There’s no ‘U’ in forty but there is ‘You’ in the plans for a good time as Fraser Downs at Elements Casino celebrates its 40th season of harness racing.
The new season starts Oct. 6 at the Cloverdale oval and Harness Racing British Columbia wants the fans to be part of its community. Opening night will kick off recognition of the anniversary with former Fraser Downs general manager Chuck Keeling on hand.
Keeling’s grandfather Jim was the man responsible for the building, opening and running of the then-Cloverdale Raceway on Jan. 1, 1976.
Several ways to salute the 40th year will be held throughout the season, says Carla Robin, executive director of HRBC.
“There will be giveaways, of a nostalgic nature, and organized tours of the backstretch (the barns),” Robin said of just a couple of plans for FDEC visitors.
Robin calls the horsemen (drivers, trainers, grooms, breeders and owners) and the horses a community within a community.
She says they work seven days a week to condition and prepare for the races and that effort helps drive a significant part of the Cloverdale/Surrey economy.
While a young Chuck Keeling was around at the beginning (his duties somewhat limited in the first year) he was not alone.
Also around on the backstretch then, and still around today, are Jan White (Dryden), a groom in 1976 (she now is a hands-on vice president of the Rick White Stable), owner/trainer Roy Johnson and driver/trainer/owner Carl Sibiga. Arriving in 1977 was Jim Gagnon, a top driver who is still a hard-working groom.
Meanwhile, don’t forget the biggest new highlight of the season. Racing fans will get a chance to be closer to the action as a horse owner.
HRBC has formed the Fraser Downs Horse Racing Club. For a $250 fee an individual gets a club membership and the benefits of being a horse owner, which means a chance to meet the horse and, hopefully, trips to the winner’s circle for a victory picture.
[Clint Warrington leads his horse in a five-mile exercise during the fifth-annual Harness Racing BC open house at the Fraser Downs backstretch, located at Elements Casino – Boaz Joseph/The Leader photo]
HRBC has brought in well-bred three-year-old filly No Pelo Blue Chip, and turned her over to the handling of top trainer Rick White. Pelo performed nicely since moving to Ontario in May and has two wins, three seconds and two fourth-place finishes in her last seven starts.
Members could look back to that opening day 40 years ago for inspiration. The winner of the first race ever was Guy Dominion, driven by Ray Gemmill. The owners of Guy Dominion included several players with the Vancouver Canucks.
Anyone interested in joining the club or just getting more information should contact Diane or Carla at HRBC at 604-574-5558.
Fraser Downs will race on Thursday (6 p.m.) and Friday (7 p.m.) for the month of October.
– Brian Mainman for HRBC