The Heart of Horse Racing

The community that surrounds the horse racing industry is known for a number of things. Hard work, determination, resiliency, commitment, passion, and an unwillingness to settle for mediocrity. However, one thing that often gets missed by media coverage is how much the community comes together both in times of need and to support great causes in the communities they work and live in. Despite having full schedules, and a to do list that never ends, they always make time to give back.

The team at Bedrock Farms, along with Nitza’s has successfully hosted a Family Fun Day fundraising event for the Stollery Children’s Hospital for the past three years. In exchange for a small donation, participates have the opportunity to go for a jog on a race cart, play on an inflatable obstacle course, go for a pony ride, or send a volunteer for a swim in the dunk tank. Horse Racing Alberta and the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association, the two provincial governing bodies over seeing harness racing in Alberta, provided support for the fundraiser as did a number of contributors to the Silent Auction. A group of horsemen took the day off from racing to volunteer their time to give pony/jog cart rides for children and adults alike. Two-time Grey Cup winner, Tristan Jackson, was even on hand and took a few shifts in the dunk tank! Nitza’s Pizza was on site all day providing pizza, refreshments and ice cream. Each year has surpassed the last with growth in both attendance and donations. In its first year (2015) the fundraiser raised $12,000.  In year two (2016) it shattered that goal and raised $20,000.  Now in its third year (2017) the fundraiser has beat a new milestone by passing the $30,000 mark. From inception to only three short years later Bedrock Farms and Nitza’s Pizza have raised over $62,000 for the Stollery just with this event alone. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support from the racing community, and the incredible effort made by the team at Bedrock Training Centre.

Harness the Hope was a concept started in 2005 at The Raceway at Western Fair District in London, Ontario. All proceeds support the Breast Cancer Foundation and the Canadian Breast Cancer Society. It was created by Doreen Dustin who herself was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2005. The festivities include a ‘Winning Key Contest’ (in which the winner’s key unlocks a grand prize), a 50/50 draw, silent auction, mystery prizes given to those wearing pink, and a commemorative photograph of all guests, sponsors, donors and volunteers.

“The reason we've continued this each year is because of the tremendous support we've received from the industry. And, every year we have women in our community who are diagnosed and it keeps reminding us of the importance of this cause." – Doreen Dustin

Now, 12 years later, the concept has been picked up by other race tracks and continued annually. Fraser Downs started their version of Harness the Hope in 2008, with Leamington putting their spin on things starting in 2014.

In February of 2017, a Stallion Auction was held to benefit the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society (OSAS). OSAS specializes in finding new homes and second careers for retired Standardbred racehorses once their race careers are over. In total breeders donated $53,500 worth of breeding fees to the auction, with all proceeds going back to OSAS. This is a direct way the industry is able to impact not only the people surrounding the industry, but help insure futures for their retired race horses. Source

A fundraising effort was launched in March of 2015 when Amanda Harris, wife of trainer Andrew Harris, was diagnosed with stage III breast cancer and it was discovered that her insurance would not cover all of the necessary treatments. Fellow trainer Case Coleman spear headed the effort and along with an online auction in just three weeks was able to raise $150,000+ for Amanda to help secure the required treatments for her recovery. Source

The fire that devastated barn one at Classy Lane Stables in January 2016 made headlines around the world. There were 43 race horses lost, including six year old, million-dollar pacer, Apprentice Hanover. For the owners, trainers, and grooms a loss of this scale is akin to losing 43 members of your family without warning. It’s an unimaginable kind of heartbreak that even the most seasoned horsemen fear. True to form, the outpouring of support and condolences from the global race community was immediate. Offers of donations, equipment, and employment were at the ready to make sure no one was left without a paycheque, or a means to care for themselves and their remaining horses. A GoFundMe page created for the cause and donations poured in all corners of the community. In total the racing community raised over $710,000 to help rebuild the barn and replace lost equipment, materials, tools, whatever was needed. Barn one has since been rebuilt (now named Barn 6) but the lives lost have not been forgotten, nor has the unsurpassed support from the race industry.

While these numbers represent a phenomenal effort by the horse racing industry to support a great cause by raising donations, both in and outside of the community, there are other ways that the horsemen and women rally together in times of need.

Last winter (December 2016) there was an unfortunate accident at Northlands Park in Edmonton, Alberta. While racing one of the horses stumbled and caused a chain reaction resulting in a number of injuries to other horses and their drivers in the same race. Within seconds horsemen from all over the backstretch, and a number who were watching in the Grand Stand, were on their way to help. One of the horses, Prince Sharka, suffered one of the worst outcomes when the shaft of one race bike went into his shoulder and the seat brace from another went into his chest. Things were not looking good, but the amazing community within the industry came together.

Veterinarian Dr. Jordan Cook, with the aid of numerous horsemen holding fluids, fetching clean water, and finding extra lights and space heaters, spent five hours repairing the damage the accident had done to Prince Sharka. Regardless of their relation to the horse or his owners, there was no shortage of hands willing to help out however they could. Thanks to the strength and care of the harness racing community that night, and the months of recovery that followed, Prince Sharka was able to return to racing this summer.

“The heart of racing is when a group of people drop everything to stand in a stall for five hours to save a horse that they don’t own.” – Karen Sobey, owner of Prince Sharka (via Standardbred Canada)

Being successful in the race industry requires a constant hustle. But that has never stopped this community from giving back in anyway they can, whether that be by launching a fundraiser, donating to an auction, or simply offering an extra set of hands when needed. In times of need the horsemen and women of the backstretch are unwaivering in their immediate and never ending support for each other and the horses. Without fail the community is there with no short supply of enthusiasm, passion, or effort towards their cause.


If you have any questions, or suggestions for future topics you’d like to see me cover feel free to message me on Facebook, or send me an email,!

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