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ELORA, ON - Monday (September 29) marks the final live race card of the year at Grand River Raceway, but it's already proven to be a successful year at the track. Despite fewer races and fewer cards, the average bet per race jumped 10.5 per cent in 2014 compared to 2013 and total wagering on Grand River is up 4.8 per cent from just under $6.5 million in 2013 to nearly $6,786,149 this year through Wenesday's card. All this despite a decrease in the number of races per card of nearly 10 per cent. On the track, nothing topped Hall of Fame driver John Campbell and Hall of Fame trainer Bob McIntosh teaming up to win the $217,140 Battle of Waterloo Aug. 4 with McIntosh's two-year-old homebred pacing colt Go Daddy Go. It was the first Battle of Waterloo victory for both men. "I haven't started that many in it, but it feels tremendous," McIntosh said in the winner's circle. "It's a real thrill." Campbell said the victory felt great. "It's been a fun day for me and it's capped off extremely well," he said. This year also marked Campbell's first trip to Grand River and he liked what he saw. "I got a tour before the races started here and it's very efficient and very convenient for fans. It looks like a very nice plant," Campbell said. The Grand River meet also saw rising star James MacDonald win his first premier stakes race at the track when he drove 20-1 longshot Win The Gold to victory in the Battle of the Belles for trainer Tony O'Sullivan. In August, Grand River's general manager Dr. Ted Clarke was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in the builders' category. That same month, Jet Airway set a track record for three-year-old pacing colts when he buzzed the Grand River oval in 1:51.1. Five other horses also set Canadian seasonal records at the track. On the drivers' side, Trevor Henry was again crowned the top Grand River driver for both wins and money. Casie Coleman was Grand River's top money-winning trainer and Richard Moreau led all trainers in wins at the track by a wide margin. And this year, we also learned important information such as what three people driver Scott Coulter would enlist to thwart a zombie apocalypse. "I'm going to take Clint Eastwood," Coulter said, "Superman and throw Sly Stallone in there, too. Why not?" We also discovered what Randy Waples would be doing if he wasn't driving horses for a living -"At one time, being a surfer sounded pretty good. I likead the idea of that." - what music trainer Casie Coleman thinks Satan has playing on repeat in her version of hell - "Anything country, probably." - and what James MacDonald does better than his two famous driving brothers, Anthony and Mark - "Golf, that's for sure, because they're both horrible." To hear our conversation with some of the most prominent drivers and trainers in the game, 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 Final Training Day at Grand River Raceway  Grand River Raceway will remain open for training every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 8:00 a.m. to noon, with all horses vacated by 1:00 p.m. This schedule will remain in effect until the final training day on October 9. by Kelly Spencer, for Grand River Raceway  

London, September 26, 2014 -- A long list of Opening Night promotions will be on tap Friday, Oct. 3 when The Raceway at The Western Fair District in London, Ont. opens its 2014-15 live harness racing season. Fans can take a spin around the half-mile oval in a double-seated jog cart with the Wanna Ride team, take part in a Survivor Handicapping Challenge, catch the Racing Under Saddle 2014 finale, take advantage of special Opening Night pricing in the Top of the Fair restaurant and even get their first bet for free thanks to the First Bet Is On Us promotion. There will also be prize giveaways and the track's regular Friday promotions such as Deal or no Deal, The Fun Wheel and Trivia. Raceway Manager Greg Blanchard said he can't wait to get the meet started. "We've gone through a turbulent couple of years, but I think we've weathered the storm well and we're really excited to be back in action this year," Blanchard said. The Raceway at The Western Fair District will race on Mondays and Tuesdays at 6:15 p.m. and Fridays at 7:05 p.m. this fall and will add Wednesdays to the schedule in the new year. Track announcer Shannon "Sugar" Doyle is back calling the action at The Raceway. He moved to London at the start of the 2013-14 meet after calling races in Alberta for many years. "I'm looking forward to it," Doyle said. "Coming into last season it was a whole new venue, new horses and names and drivers and everything else. Everything was new. I've got a handle on it now going into this meet and I'm feeling good. I know what to expect this time around. I'm hoping to be sharp right out of the gate." New this year is a Pick-3 wager on the first three races of every card in addition to two, Pick-4 wagers guaranteed at $5,000 apiece and two Super Hi-5 bets. All of those wagers have a takeout rate of 15 per cent. At the start of its 2012-13 meet, Western Fair became the first Ontario track to introduce the Super Hi-5 bet, a wager that has proven popular there, at Toronto's Woodbine Entertainment Group (WEG) and elsewhere. "Last year on at least a couple of occasions we generated pools in excess of $30,000 of new money. For a track of our size that's a big pool. With that new money, a couple of times we had total pools of $40,000 and $50,000. So, when we get that carryover, it generates a lot of excitement and a lot of buzz," Blanchard said, adding WEG did a lot of the legal legwork to get the Super Hi-5 wager - which WEG calls the Jackpot Hi-5 - approved in the first place. WEG launched the bet in October of 2013. As for other improvements to The Raceway at The Western Fair District, Blanchard said fans will receive a warm welcome in the lobby thanks to an improved customer service area designed to be a strong initial point of contact with patrons, including the addition of a betting terminal right next to the customer service desk. Gone is the old infield tote board and concrete stage, which was replaced by a winner's circle near the end of the 2013-14 meet. "Initially, we'll have large flat-screened TVs placed outside in the grandstand so people can access odds," Blanchard said. "We have two digital countdown clocks so people will be able to track minutes to post." Betting customers making their first trip to the track since the last live meet ended in May will also see a marked improvement in The Raceway at The Western Fair District's tote system. As a member of the eight-track Ontario Standardbred Alliance, the London track received an upgrade in June to the same AmTote system used by WEG. "We were overdue for an upgrade to a newer operating system. When we became part of the Alliance, by default we received an upgrade," Blanchard said. "We're getting good feedback early on from our customers on that." He said there have been other advantages to being part of the Standardbred Alliance, especially with WEG at the helm. "Woodbine's been great to help all of our tracks promote our events. When we did the Molson Pace they did a lot of promotion throughout their various platforms. On Opening Night they're going to be heavily involved again and one of the initiatives is the First Bet Is On Us program. They've done that at Grand River on their big day, they did it at Georgian recently. It's really popular and it's really slick, so that's going to be a nice addition for Opening Night." Overall, Blanchard said he's hoping for a safe meet for the track's participants and growth in both handle and attendance on the business side. "We'd like to see some new faces out at the track this year. That's one of the goals, certainly, of the Alliance," Blanchard said. By Dave Briggs, for The Raceway

ELORA, ON - The most important job at Grand River Raceway in Elora may just belong to the harness racing track veterinarian Dr. Pat Meyers. "Essentially, you're looking after the welfare of the horse, but in addition to that you're also making sure the betting public is not betting on any lame horses, said Meyers, 59, who has been the track vet at Grand River Raceway since the track opened in 2003. Before that he was the vet at Elmira Raceway and Hanover Raceway going back to 1998. On a wet Wednesday night, Meyers was busy carefully watching a group of three-year-old pacing fillies warm up for an Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) Grassroots event that was subsequently postponed due to the monsoon causing unsafe track conditions. The vet said one of his jobs on race nights is to watch every horse warm up. "You're looking for any possible signs of lameness," he said. "Then if you have one that is slightly off, you go and talk to the trainer and make sure that he's not racing a horse that's going to be lame." Meyers is also on hand to help horses injured while racing. "Usually if there is an accident on the track you have to make sure you take care of any horses that are injured at least from a remedial standpoint or from a first aid standpoint," he said. After races, Meyers also helps trainers determine why a horse may not have raced well by inserting a small camera called an endoscope into a horse's air passage to check their lungs. He also helps out, when necessary, to take blood samples of horses for testing. Though Meyers isn't in charge of the testing protocol, racehorses in Ontario undergo some of the strictest pre- and post-race testing in the world for performance enhancing drugs. "The only time I get involved in any of those things is, for instance, if a person has difficulty taking a blood sample from a particular horse, then I would go and assist or at the end of the night if there's no veterinary technician to take blood," Meyers said. "So, I'm not intimately involved in it, but I do on the periphery." Other than the small number of times he's had to deal with a catastrophic injury to a horse in his 26 years as a track vet, Meyers said he enjoys his work and being at Grand River Raceway. "The job is pretty fun because you get to talk to a lot of interesting people at the track and find out what's going on in the industry," he said. Meyers, who runs Emerald Ridge Farm in Rockwood, ON with his wife, Anna, hasn't bred any horses the last two years, but he's been in the breeding business for a long time. He said the horse that changed his life was Emerald Whisper, an Earl mare out of Royal Design he produced with Terry Devos. "She made about $180,000 for us as a two- and three-year-old and she almost won the (OSS) Grassroots Final for two-year-old trotting fillies (in 2007). That was the one that changed it for me personally." To hear our conversation with Dr. Pat Meyers - including his pick for the greatest fictional character in history - 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  

The retired harness racing trainer reflects on learning to communicate with horses and what it feels like drive them to victory in the sport’s biggest races. ELORA, ON — What does it feel like to drive a horse to victory in a major stakes race? Dr. John Hayes said coming from 10th at the top of the stretch to win the 1981 Meadowlands Pace with Conquered is a feeling he can only compare with finishing his first Boston Marathon. “It was totally emotionally impacting. It was so overwhelming I had trouble controlling it,” he said Wednesday, referring to the marathon he completed on his first attempt in 2007. As for that equally overwhelming Meadowlands Pace victory, Hayes said, “At the head of the stretch I was out of it. Halfway through the stretch it was evident I was going to be in the hunt for a cheque. Down near the wire, the cheque was going to be pretty good and at the wire, holy f---. “It was that first 30 seconds from the horse crossing the finish line until you get down into the turn and the horse gets pulled up; that feeling I never experienced it to that extent before in my life.” Hayes has done it all in harness racing. He’s a veterinarian that has owned, trained and driven horses all of his adult life. While he’s retired from training and his farm on the shore of Lake Ontario in Beamsville is for sale, it is still home to Canadian Pacing Derby champion Modern Legend trained by Dave Drew. Hayes has long been one of the sport’s most respected, most articulate participants. When asked to describe the sensation of driving horses, he said it doesn’t feel like you might expect. “Something you’re acutely aware of is how fast the ground is going underneath you when you’re driving a horse,” he said. “That sense is, of course, nothing you can compare to because it is being in the car without the floorboards. “Lots of times there is that addition of physiology of the horse that impacts on you. You smell the horse. There’s sweat involved. You’re getting that added sensory input that doesn’t come from another moving-over-the-ground experience.” Nearly 50 years of experience has taught Hayes to understand the language horses speak. “Although horses don’t talk, they certainly communicate. I became much better at speaking horse speak incrementally as time went on,” he said. “The language is in their response to the inputs that are from your end. In other words, you just get more comfortable in identifying the feedback and what it probably means.” As for people he admires in the game, Hayes said he’s a big fan of fellow veterinarian Dr. Ted Clarke, the general manager of Grand River Raceway in Elora. Clarke was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in August. “If Ted Clarke had a greater responsibility for the direction of Canadian racing, we would be way, way down the road to optimal opportunity,” Hayes said. “He has the ability to create consensus like nobody I’ve seen. He does not make vested interest his primary objective. He makes the interest of everybody his primary objective with the assumption that vested interest will be best served.” Hayes no longer owns any horses, but he was quick to name the one that changed his life. “The horse’s name is Decked. Let’s just say it was a father-son relationship thing,” he said of the late John Hayes, Sr., who is enshrined in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. “Father was cutting back, phasing out and I was taking over the operation … Of course, I was young and wanting to expand my wings and there was no opportunity to do it with a trotter. So, we had this two-year-old who was by the first crop of Penn Hanover called Decked. His mother was an Adios mare. She was from the last crop of Adios. He was made to pace, but he loved to trot. “Father said, ‘You can hold him together in 2:20, but he’s bred to pace and he’ll switch over to the pace as soon as you chirp to him going some speed …’ The bottom line is he won his first pari-mutuel start, in London, in a sires stakes on the trot in 2:09 in October. That was the day that I somewhat gained a level of independence from my father where I was able to make a decision and he didn’t have to tell me I was full of (it).” In six years on the track, Decked earned more than $140,000 on the trot and just $4,000 on the pace. To hear our conversation with Dr. John Hayes — including what his personal heaven is like — 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

ELORA, ON - There's a reason Trevor Henry is the leading harness driver in Canada by more than 100 wins over the next closest driver. He almost never misses a day driving at Ontario's smaller tracks. "You go every day, pretty much," Henry said. "You get used to it, but you sure appreciate when you get a day off." Henry isn't just leading Canada in wins, he's the leading driver at four different tracks - Grand River, Clinton, Western Fair and Georgian Downs - sits second and third in the standings at two others and is third in the driver standings on the Ontario Sires Stakes circuit. He is particularly dominant at Grand River Raceway where he has double the number of wins (75) than second-ranked driver Scott Coulter (37). Henry's $400,000 in Grand River earnings is almost $100,000 more than the next closest driver, Jody Jamieson. "(At Grand River) the front-end speed holds up pretty good. I like being close to the front and it seems to hold up well there," Henry said. It is a bonus that Grand River Raceway is just 20 minutes from Henry's house in Arthur, ON. "It's awesome when they race there. I wish they raced there year-round," Henry said. Henry is up at dawn seven days a week to help train the five horses he owns with his wife. He doesn't hit the bed most nights until midnight. The 43-year-old said he's had success on smaller tracks because he's been driving on them most of his adult life. "Experience has a lot to do with it. I've been doing it a long time. It helps," he said. "Guys see you do good, so they put you down to drive their horses. Horses are a big part of it." Though Henry has long been the king of Ontario's smaller tracks - putting some 80,000 kilometers on his truck every year in the process - he said he might take a shot at driving regularly at the top Woodbine Entertainment Group circuit in the fall. "I might give it a try and just do that and take a little break." For the time being, though, Henry will continue to plug away every night of the week at any track he can. "You can drive every night of the week. Before, I used to have, maybe, a couple days off a week ... Right now it's so busy. They put the stakes schedule closer together. It's not as spread out. There's stakes pretty well every other night of the week somewhere. So, you've got to go to them." To hear our conversation with Trevor Henry - including what horse changed his life and what is on his bucket list - 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 Dave Briggs, for Grand River Raceway

CAMPBELLVILLE, August 28 - When John Campbell turns Go Daddy Go to the gate in the $667,000 Metro Pace final Saturday at Mohawk Racetrack, he's hoping it will prove to be another successful chapter in a partnership with trainer Bob McIntosh of LaSalle, Ont. that goes back nearly 40 years. A week after winning his Metro elimination by one-and-a-quarter lengths over Lyons Levi Lewis in a career-best 1:52.4, Go Daddy Go will leave from the two hole in an effort to deliver the first Metro title to McIntosh and the fifth for Campbell. The Metro is race 7 on a card that kicks off at 7:25 p.m. "He's a tough guy," McIntosh said of Go Daddy Go. "He doesn't mind being first up. He's versatile that way. He's maybe not the best on the front end, yet. He's a little green. But, coming at horses he's awfully impressive. He reminds me a lot of his dad, Ponder. There wasn't a tougher horse around. He was as game as they came." Go Daddy Go, who is also owned by Dave Boyle of Bowmanville, hasn't been off the board in his seven lifetime starts. He sports a 3-3-1 record, with wins in the $200,000 Battle of Waterloo at Grand River Raceway and a strong second in his $90,000 Nassagaweya test on Aug. 14 at Mohawk that convinced McIntosh to take a shot at the Metro. "He hasn't gone a bad race," Campbell said. "He's figuring it out as he goes. He's got the desire part. You can't teach that... He keeps improving and doing his work. He's just a very solid colt." Campbell, 59, and McIntosh, 62, are both Hall of Famers in Canada and the United States that have teamed up on innumerable champions. "The oldtimers are still at it - him and I," McIntosh said, laughing. "Over the years we've had some good ones. It's been a great run and John's still driving like a young guy. He's still the best. He hasn't lost a beat." Saturday, Campbell will drive all four of the horses McIntosh has entered on the stakes-rich card. He'll pilot Lasting Appeal in the $207,689 Simcoe, Thinking Out Loud in the $634,000 Canadian Pacing Derby and Dapper Dude in the $34,000 Preferred. The first horse Campbell drove for McIntosh was a $5,000 claiming mare named Brilliant Bonnie in 1977 at Windsor Raceway. "She was an orangutan," McIntosh said. "She was no fun to drive. I do remember that," Campbell said. "She was no Go Daddy Go." Go Daddy Go is a homebred colt out of McIntosh's mare San Francine. She has also produced Daddy Mac ($600,000), Change Your Luck ($180,000) and Miss Maverick ($230,000). "She'd made me a lot more money breeding than racing," McIntosh said of San Francine. McIntosh also bred San Francine, a mare sired by Artsplace, who, in 1990, became the first of Campbell's four Metro winners. At the time, Artsplace was trained by Gene Riegle. Later in the colt's career, McIntosh trained Artsplace. In 1999, Campbell won the Metro with The Firepan and denied McIntosh his first Metro victory. The trainer was a close second and third that year with Intrepid Seelster and Richess Hanover. Two years later, Campbell and McIntosh were on the verge of winning the Metro together with Western Shooter when the talented colt made a late break in deep stretch. "That was my fault. That was a whip break," Campbell said. Further tragedy struck when Western Shooter died before he could begin a promising sophomore campaign. "Yeah, we've had a lot of success over the years and some really good horses, but I think the first one that would come to (McIntosh's) mind and mine as well is Western Shooter," Campbell said. "He passed away between his two- and three-year-old year, but that might have been the best horse we had and we never got to prove it. He was just tremendous, just so strong. He just kept getting better all year. We really had high hopes for him." Go Daddy Go might not be in Western Shooter's class just yet, but John Campbell would dearly love to win the Metro for Bob McIntosh. "I know Artspeak will be the huge favourite," McIntosh said. "But there's a reason they hook them up and race them because anything can happen." by Dave Briggs, for WEG

ELORA, ON - In just his sixth year as a professional driver, James MacDonald of Guelph ranks among the best in Canada. He sits second in the nation in wins, is a close third in money and is on the verge of surpassing his best money year ever, the $2.9 million he earned in 2012. One of his biggest career victories came earlier this month when he won the Battle of the Belles at Grand River Raceway with a 20-1 longshot named Win The Gold. "I've had a lot of good horses and a lot of good trainers use me, so that makes it easier." MacDonald is on an incredible roll in 2014. He kicked off the year getting married to Jenna MacDonell. Jenna is the daughter of veteran reinsman Paul Macdonell, the man best known for driving the incredible Somebeachsomewhere. "Paul's great and Jenna's even better," MacDonald said, laughing. A few months after getting married, James MacDonald surpassed $10 million in lifetime earnings and recorded his 1,000th career win. "It means quite a bit. I've been watching it for awhile," MacDonald said of the wins milestone. "You try and win as much as you can, but it's hard. There's nine, 10 people in every race trying to win and in Ontario it's not easy to win races. There are so many good drivers around. Just to know that you've been able to achieve 1,000 is kind of special." James is the third MacDonald brother to reach the upper echelons of the sport. James, Anthony and Mark MacDonald have won more than 9,000 races and $100 million combined. Mark MacDonald is a two-time Canadian driver of the year. James said it all starts with their parents, Fred and Gail MacDonald, back in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. "Our family's great. Dad and mom, they watch every race and they call after," James said. "Whether you're up the track or win, you're the best driver in the world. They're great and Mark and Anthony they're great, too. All our brothers. They all watch, they all call. "Mark, if he sees me do something, or Anthony sees me do something they're the first people to give good constructive criticism, so it makes it that much easier, for sure." Constructive? Brothers are able to do constructive? "Somewhat. It starts off as constructive and usually ends up in a fight," James said, laughing. "But, deep down I know it was meant well." James said the Ontario track that most reminds him of home is Grand River Raceway in Elora. "It's a great track to race at. The grandstand sits right on the track. The fans are lined up at the fence to watch. It's just a really friendly place to race at." To hear our conversation with James MacDonald - including what sport he beats his brothers at every time - 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 Dave Briggs for Grand River Raceway  

ELORA, ON - By any measure this has been a banner year for driver Scott Coulter of Brantford, ON. Any day now he will win his 4,000th race and surpass $25 million in earnings. In June, his first child, a baby girl named Quinn, was born. "You know what, everybody tells you it's a game changer and they're not kidding. It's the best thing I've ever done," Coulter said. A professional driver for nearly 20 years, Coulter, 44, said he owes a lot to a horse named The Rogue that he drove early in his career. "That horse really gave me the confidence to do some things on the racetrack that maybe I shouldn't have had the confidence to do," Coulter said. "He was just a great horse and I loved him for what he let me do with him." As for 4,000 wins and $25 million in earnings, Coulter said he's proud to reach major career milestones in wins and money. "I'm happy with the numbers and I'm just happy to do something I love. As long as we can keep progressing, I'm good," Coulter said. "You have to have the support of the good trainers and you've got to get some live mounts and then, of course, you've got to perform with them when you get that chance. I've been able to stay pretty consistent over the years and this year is no different." Coulter is currently second in the driver standings at Grand River Raceway and calls the Elora, ON track one of his favourite places in the world. "You've got to love the atmosphere. It's certainly a down-home, family kind of feel at that place. I love the people out by the fence. Often through the night I'll be able to say hello to a number of people that I know that came to watch the races. There are very few nights that go by where that doesn't happen. I like the warmth of the environment. It's just a great place to race a horse," he said. Though he's a new father, Coulter said he doesn't think about the fact his job carries greater risks than most. "When I'm on the track I'm consumed by the job at that time. I'm not really thinking like that. I consider myself to be safe. I just go to work and do the job. When I'm home, I'm home. When I'm at work, I'm at work," he said. Asked what special talents he has other than driving horses, Coulter laughed. "I'd say fathering children," he said. "This one's a doozy. I did a really good job." To hear our conversation with Scott Coulter - including what three people he would draft to help him save the world against a zombie apocalypse - 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/podcast12-grandriverraceway-scott-coulter  

Dresden, August 13, 2014 -- The Dresden Raceway's new Hall of Fame will honour Malcolm MacPhail as its first inductee in a ceremony during the harness racing track's Aug. 24 Dresden Derby card. MacPhail, an 82-year-old farmer from Dover Centre, Ont., has been a fixture at Dresden Raceway since 1972 as an owner, trainer and long-term Ontario Harness Horse Association director, who also served two terms as the association's president. Some of his most important work may have come in August of 2013 when he steadfastly refused to vacate the Dresden barns when asked to do so by Winrac Development Inc., the Windsor-based company that managed the track at the time. "I said, 'I'm not moving out.' If the Agricultural Society and the horsemen had decided to close the place, then fine. But somebody in Windsor wasn't going to close it without me fighting over it," MacPhail said. "I think Winrac just figured we'd just pick up and leave. I just said I wasn't moving and that's all there was to it... Winrac was ready to get out of the barn part of the operation. They just wanted to shut it down and keep taking the money out of the slots and forget about the racetrack part and the grandstand. Something had to be done." Lucille Laprise, the president of the Dresden Agricultural Society said MacPhail's stand not only emboldened others still stabling at the track to stay, it directly influenced the Ag. Society's decision to return to operating the track for the first time since 1997. "We said, 'If he is that adamant about staying and if he's willing to fight the fight, then we should be side by side,'" Laprise said. Dresden Raceway is currently nearing the end of its 11-race 2014 meet that will conclude Sept. 1 with its traditional Labour Day card featuring the Shelly Goudreau Memorial. Raceway manager Greg Blanchard said attendance has been strong this summer and handle is up over 40 per cent over 2013. "We're just happy that now we have so many more horses in the barns," Laprise said. "The racetrack itself has improved. We've been doing some painting and some sprucing up and everything else. Everybody seems happy. That's the thing. People are encouraging and people from the community and all over come and they tap you on the shoulder and they say, 'Oh, we're so glad the Ag Society's taken this over. Anything we can do to help you, don't hesitate.'" When it came time to decide which person to honour with the first berth in the Dresden Raceway Hall of Fame, Laprise said it was a short discussion. "Malcolm has just been a really big influence on all of us over the years. He's been really pushing for us to take back the racing and bring it back to Dresden the way it's supposed to be," Laprise said. "It's just the right thing. He's the right man at this time." MacPhail's longtime friend and former OHHA colleague Dr. Ted Clarke, the general manager of Grand River Raceway, said MacPhail is "one of those people that is really committed to racing and supporting standardbred racing participants. He has demonstrated just a tenacious commitment to racing. He has the unique ability to be both very committed and also a realist, seeing things as they are and acting accordingly. He is fair minded, honest as the day is long and embodies those qualities that I certainly admire greatly in a person who takes a position and is prepared to hold to it and has the courage of his conviction to see things through." MacPhail joked he's being inducted, "because I've been around there the longest," but, in truth, he said he is touched by the honour despite his four decades of work to keep racing in Dresden being "just a matter of doing what had to be done. Somebody had to do it." A farmer since the age of 16, MacPhail's lifelong love of horses led him into the standardbred game in 1972 when he bought a load of hay at an auction in Dorchester. He sold some of the hay to horseman Bert Madill and took a half-share in a racehorse as payment. That horse was a dud, but MacPhail was hooked. His third horse was a J R Bret pacer named Hot Spurs Honour, who as a two-year-old in 1974 made approximately $28,000 in the inaugural year of the Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) program. MacPhail's next good one was a Blaze Pick colt named Young Blaze who made $211,206 lifetime and raced at the Meadowlands for three years. MacPhail owned the colt with his brother, Bob. Apart from helping his nephew, son and brother farm some 400 acres of cash crops, MacPhail still has three racehorses - one racing at Dresden, one racing at Mohawk and a third that's turned out at the moment. "It's been good to me, the horse business," MacPhail said. MacPhail will be honoured during the same Aug. 24 card in which the inaugural Dresden Derby will be staged and prizes will be awarded to the patrons with the best hats. On this weekend's Aug. 17 card, Dresden Raceway will have a free corn giveaway as part of its Dresden Business Improvement Association Day. The Aug. 31 card will be Kids Day, before the season draws to a close on Sept. 1. "I don't know how you can beat it," MacPhail said. "On a Sunday afternoon or on a Holiday Monday you can come out and watch a few races. It doesn't cost you anything to get in. If you want a hot dog or something, you buy it. If you want to bet a bit, you bet. It's just a little entertainment." By Dave Briggs for Dresden Raceway

The young hipsters dressed to the nines sipping cocktails while lounging on rooftop patio furniture was the first indication this was not your granddaddy's Hambletonian. That it was a surprisingly pleasant overcast August afternoon, and not a sauna, was another. In the end, the track belonged to imported Swedes -- Jimmy Takter and Ake Svanstedt, especially -- along with Ron Burke, of course. But the day? That belonged to the gleaming new $88 million grandstand that thrummed with youthful energy and passed its first big test with aplomb. Track owner Jeff Gural was pleased and, naturally, couldn't resist an "I told you so" dig at his critics. "I think if you go back to the weekend we opened, I think if you look at some of the blogs, they were all critical, 'Gural's an idiot. The place is much too small. What's he going to do for theMeadowlands Pace and Hambletonian?' We saw the place is just perfect. It was designed exactly right," he said of a building about a third the size of the behemoth across the pond. Give the man his due. On this Hambletonian, he wasn't wrong. The crowd, estimated at 20,700,was thick -- particularly in the new version of Paddock Pack now called The Backyard -- but not impenetrable. The queues -- for pari-mutuel or more ordinary refreshment -- moved withimpressive speed given the volume. The on-track wagering wasn't as strong as the Nouveau Big M folks would have liked to have seen, mind you, but then the young kids don't bet like their granddaddies, either. It's the cost of trying to introduce the business to a generation to which harness racing is as foreign as rumble seats. But out there in our hyper-connected world, from Hackensack to Helsinki to Sydney the bets poured in. With a few countries still to be heard from, the expectation is that the haul will be about $1 million higher than last year. The total handle of more than $8.7 million is already the third best Hambletonian Day in history and foreign wagering could still push this year's number to the top spot, exceeding some $9 million bet in 2005. "That's impressive in this day and age," Gural said. "That's a tribute to the card. We had full fields, a couple of big fields, almost all the major stars were there with the exception of the three-year-old (pacing) colts. But on the trotting side, we got a little lucky with Father Patrick drawing the 10-hole. It wasn't a walkover, as it turned out." The Ãber trotter, bet down to 2-5 despite starting from parking lot, was part of Takter's Terrific Trio instrumental in scaring off challengers in the main event and leaving the Hambletonian heatless just one year after returning to its old format. That Father Patrick made a jump at the gate immediately made for some interesting drama whether you watched on the huge high-definition infield screen from one of the outdoor grandstand seats or in the hinterland via the spectacular show on the CBS Sports Network that employed 13 cameras to great effect, including a wide-angle mounted on the starting gate. Takter's intact duo of Trixton and Nuncio got the job done, of course, with a neck-and-neck stretch battle to boot. When the stone dust finally settled, Takter celebrated his first Hambletonian victory in the bike (and third lifetime), nipping John Campbell for what would have been his seventh triumph in harness racing's premier race. You needed a cab ride to reach the rest of the field scattered by three breakers, which was particularly disheartening to driver Yannick Gingras and the rest of Father Patrick's connections. That it was likely Gingras' greatest day at the track was little consolation for the Quebec native who won four stakes -- including the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks with Lifetime Pursuit -- and just shy of $600,000 in purses in all, but was crest fallen about losing the big one. "It's probably the best day I've had racing horses but it's also the most disappointing day. I scored (Father Patrick) down pretty hard because I've never left with him before, and I wanted him to pay attention and be ready for it. The gate opened, I just touched him on his tail with the whip and he took off running. It's so unfortunate. Knock on wood, I'll have another chance, but you never know," Gingras told the ubiquitous Bob Heyden, one of the few things about the new place that thankfully was not traded in for a newer model on Hambletonian Day. That Kevin Jonas of Jonas Brothers fame was tabbed to present harness racing's Stanley Cup to Takter and Co. speaks to that youth movement again -- unless you're referring to that glorious silver bowl that now has 90 of the sport's greatest trotters inscribed in silver discs on its wedding cake base. Dear Lord, let's hope no one ever entertains trading that in for a newer model, because newer isn't always better. Progress isn't always positive. Sorely missed in the new digs is the old front paddock that radiated with equine and human stars and served as the annual meeting place for the sport's far-flung powerbrokers on Hambletonian Day. The signs that once hung above the stalls on the facade of the old place honouring each of the Hambletonian winners since the race moved to New Jersey in 1981 seem out of place now lining the infield. Try as they might, even the Copacabana rum girls sporting huge feather headdresses and littleelse other than smiles, didn't make up for the loss. Though, they were a nice touch along with the fathead driver cutouts seen throughout the day, the appearance by Captain Bill Wichrowski from the Discovery Channel's show Deadliest Catch and old style pennants each bearing the name of a Hambletonian finalist. The bridge from old to new was the free Hambletonian hats, The Nerds bashing out loud, enthusiastic covers in the park and the track itself, of course, which yielded three more world record performances. "I've been coming to the Hambletonian since 1960's when it was staged in DuQuoin [IL], and appreciated its growth and renewed pageantry when it moved to New Jersey in the old grandstand setting. We're working to build on that great tradition.," said Tom Charters president and CEO of the Hambletonian Society. "In a way it was similar to the first Hambletonian here in 1981 - a new experience entirely. This is a new venue and a wonderful new facility, a new era. We will work with the Meadowlands to establish some new traditions that underscore the Hambletonian's place as America's trotting classic and the most important harness race in the world." Classic Martine got things started in the first race, equaling the world mark for trotting mares with a 1:51.1 score in the $52,000 Ima Lulu Final. Five races later, Mission Brief equaled the global mark for two-year-old trotting fillies with a 1:52.2 score in the $352,050 Merrie Annabelle. Barefoot speedster Sebastian K capped the record-setting parade in race 11 when he equaled the 1:50 record for older trotters while winning the $300,650 John Cashman Jr. Memorial the same day Cashman's 14-year-old granddaughter, Grace Cashman, sang the national anthem. None of which -- even the Hambletonian winner -- topped spectacular sightlines from multiple decks, a Hollywood-style sign on the roof that spells out Meadowlands in huge letters and a massive sports bar that transforms into a dance club at night -- all designed to lure the next generation critical for the sport's survival. "Everybody loved it. Everybody thought it was spectacular," said Gural, who is fond of wandering his plant to make himself available to his patrons. "The biggest compliments were from the people that had never been there. If you've never been there, you're really shocked when you pull up to the door." As the start of a new era for harness racing greatest day drew to a close, even the sky brightened and the Manhattan skyline materialized like a mirage out of the haze. The hipsters on the roof barely noticed, what with their iPhones, friends and cocktails to attend to, but the rest of us noticed them all right. They were completely foreign to the old place and a most welcome addition to the club. by Dave Briggs for the Hambletonian Society

ELORA, ON - Monday afternoon at Grand River Raceway, John Campbell will attempt to scratch one more stakes race off the very short list of ones he's never won when he goes to post in the 17th edition of the Battle of Waterloo behind Go Daddy Go. The Ailsa Craig, ON native is considered by many to be the greatest driver in harness racing history. His $287 million in earnings is far and away the most by any driver in the sport. He is a Hall of Famer in both Canada and the United States and he is one of only 10 people with more than 10,000 career wins. Yet, the 59-year-old, who has lived and worked in New Jersey since the late-1970s, has never won the Battle of Waterloo. In fact, he had never even been to Grand River Raceway until he drove in the eliminations last week and qualified homebred Go Daddy Go for the $217,000 Battle of Waterloo for trainer Bob McIntosh, a man who shares Campbell's distinction of being a Hall of Famer on both sides of the border. "Bob McIntosh called me about Go Daddy Go. I raced him in a Sires Stakes at Mohawk and he raced very well. He wanted to know if I would come up and try him in (the Battle of Waterloo) and I said, 'Sure.' We're not that busy through the week in New Jersey and he's a nice colt," Campbell said. Last Monday, before driving Go Daddy Go (Ponder-Sanfrancine) to a second-place finish in the first of two Battle of Waterloo eliminations - and also qualifying filly Capela for the $138,000 final of the Battle of the Belles - Campbell took a tour of Grand River and answered questions submitted by fans via social media. Asked what race he'd most like to win that he hasn't, yet, added to his long resume, Campbell told winner's circle interviewer Greg Blanchard, "right now my focus is on the Battle of Waterloo. I haven't won that and I want to next week." Go Daddy Go finished behind Sporting The Look in the first of two Battle of Waterloo eliminations. Sporting The Look was driven to victory by three-time Battle of Waterloo champ Jody Jamieson for his father, Hall of Fame trainer Carl Jamieson, who has won the Battle of Waterloo a record five times. Jody also won the other Battle of Waterloo elimination with a horse named Sportskeeper the same day his wife, Stephanie, gave birth to their daughter, Siara June Jamieson. "We just barely made it to the hospital for her to come out, but it was all good in the end," Jamieson said. "It was a trying morning, but she's here, she's healthy and I got a text today saying I was a prolific sire. I'm not really sure how to take that, actually." Speaking of prolific sires, Sporting The Look and Sportskeeper are both sons of red-hot sire Sportswriter, who also fathered two of the three winners of the eliminations for the Battle of the Belles. In all, 10 of the 18 finalists for the two stakes are sons or daughters of Sportswriter - with five Sportswriters in each race. Casie Coleman of Cambridge owns and trained Sportswriter. Monday, she will send out four Battle of Waterloo finalists and two fillies for the Battle of the Belles. Sportswriter sired all but one. "Right now it's unreal how every one of them are just like their old man," Coleman said. "I've trained a lot of babies and some of them have similarities of the stallions, but not every similarity. I've got nine Sportswriters and every one of them has a great attitude, great gait, great temperament. They want to win, they don't like being beat. It's just unreal." The Battle of Waterloo and the Battle of the Belles are all part of Grand River Raceway's annual Industry Day Celebration that gets underway on the Civic Holiday Monday with a 1:30 post time. The 12-race, $655,000 card will also feature a Racing Under Saddle event and a wide variety of family-friendly activities, including: a $5 all-access Kid's Pass for face painting, balloon artists, bouncy castles and pony rides (1-5 p.m.) the 10th annual drivers edition of the Bouncy Pony Stakes (after race 5) a chance to meet race mare Paula Seelster and her foal and participate in a contest to name that foal (1-3 p.m.) Standardbred Canada's I Love Canadian Harness Racing Fan Club will present an online handicapping challenge Cheerleading squads presenting $250 to the fan selected to represent the winning Battle of Waterloo horse and $250 for the patron who helps cheer the Battle of the Belles winner to victory. Parking and admission are free. For more information, visit www.IndustryDayCelebration.com To hear our conversation with John Campbell, Jody Jamieson and Casie Coleman 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

ELORA, ON — Casie Coleman is just 33, but she has already been voted Canada’s harness racing trainer of the year five times and won many of the sport’s biggest races. Yet, the Cambridge, ON resident says she nearly walked away from the game at the height of her career. Despite all her success, her stable was too big, her health was suffering and she says she was absolutely miserable. “There were times I would say ‘I’ve had enough, I want to get out. I don’t like it.’ I didn’t like going to the barn,” she said July 15, a day before she swept all three $70,000 Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) Gold events at Grand River Raceway for two-year-old pacing colts — all three sons of her former stakes star Sportswriter driven to victory by Chris Christoforou. On July 18, at Grand River, Coleman will try to repeat the hat trick when she sends out a trio of Sportswriter fillies to compete in OSS Gold events the same night the track celebrates the 40thanniversary of the sires stakes program. Saturday, her world champion McWicked will race in eliminations for the $600,000 Adios at The Meadows near Pittsburgh. In June, McWicked set a 1:47.3 world record on a five-eighths mile track when he won the $500,000 Max Hempt Memorial at Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Regardless of what happens on the track, Coleman says her biggest victory came this winter when she lost 57 pounds and worked herself into peak shape in Florida as part of a number of major life changes. “I hired a personal trainer. I worked with him all winter. Basically, I was doing anywhere from two to four hours every single day. I never took a day off,” she said. “The diet thing was a huge. All I drink is water and green tea now, whereas before I would drink about four coffees a day (double-doubles), Grey Goose and Sprite, probably three or four Starbucks frappuccinos, Pepsi. You name it. I was drinking about 3,000 calories a day, I figured out. Now, all I have is 1,000 calories a day on the diet I’m on.” In recent years, Coleman was more of a barn manager overseeing 120 horses. Today she’s cut back to 41 — 20 in Ontario and 21 at her New Jersey stable.  She is also back on the track training many of her horses herself. “I couldn’t be any happier. I’m glad I’ve finally seen how out of shape I was and I wasn’t training my own horses and a million different things that I was doing wrong. I got them all corrected and back on the right path now,” Coleman said. “I feel awesome now. I used to always be tired and just not really feel that good all the time and always in a (bad) mood,” she said. When she returned to Ontario this spring after five months of training horses in Florida, Coleman said many people have done double takes. “You’ll hear them say, ‘Is that Casie?’ They don’t even recognize me. Everyone says I look 10 years younger,” she said. “I had some people tell me, ‘You’ve trained a lot of good horses, but the best training job you’ve ever done is on yourself.’” To hear our conversation with Casie Coleman — including wild tales of O’Brien Award parties, driving her new Maserati and what music she thinks is playing on repeat in hell — 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 Dave Briggs, for Grand River Raceway

ELORA, ON - Robert Shepherd is on a big roll at Grand River Raceway. The quiet 34-year-old Prince Edward Island native is second at the Elora track in driver wins and money. He's also Grand River's second leading trainer in money and wins when combined with his girlfriend, Isabelle Darveau, who recently took over Shepherd's stable. "This year I'm a little more motivated," Shepherd said. "I had some changes in my life. I kind of got past that and moved on ... I'm driving a lot more. Last year, I didn't drive as much."   Shepherd said there's a lot more to love about Grand River Raceway than being one of its leading horsepeople. "Everyone's happy to be there. Even the people there are excited for racing. It's a great atmosphere. They want to race," Shepherd said. He said Grand River Raceway's commitment to providing a great fan experience starts at the top with the track's general manager Dr. Ted Clarke. In August, Dr. Clarke will be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame as a builder for his work turning Grand River Raceway into one of the best small tracks in the nation. Shepherd said Dr. Clarke is always present on race nights and helping out where he can. "Ted's always part of it, which makes it great because when someone's running something and you never see them, it makes you feel like he doesn't care. But you can tell Ted cares, because he's always there. Every night he's one of the last guys to leave there," Shepherd said. This year, Robert Shepherd surpassed $15 million in career earnings as a driver. He recorded his 2,000th career win in the sulky near the end of 2013. He said being both a trainer and a driver in an age when most people in the sport focus on one or the other, has given him an advantage. "I guess training helps my driving because I sit behind a bunch of horses every day. So, I know when they're good and when they're not good... You drive them a little more conservatively if they don't feel right to you," Shepherd said. "Lately, it seems to be working out great for me. I end up working out a great trip or something like that from the feel of the horse." Shepherd said the greatest Christmas gift he ever received was a set of blue, yellow and white training colours that his mother and father gave him. "I got the training suit when I started training a couple of my own," Shepherd said of the family colours that were started by his dad, Harold. "I think I might have been listed as a trainer when I was 19 or 20." He said his driving career received a huge boost 10 years ago when he won the 2004 Nat Christie Memorial at Stampede Park in Calgary driving The Bruster. "When I won the Nat Christie it changed my life in driving," Shepherd said. "I'd have to say The Bruster started it all." Today, Shepherd lives in Cambridge, which is a short trip to one of his favourite places to race. He's hoping his success at Grand River Raceway will be a springboard to even bigger things. "I'd love to win an O'Brien Award for the horseman of the year, if I could," he said. To hear more of our conversation with Robert Shepherd - including which person he'd like to change places with for a week - 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  

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), Armbro Oliver ($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  

Dresden, June 25, 2014 -- Lucille Laprise says there's no better way to herald a new era at Dresden Raceway than to open the 2014 season on July 1. "It's Canada Day, so how much better can you have it than that? We think that's a perfect fit for us," said Laprise, the president of the Dresden Agricultural Society that has taken over management of the track from Windsor Raceway's parent company, Winrac Development Inc. This year marks the first time the agricultural society has run the track since Winrac began operating it in 1997. "Winrac wanted out and we wanted in. So, it was a perfect fit for us at this time. We want to run the races ourselves. We're quite encouraged about doing that and we're enthusiastic," Laprise said. "This is what we want to do to try to keep racing alive and well. I feel we owe it to the generations in the past that worked so hard to put it on and make it as good as it was. We owe it to the future to bring back everything and make it good for them... It would be a real shame to let that industry die. We don't want to be part of it dying. We want to be part of it growing and flourishing." The Dresden Agricultural Society brought in Greg Blanchard to be the track's general manager for the 11-race meet. Blanchard is the Raceway Manager at The Raceway at The Western Fair District in London. "With Greg's help and everyone else at Western (Fair) we're going to do everything we can to bring back the Little Saratoga to what it used to be," Laprise said. Harness racing has been conducted in Dresden for over 140 years. "This year our Dresden Exhibition is 139 years old," Laprise said. "They were racing a few years before then." In the late-1800s, the Dresden Driving Club organized trials of speed at the track. In the early 1900s, locals gathered in the winter to watch races over the icy Sydenham River. After the 10-race Tuesday, July 1 card, racing will be conducted at Dresden on Sunday afternoons through Labour Day, the exception being the two holiday weekends. Dresden will race on the Aug. 4 civic holiday Monday and on Labour Day Monday, Sept. 1. Post time for all 11 cards of racing will be 1 p.m. "We felt that for this year, being newbie's in the racing ring, that 11 cards would be a good fit for us," Laprise said. "Hopefully next year we can do bigger and better." Gary Patterson will be back calling the races, which will also be video streamed at www.dresdenraceway.ca. "We've got great community involvement and the directors, the board, everybody is on side," Laprise said. "We've got great community support from all the other organizations, the other racetracks. They all want to see us do well. We really appreciate their support and their help and their encouragement." Laprise said it's been a lot of work to get ready for Opening Day, but there have been a lot of people pitching in to help. "The horsemen have been really supportive in helping us spruce up the place. A coat of paint here, cut the grass there," Laprise said. "We're just trying to clean it up and do the best we can. I know it's going to take time, but time is on our side." Plans are in the works, Laprise said, to bring back the free corn promotion on Labour Day that was a hit 15 years ago when Tom Joy and Joe McGorisk from the Windsor crew ran the track. In the meantime, Laprise's message to the public is: "come celebrate Canada Day with us. We'll make it worth their while. Tell people to wear their red and white, too. We're going to have a great big huge eight-foot cake we're sharing with everybody. We've got face painting and giveaways. It's really kind of like a family fun, fan appreciation day." Those who arrive early will receive a commemorative giveaway item (while supplies last) and programs will be available for just $1. The 'Wanna Drive' team will be on hand giving rides in their double-seater jog carts and a special Mini Horse race has been planned as well. By Dave Briggs, for Dresden Raceway                                              

ELORA, ON - What's it like to be going crazy fast behind a 1,000-pound animal, with no seat belt, just two strips of leather as your steering wheel and only millimeters separating you and eight other thundering horses? Veteran driver Randy Waples says there's no feeling anything like it. "It's the greatest high in the world when you get to line up behind the gate. I've never lost it. It's been 31 years of driving horses now. Every time I go behind the gate I get that same kind of a rush, that adrenaline rush. It's just fantastic," Waples said. "You want to feel what it's like to be in a horse race? Get on a motorbike and do 100 miles an hour down the 401." Randy Waples went to high school in Fergus. When he was young, he used to play in a field in Elora that became the site of Grand River Raceway. Today, he's one of Canada's leading harness drivers and a four-time winner of Grand River Raceway's signature race, the Battle of Waterloo. At the age of 49, even after more than 6,000 wins and over $100 million in purse earnings, Waples said he still gets pumped when he takes the reins. "It's got that dangerous sort of aspect. You know they're close to you. You know how powerful the animals are. But you really don't put that into your mind because, basically, the whole time you're thinking, 'What should I be doing? Where should I be? Is this one live? Is that one stopping? Can I get out? Do I want to pull now?' There's a lot of things that go through your mind where you kind of push the dangerous part in the back of your mind." Waples said there's no better place for fans to get a taste of that adrenaline rush than at Grand River Raceway. "First of all, you're up close to the horses. To me, that's more important than anything," Waples said. "The other thing is, I think Grand River Raceway has gone out of their way to treat people the way they should be treated. It's customer first. "It's just such a friendly kind of an experience. That's Elora. Fantastic people." Waples is one of the most personable drivers in the game. He invited fans to say hello at Grand River. "I hope I see you there and if I do, come over to the fence, lean over and say, 'Hi' unless you're an ex-school teacher, then stay away," he said, laughing. Waples said horses are simply the greatest animals on earth. "We've been so lucky that God put these animals on the earth... They're so accommodating," he said. "Horses went to war with us, they carried the guns... Years ago, when there was no cars, the doctor went to the houses in a horse and a buggy. If that doctor couldn't get around in that horse and a buggy, a lot of people wouldn't be here today. We've got a horse to thank for it. "A lot of people don't know horses have blue eyes. You get up close to them, every one of them have the prettiest blue eyes you've ever seen in your life." As for the horse that changed his life, Waples didn't even think for half-a-second before answering. "San Pail. Absolutely San Pail," he said of the Breeders Crown and three-time Maple Leaf Trot winner. "People looked at me differently. I was able to compete at the highest level with a very good horse and he made me look good and people just, all of a sudden, looked at me in a different light. "He's meant everything to me." To hear more of our conversation with Randy Waples - including which three people, living or dead, he'd pick to have dinner with - 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

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