ELORA, ON - Veteran trainer Larry Ainsworth has a beef to pick with Grand River Raceway.
"They need to expand the dining room to get more people into the buffet," he said, laughing. "$16.99 for a buffet and you can sit and watch races all night? That's the best deal in Southern Ontario."
Ainsworth recently celebrated his 76th birthday, but the trainer isn't slowing down one bit. He's one of the leading trainers at Grand River Raceway and, for the first time in 13 years, he's back down as the official trainer for a family stable that has a long, enviable record of producing champions.
"It's just in name only," he said. "I'm still involved the same as I always was."
For well over 20 years, the Ainsworth operation has been led by Larry's son, Jim. In April, Jim stepped back from horses to help run the family's growing school bus business in Petrolia, ON.
"I suggested to Jim one day, 'Why don't you go and get the buses going in the morning over at Sarnia and then come out to the farm?' The trouble is, he never came back to the farm. He loves it, which is good. The timing was great."
The Ainsworths have cut back in recent years due to the end of the Slots at Racetracks Program and shrinking Ontario Sires Stakes purses that are the staple of their operation, but Larry said he can never fully quit the horses.
"I'll die doing it," he said.
In its heyday, the Ainsworth operation trained as many as 35 horses, including such greats as Beau Jim (career earnings of $230,000), Debbielynnekillean ($335,000),($835,000), Carolache ($530,000) and Cathedra ($735,000), a mare that was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2007 after a successful career on the track and an even better one as a broodmare. Cathedra's offspring have earned nearly $4.4 million, combined, on the racetrack.
"As a broodmare, yeah, she was really outstanding. But, that's hard to believe. I would have never expected her to be a great broodmare."
Today, Larry is training about six horses in Ontario and another half-dozen that he just sent to Indiana to race. He can't imagine doing anything else besides working with horses and having a family school bus company.
"That's all I've ever known. I can't think of ever doing anything else," said Larry, whose career with horses started when he was a teenager with his grandfather.
"My grandfather raced horses and had saddle horses," Larry said. "When my grandfather died he left me one racehorse. She made $9,000 the first year that he died. So, I thought, 'If one will make you $9,000, six would make you $54,000.'"
Naturally, his math didn't work out, but school buses quickly played a significant role in Larry's horse stable. He bought his first small bus company in 1976 and "in '77 and '78 Beau Jim made enough to pay for the bus business."
Today, Larry Ainsworth enjoys watching the races on simulcast at home and getting out to the track when he can. He said he particularly enjoys "the closeness" of the races to the people at Grand River Raceway.
"We had people there last week and what a nice facility. We were sitting in the restaurant down below and it was nice for people watching. The races are right there close. It's a great little spot. It's made for people."
To hear more of our conversation with Larry Ainsworth - including his choice for the best show on television - check out our weekly podcast, the Harness Racing Report, produced for Grand River Raceway by award-winning journalist Dave Briggs, at https://soundcloud.com/grandriverraceway
by Kelly Spencer, for Grand River Raceway