of integrity. It’s not against the rules, but we’re not allowed to race [his horses] at the tracks he does draws for. We call in once in a while just to put in the name of the horse. He’ll call back and say, ‘Nice try, guys.’ But that’s what he wants. It says a lot about his character.

“Ian’s always been very hands-on with his horses,” he continued. “We talk a lot on the phone, almost every day, even if I’m in Florida. If you are supposed to get one x-rayed, or taken to the vet, or take the horse to the track and train it, he’ll call you every day to make sure you got it done.”

The friends have had some good horses together too, including OSS Gold winner Bills Fella, who they were also co-breeders on. And not only did they breed that career winner of $226,578, but they also co-bred his dam, Lucky Louisa, and co-owned her dam, Claires Apache ($398,464).

One other interesting success story the two longtime partners share is that of a trotter the pair got a little lucky with. Just two years ago, they had a weanling trotter that needed companionship. It led to the purchase of a low-priced colt out of a non-descript sire - Adam T. That horse, T Barrr, went on to win an OSS Gold race at age 2, and bankrolled nearly $200,000 for them.

“We’ve had a lot of decent horses together, but that one does stand out,” offered McNair. “He [Ian] was the one who bought the horse. It ended up being far better than the one we originally got. It turned out pretty good for us.”

McNair, who plans to be at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony on August 7 still marvels at Fleming’s commitment to Ontario racing.

“He’s so innovative, always thinking about what’s coming up, and he’s always one step ahead. We’ve traveled a lot together over the years. He goes and goes, then all of a sudden he’s asleep for a few hours… and then he’s back up and ready to roll again. Ian’s someone you just have a lot of respect for. He’s very fair in everything he does and he does so much for so many people.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Spencer.

“He’s a fabulous delegator and I don’t think he gets enough credit for it. He’s really good at building people up and making them feel good about themselves and helping advance their careers. He is an outstanding leader. Most importantly, he’s just a really great human being.”

When Fleming’s plaque is unveiled at the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, it will showcase a lifetime of notable achievements.

While there won’t be any Flemingisms on it, the words that are there will no doubt prompt plenty of conversations about the man so many people love to talk about.

The last word, somewhat ironically, goes to the newly minted Hall of Fame inductee.

“I’m pleased and quite surprised, actually,” Fleming told Standardbred Canada of his Hall nod. “Quite surprised… If you’re not happy about that, you’re not happy about much.”

This feature originally appeared in the June issue of TROT Magazine.
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