Day At The Track
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While the Grandstand has stood since 1958, the events that it has allowed people to watch have changed and evolved steadily over the years, as the fair changed to reflect the ever-changing audience expectations in the region. Standardbred harness racing, for example, came back to the Saskatchewan Stampede and Exhibition in Yorkton in 1985. Before 1985, it was absent from the event for 12 years. The return was a success 35 years ago, with a total of $42,294 in betting over three days of racing. That was smaller than other meets on the established circuit in Manitoba, admitted spokesperson Dave Farrell in the July 10, 1985 edition of Yorkton This Week, but it was also a good start for the first run of the horses in over a decade. The most important part was that betting kept increasing, with the third day of racing also being the most successful. The plan at the time was to get a fuller card in future years to get more betting. With betting being relatively new in the city, there were plenty of people willing to talk their strategies for success. Kathy Bell reported on those different strategies, whether employed by first time betters or those that had been at it for years. Orville Shaw, who also  had horses in the race and bet an average of $400 to $700 per meet, shared a complex betting system. He checked the horse’s times in the last few starts, the length of the track and the post position. Of course, being in the paddock also gave him an advantage, as he was around drivers and horses at the same time. He also avoided all odds of 2-1, given the lack of a payoff. And for all this he also said he didn’t always win, saying that “the ones that say they win all the time are fibbing.” Others, such as a man named Norm, used a system of speed indexing, averaging first quarter and last quarter times in their last three starts.   That said, not every person putting down cash had a complex system for deciding on their bets. Ed Osterman of Vancouver had never gone to the horse track before, and picked based on “what looked and sounded good,” since the numbers in the program didn’t mean anything. Ethyl Stratychuk picked based on her maiden name. Her system was as good as any, since she also won. The only constant among betters was that none of them viewed it as a reliable way to make money, but instead a way to give the racing some stakes and make it a bit more fun to cheer on and watch. In keeping with the theme of ever-changing interests of the fair, Craig Burkell with the Yorkton Exhibition Association spoke to Yorkton This Week about taking a ‘long, hard look’ at the entertainment on offer, suggesting that they might move away from an annual rodeo and tractor pull, as the audience interest in those activities was waning. That eventually happened, of course, and the fair in 2019 was a very different assortment of events than the ones in 1985, without a rodeo or tractor pull in the mix. By Devin Wilger Reprinted with permission of the Yorkton This Week

VIRDEN, Man. — Merle Coleman met her husband, Ron, by accident. The 90-year-old diminutive harness racing horsewoman and former nurse recalled him needing medical aid after getting hit in the face with a pulley. He recovered and went on to live a long life, passing away last year, while Merle gave up nursing at age 60 after breaking her neck from falling off a horse. The couple, well known in horse racing and 4-H circles, raised, trained and raced horses for harness events. A front room cabinet lined with trophies and race memorabilia attests to the family’s success with sulky carts. “We won a few trophies,” said Merle, who shared her expertise with horses while leading 4-H programs for more than six decades. Ron was known as Mr. Fix-it because of his skills as a mechanic and blacksmith. “We still miss him, he took good care of everything,” said Merle. “We scrimped and saved. We both grew up having to work for our money and grew up on farms.” They settled in Virden in the 1970s, where Merle lives today on a half section farm with her daughter, Dreda Braybrook, who once also raced and rode. Looking back fondly on her career, Merle cited a highlight at the Brandon fair when she met Queen Elizabeth with one of her 4-Hers. Today, she credits Dreda with keeping the farm going and allowing her to remain where she is happiest — with her animals. Dreda worked as a groom in Ontario and Florida, but these days she splits her time between horse chores at the farm and hotel work in town. Dreda’s son, Clayton, continues the family’s harness racing tradition each summer on the Manitoba Great Western Harness Racing Circuit, making the commute from his music teaching job in Kindersley, Sask., to the farm and beyond for race events. He keeps his miniatures in Sask-atchewan but the standardbreds at the Coleman farm. Having the land, barn and equipment at the farm made it easy for him to stay involved. “It didn’t break me to get into the business. It’s breaking me to be in the business,” he said, citing shrinking race events that numbered as many as 20 towns in the 1970s and 1980s. “It’s dwindled down to 10 actual race days in four towns,” he said, noting how eight horses compete with payouts going from first to fifth place finishes. “Winner gets half the pot,” said Clayton. Merle loves to watch the animals horsing around in the yard outside her kitchen window and longs to still be part of the racing scene. “Even yet, when they pull out of here, I want to go,” said Merle. Added Clayton: “It didn’t matter if they came first or last, she still loved them.” Coles Bill Payer, their 32-year-old gelding, took 13 tries at qualifying before he launched into a successful racing career. “He was a sweetheart, easy to work with, a calm horse,” he said. In retirement, he was trained to ride and pull sleds. “Any old lady can ride him,” said Merle. Helen Elliott, a longtime friend who rode horses with Merle, said Merle was successful in both racing and teaching kids to ride. “She taught them respect for the horses and people,” she said. “They were always excellent riders after she finished with them.” Merle still spends time with her horses and is often in local parades. The previous night, she had gone for a trail ride. The Colemans started out intent on raising and selling standardbred colts at two years old. “But they got too attached and couldn’t sell them,” said Clayton, whose father, Gerald, built the local horse track in 1973. “They kept them and trained them and raced them.” Clayton’s late brother, Dale, also worked with stock and worked as a cowboy. Today, Merle owns four standardbreds and two quarter horses and Clayton has nine racehorses and four miniatures. He turns the horses out to pasture for the winter, revving up training each March. Merle also boards others’ horses on her land, some of which is rented to a grain farmer. The Colemans got into standardbreds because they needed a horse that could easily follow a track in snow and ride to town, and the draught horses were too slow to use, said Clayton. Racehorse training parallels body building and involves daily exercise to build muscles, stamina and speed, he said. Clayton enjoys the camaraderie of the horse community. “I don’t mind finishing fifth if we’re lined up across the track and have lost by a nose. It means everybody is doing well,” said Clayton. Darryl Mason, president of the Manitoba Great Western Harness Racing Circuit, said the family has been strong supporters and promoters of the sport, breed and industry for many years. “Their horses always looked great, they were fat and well looked after,” he said. They also hailed from an area known for horses and racers. Mason said harness racing can be started in childhood and continued through the adult years. “You don’t have to be 100 pounds to ride a sulky,” he said, comparing it to thoroughbred racing. Purses run from $1,400 to $2,500, but races also offer good exposure for the breed and potential sales. Mason prefers the track to the show ring. “It’s whether my horse can beat your horse. It’s not anyone’s judgment,” he said. Mason, who operates Heartland Standardbreds at Killarney, said his town celebrated 40 years of racing last year. “Racing has been around for a long time and I hope it continues,” said Mason, who noted standardbred racing has disappeared in Saskatchewan. Clayton and Dreda aren’t certain of their sport’s future. “Part of what messed us up was VLTs,” said Dreda, noting it re-duced betting money and crowds at races. “You could shoot a cannon and not hit anyone,” said Clayton of his weekend races. “The writing is on the wall for this industry." By Karen Morrison Reprinted with permission of The Western Producer

Saskatchewan harness racing fans in Yorkton were treated to an opening day of racing that featured a brand new toteboard, the first ever at its racetrack. The board was acquired by the SSHA for use at Saskatchewan harness tracks which saw the season opener on Friday and where racing will switch over to West Meadows Raceway in Regina on Sunday, September 18th.

Groovie Day just landed in Saskatchewan for stud duty. "He's by far the fastest harness racing sire to ever stand in Saskatchewan" said SSHA president Glenn Le Drew. "We are very lucky to have him. This horse is the fastest and richest son of Gothic Dream with earnings over $585,000 and a life mark of 1:49".

The 2009 Saskatchewan Standardbred Horsemen's Awards Dinner was held on Saturday in Regina. Congratulations to all of the winners on having a great year.

For the fourth consecutive year, the wager on live harness racing has increased in the province of Saskatchewan. "This is something we have all worked so hard at in the last few years it is nice to see those efforts paying off." (SSHA President Glenn Le Drew).

Another great year of harness racing in Saskatchewan will be celebrated at the upcoming Saskatchewan Standardbred Horsemen's Association Awards Dinner on November 21st. The event will take place at The Canadian Italian Club of Regina at 6:00 pm. Doors open at 5:00 pm.

The Officials/Mutuels Building is up at harness racing's new West Meadows Raceway in Regina, Saskatchewan. Here are some pictures to update the previous story.

Harness racing has been without a home in Regina for over six years. But that's no longer the case as West Meadows Raceway (WMR) is preparing for their first year on the Saskatchewan racing circuit.

The first horses have arrived at the new Regina track and it was a big day for organizers at West Meadows Raceway (WMR). 'It is both a historic day and a very exciting time for harness racing in Saskatchewan', (WMR Director and Spokesperson Glenn Le Drew).

The first photos of West Meadows Raceway are now available at www.WestMeadowsRaceway.com. "It has been a very busy summer/fall" claims WMR spokesperson, Glenn Le Drew. "The track is in, signage complete and the main barn is up, which is a lot when you consider we started with only an open field of stubble just a few months ago and much of the work completed by shareholders, sponsors and volunteers.

Elections were held recently at the Saskatchewan Standardbred Horsemen's Association Annual General Meeting. Glenn Le Drew will remain on as President by acclamation. Vice President, Jane Grainger who has served the SSHA well in recent years, was nominated to serve the next term once again as Vice President.

Another successful year in Saskatchewan harness racing was celebrated in fine fashion at the Italian Club in Regina at Saturday night's sold out dinner. It was announced at the Annual General Meeting earlier in the day that live wagering had increased for the third consecutive year with a 43% increase in Yorkton and another 10% rise on the wager in Saskatoon.

Glenn Le Drew, President of the Saskatchewan Horsemen's Assocation, has advised that they which to extend their condolences to Vice President Jane Grainger and and husband Glenn on the dual loss of their respective fathers early Thursday morning.

Nealies Master got his 30th lifetime time win on Friday night in Yorkton. A pretty amazing accomplishment since he was unraced at two and has just over 100 lifetime starts.

It is with great pleasure that the management of West Meadows Raceway Inc. reports that the B.C. Standardbred Association has purchased shares in support of the new track in Regina.

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