If anyone understands the nuts and bolts of harness racing in Canada it's one of the country's leading standardbred journalists, Dave Briggs. For 16 years he has been editor of the one of North America's leading and oldest publications - The Canadian Sportsman.
The 41-year-old Ontario (Windsor) native believes that - by North American standards – the Canadian harness racing industry is in a fortunate position, particularly in Ontario.
“There are slots at all 14 harness tracks in Ontario. Frankly, most tracks in Canada still in business now have slots. In Ontario we currently have a supportive provincial government, a relatively-progressive regulator in the Ontario Racing Commission and, above all, an embarrassment of riches in terms of the talent and passion of its horse people,” Briggs said.
He believed Toronto's Woodbine Entertainment Group was clearly one of the best harness racing plants in North America and one of the better ones in the world.
“In a declining industry, so far, we have been blessed. Though, the storm clouds are clearly on the horizon,” he warned.
Briggs wasn’t always interested in harness racing.
“We lived about 10 minutes down the road from Windsor Raceway, and I passed it virtually every day as a kid, but I never went there for anything other than a couple of fireworks shows. “My parents still live in the house I grew up in, in the Windsor suburb of LaSalle, which is also home to trainer Bob McIntosh. Mum and Dad’s house is situated down the road from the Essex Golf and Country Club - one of the best courses in Canada and the host of the 1976 Canadian Open tournament,” Briggs said.
“In saying that though none of us are really golfers,” he added.
Briggs graduated from Sandwich Secondary School in 1988 and after travelling to South Africa for a month that summer to visit relatives (two uncles, two aunts, three cousins) he enrolled in the Communications Department at the University of Windsor. He said ‘faculty brats received free tuition’.
“While at Uni. I worked as a manager for the football team, and had a part-time job at the recreation complex which is home to Canada's best University track and field team. It was run by head coach Dennis Fairall, who owns many standardbreds.”
Briggs was also sports editor of the University paper – ‘The Lance’ for three to four year. He said it was called ‘The Lance’ because the sports teams at University Of Windsor are called ‘The Lancers’.
He graduated from University with an honours Bachelors of Arts degree in Communications in 1991 and then enrolled in the Masters program in Communications at University of Windsor the following September.
“I never wrote my thesis, instead I chose to switch to the University of Western Ontario (UWO) in London (the home of Western Fair Raceway) to do a Masters in journalism.” Briggs completed that Masters in 1994.
“Apart from the University paper, I also did freelance work for the Windsor Star as a teenager, as well as a couple of small town papers in the region.
“While at the University of Western Ontario, I also did news stories for the student daily paper, ‘The Gazette’, and also did a one-month internship in the sports department at the Toronto Sun - the home of racing writer Rob Longley and the paper that, at that time, had the biggest sports staff in Canada.”
When Briggs completed his Masters degree he started working full-time on a contract basis in the sports department at The London Free Press.
“I worked there a year-and-a-half. They picked up my contract twice, but had a union provision that they couldn't extend a contract a third time unless without hiring me full-time. There was no room on staff at the time.
“Through the woman who taught my magazine class at Western (she had her printing done here), I learned of the job opening at The Canadian Sportsman.”
Briggs said he didn't know anything about the magazine, its history as the oldest magazine in Canada, or the sport, but I applied and was hired in May of 1995 and was made editor in December of that year.”
His writing achievements include:
- A Standardbred Canada Media Excellence Award in 2008.
- Two International Harness Racing Awards in conjunction with the World Trotting Conference.
- Four John Hervey Awards (1996, 1997, 1998, 2009) in harness racing.
- A baseball writing award he won at the University of Windsor.
- A newspaper writing award at the class newspaper that existed at the University of Western Ontario when I was there.
When asked about his family Briggs said his father Don, was born and raised in “oh-so-tiny” Plaster Rock, New Brunswick. Apparently the Briggs clan he said originated from Scotland and France and can trace their history in New Brunswick back to the 1700s.
“My father bounced around a little bit at universities in Canada, but eventually landed at the University of Windsor around 1964, I think. He taught political science there until his retirement in 1999. He still teaches one or two courses each term there.
“My mother Molly (maiden name is Breckenridge), was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and has a masters degree in geography, but has never worked outside the home.”
He said his mother met his father in London, England in the late-1950s where they were both going to university.
“Dad was doing his PhD in political science at the London School of Economics. They married in England in 1961 and then climbed on a boat to Canada landing in the Great White North was a bit of shock to my mother's South African system that she still complains about to this day.”
Anyone involved in North American harness racing will also know Briggs’ older sister Karen. Also a journalist of some quality the 47-year-old is a horse lover and freelance writer dealing with a variety of equine issues.
“Karen was born in Nova Scotia in 1963 and my late brother, Brian, was born in Windsor in 1965. He was killed in a freak accident in 1979 (when Briggs was 10). “Naturally, my parents have never fully recovered from that very sad moment in our lives,” Briggs said.
Briggs met his wife Laura (formerly Carr) at the University of Windsor in 1990.“I was dating her room-mate at the time,” he added.
“They were married on October 14, 1995 in Laura’s hometown of St. Thomas (15 minutes south of London in South-western Ontario). We bought our first house in Port Stanley, ON - 15 minutes south of St. Thomas on the shores of Lake Erie almost directly north across the lake from Cleveland) in 1998, where we still live today.”
They have two daughters Moira (11) and Erin (8) and one son Liam (10).
Apart from his family, work and harness racing Briggs other interests include music, sailing, skiing, travelling and American football.
“I was, sadly, a Detroit Lions season ticket holder for 15 years from 1991 until 2005 when I ran out of money and came to my senses.
“At least I got to see the complete Barry Sanders era. I'm also a huge University of Michigan football fan. Ann Arbor, Michigan is about 45 minutes from Windsor."
by Duane RANGER (editor)