Few jobs are as thankless as that of racing steward.  It's somewhat akin to handing out parking tickets.  Someone's always hating you.  No wonder so few people apply for a job that pays a generous $5,000-$6,000 a month for six months of work.


Steward's viewing stand:
Two double disqualifications in four race days.

And the three stewards overseeing racing at Assiniboia Downs haven't made their job any easier for themselves either. They meted out two double disqualifications in four days of racing--two horses were set down in a quarter horse stakes race Saturday, Aug. 1 and two horses were DQed the following Friday in a thoroughbred race. A double DQ in the world of racing is rare; two double disqualifications in four days of racing may be a world record.

Even the provincial body that hires the stewards, the Manitoba Horse Racing Commission, acknowledges the stewards have stepped into a hornet's nest of controversy if not outright derision. Larry Huber, executive director of the Commission, said stewards at some thoroughbred tracks turn a blind eye to quarter horse races because they view so few of them and don't feel comfortable judging them. He said it's "near impossible" for quarter horses to come out of the gate cleanly and, without the background of having judged a lot of these races, you could have 10 enquiries in 10 races. But local stewards decided to wade in and disqualify two horses that had sandwiched another horse. And that's why some players were fuming and why an appeal of the stewards' ruling will be heard tonight by the racing commission. The first-place finisher was set down to fourth, depriving the owner of about $10,000, the winner's share of the $17,600 purse.  (NOTE:  I will post the result of this appeal tomorrow morning on the Downs website:  http://www.asdowns.com/)

And the video of the second controversial double disqualification will likely be sent to the annual convention of racing officials in Moncton for other Canadian stewards to view and debate as part of their annual 16-hour upgrading session, Huber said. "There's often heated discussion," he said. Horses that had finished first and third in the fifth race last Friday were set down to second and fourth after two jockeys complained those two horses came over on their horses, forcing them to check their mounts. The video does show the jockeys checking but does it clearly show the offenses?

The stewards are deserving of some sympathy, however.  They appear to be under more pressure than stewards at other tracks.  Right after a race they have the additional responsibility for placing all horses in the race, a job assigned to patrol judges at every other Canadian track except for those in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, Huber said.  They also must communicate with the film patrol to line up the videos to view various angles of the jockey's objections--and may speak to the jockeys, too.  All this hub-bub in the judges' booth could account for a rush to judgement.   

Whatever.  The lucky thing for you in all of this is this:  If you have questions or comments, you may contact the stewards directly at jwash@manitobahorsecomm.org.  Huber said they will answer all email.


The stewards are one-time jockey Jack Wash, Alberta horsewoman Jennifer Smith and Manitoba horseman Blaine Buffalo.


In the solitude of historic Brookside Cemetery sits a black granite tombstone honouring a 16-year-old jockey whose untimely death in 1927 led to the formation of the Jockey's Guild.



Jockey's death sparked reform; Speers' grave neglected

Burials are fewer these days. No place to visit.  No marker, no headstone.  I'm glad that always wasn't the case.  


And the reason is this:  I'm glad there is a place to go to contemplate the tragic death of 16-year-old jockey Earl "Sandy" Graham who died 80 years ago at Polo Park race track after being trampled during a race.  He's buried at historic Brookside Cemetery.  And I'm glad there is a place to pay tribute to R. James Speers, the father of horse racing in Manitoba.  He is buried at the even-more-historic Elmwood Cemetery.


I visited both and that brought me closer to the past and, in a way that I can't quite describe, allowed me to become absorbed by the significance of their lives. An urn of ashes on someone's mantle just doesn't do that.


And you never know how you are going to feel until you reach the gravesite.  When I finally came upon the headstone in the vast solitude of Brookside Cemetery of the teenaged jockey who had died in 1927, my breathing got shallow and I uttered an unprintable word.  After all, he didn't have to die. More on that shortly.


Neglected marker at Elmwood Cemetery for a racing legend.
Tracking down the gravesite of R. James Speers (as his name is written on the marker) at
Elmwood Cemetery was different.  I felt no profound emotions when I found it.  After all, he lived a reasonably long full life, dying at 72.  But I was alarmed at the neglect.  The marker was almost totally hidden. In a light drizzling rain, I swatted at mosquitoes as I scratched off decaying leaves and grass cuttings to reveal a bit of the centre of the granite marker.  Then I ripped and tugged quite furiously at the overgrown sod so I could see the full name.


To think this was the person who was honoured two weeks ago with a $30,000 race!  His gravesite screamed out for a bit of respect.  Perhaps reps from the racing world should visit his grave with a turf-edger and toast his memory prior to the holding of his race each year. 


After all, no person in the world of Manitoba racing seems more deserving.  Speers presided over three tracks in Winnipeg in 1925:  River Park, Whittier Park and Polo Park.  The use of a mechanical starting gate, new kinds of bets,  the calling of races on a P.A. system and the importation of better breeding stock from England were just a few of his contributions.  And his character, although colourful, was always above reproach.  All historical accounts say his dealings were conducted honestly and with integrity. That, to me, is the biggest measure of a man's worth and the best reason to acknowledge his contribution to the growth of racing.


It's interesting that his death of a heart attack on July 25, 1955 came on the second-last year of racing at Polo Park, the track he had a big part in building in 1925. The track was subsequently turned into Winnipeg's first shopping mall. His wife, Ella, who is buried next to him, would see the opening of Assiniboia Downs in 1958.  She died in 1967 at the age of 86.  The annual R. James Speers Memorial Handicap race was launched in 1959 after the public voted in droves for such a race in a "name the race" contest held at the Downs.      

                     *     *     *
Sandy.  Sixteen-year-old Earl "Sandy" Graham was trampled after being thrown off his horse during a race at Polo Park in September, 1927.  No one could afford to send him to the hospital so he lay all afternoon in the jockey's room with a crushed chest and broken back.  When someone finally drove him to the hospital after the races
were over, he died of his injuries.  His body was buried in a pauper's grave at
Brookside Cemetery because his parents in California couldn't afford to transport his body home.


But that wasn't the end of the story.  Another jockey in the race, Tommy Luther, felt guilty about Sandy's death because it was he, not Sandy, who had been originally scheduled to ride that horse but he had been transferred to another horse at the last minute.  Haunted by Sandy's death, Tommy 12 years later held a meeting with other jockeys at the golf course across from Santa Anita trying to talk them into forming some sort of organization that would look after them so they wouldn't suffer Sandy's fate.


That got him banned from riding at Santa Anita and then at other tracks but there was no stopping the steamroller Tommy set into motion: the following spring, 1940, a Jockey's Guild was formed that, to this day, looks after every jockey's safety, welfare and legal rights.  No wonder jockeys chipped in for a proper headstone six years ago at Brookside Cemetery to mark the young pauper's grave!

                     *     *     *  

Want to pay your respects?  Sandy's grave is in section 85 at Brookside.  Map.  R. James Speers' gravesite is in section 5 of Elmwood Cemetery, kind of in the centre, closer to Henderson Hwy.  Phone the cemetery at 667-9481 for helpful instructions in finding the gravesite.


He looks like a prince but he's really the king

Kevin Davey became one of the more youthful poker kings Friday night when he disposed of 29 other contenders for the poker throne at the regular Friday night poker

King Kevin 

tournament.  He received $100 in cash and entry into the September finale that will send someone to the World Series of Poker in
Las Vegas.  His pair of 10's dominated a jack/4 in the final hand.  Runners-up were:  Phil Faraci ($50) and Tom Papioannou ($25).  Hurry!  Time is running out to qualify for the finale in mid-September.  Play the Triple Q Challenge and/or enter your name into a draw after tomorrow night's races to get into the free game.


FIVE PREDICTED THE TRIPLE Q FRIDAY:  Congrats to these Triple Q Challenge entrants who correctly predicted the top two finishers in all three contest races last Friday.  Each received $30.  Custodian Luka Janzic, retired farmer Harold Wiens, horseowner Bob King and Cal Howard.  The pool going into tomorrow's races is $250.


PIGSKIN 'N' PONIES POOL IS DIVIDED UP: No one predicted the winners of two races and the winners of two CFL games last Friday so the mandatory payout of $400 was split among eight players who had scored three of four:  Annette Pellerin, Heather Horrocks, Sylvia Simard, Brian Laschuk, Ronald Irwin, Ken Porter, Warren Lafreniere and Jason Bourne.


SPINNING LOADS OF WINNERS:  Lots of lucky spins Saturday night in the VLT lounge where the top 20 Triple Q Challenge entrants and 10 VLT players got to spin the Wheel of Fortune.  These all won $100:  Weed control supervisor Lionel Saindon, Nora Murdock, Gaye Bell and Marino Vitallo.


FANTASTIC FAN:  Bob Danyluk was last week's InstaFrame Fantastic Fan.


IS THIS YOU?   "Derby Day" contest draw winners of $25 each for this week are:   G. Maduk, Chelsey Penner, Calvin Patching and Kip Hill    Produce I.D. at the Guest Services counter at Assiniboia Downs during live racing tomorrow (Friday) or Saturday and $25 is yours.  Four new winners drawn each week during live racing.


QUICK BITS:  Miss Missile cruises at Canterbury

Charlie makes amends:  Hot local trainer Charles Smith who was blanked on Derby Day regained his winning form Sunday on Canterbury's "Extreme Day." His Miss Missile, who fizzled at 1-2 odds in the Downs' La Verendrye in June,   looked impressive winning a 3 1/2 furlong $20,000 dash.   Miss Missile paid $11.40.

"But what about the ostrich and camel races, Ivan?"  Yah, I knew you'd wanna know.  Mine That Beak won the ostrich race at Canterbury and How Now Brown Camel won the, you know, camel race.  There'll be a test.

Horseplayer trusted his nose:  Candyman Jack, playing simulcast races in the Race Book Sunday afternoon, smelled something fishy in the $76,000 optional claiming eighth race at Saratoga and he followed his nose right to the windows, cashing some nice tickets on a 32-1 bombs-away longshot.  His nose told him no trainer would ship a $5,000 starter-allowance horse to the big leagues unless a recent 5f bullet work at Finger Lakes signalled the horse was ready for a monstrous effort.  Sure enough, Freddy the Cap wired the Saratoga field and paid $67. The exactor paid $330.


UPCOMING EVENTS:  Last chance for quarter horses

The fastest horses in the world, quarter horses, will make their final appearance of the season tomorrow and Saturday.  Should the stewards keep their eyes closed for the first few seconds of the race?


VIE FOR VEGAS SUNDAY:  Points that could earn you a trip to Las Vegas as Horseplayer of the Year are on the line Sunday in a simulcast racing tournament.   You can sign up until the contest begins at noon.  Tracks:  Saratoga and Del Mar.  More.