Coverage of horse racing focuses all too often on the wagering side of the game. Fortunately, if you spend as much time at Woodbine as I do, you soon discover that there are plenty of people working very hard to make a difference to something other than the balance of their HPI Account.
On September 30th, Woodbine hosted their annual United Way Day at the Races. Events include a 1 1/2 mile distance race, team relays, 100 metre dash for the ladies, a 100 metre dash for men 35+ and a 200 metre race for men 34 years old and younger. All races were tried over Woodbine's world famous E.P.Taylor Turf course.
I took part in this fun event for the second year in a row as part of the Down The Stretch squad in a 4X100M Relay. As in previous years, we were skedded to take on a large field of corporate teams, two divisions of speedy police officers and a team of jockeys which included Emma-Jayne Wilson, Eurico Rosa da Silva, Corer Fraser and Anthony Stephen.
(The fit Fraser also contested the 1 1/2 mile marathon loop of the turf course won once again by Woodbine executive Nick Eaves.)
And they're off and running in the marathon!
Our relay team included editor Peter Gross, AM680 broadcaster Eva Fragiskatos and a ringer from my soccer team by the name of Shane Boyd.
In 2008, Down The Stretch lost a disputed photo finish for show money. Team DTS returned looking to improve on that result but our attempt at revenge quite literally stumbled out of the gate when Gross's flying dismount start failed to find wings. There would be no photo finish required in 2009 as we stumbled and rumbled and bumbled our way to a seventh place finish. Even the stewards at Belmont couldn't have put us in the superfecta.
McCalmont (Team 3) hands off to Boyd - note the barefooted runners!
The race was won by the team of police officers for the second year in a row with the jockeys team finishing second. It was an easy exactor.
Team Down The Stretch is interviewed by Jeff Bratt
Regardless of our poor result, we had a ton of fun and enjoyed a chance to help raise money for a worthwhile cause. Highlight of the race would have to be Jeff Bratt's interview of Shane Boyd where our Irish ringer coolly advised that Donavan Bailey is his uncle. (You can watch the full race on the video below.)
TEAM DTS gives good interview despite a 7th place finish
Money for the United Way was raised by each participant through the collection of Win, Place or Show wagers which were then tallied and put into a final pool before race day with a minimum of half of all funds collected going directly to the United Way while the rest cover winning bets (any uncollected wins are also then added to the charity). To learn more about the great work of the United Way, please check out the United Way Toronto website.
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Another bit of 'doing well on behalf of others' happened when Race Night on The Score aired a feature on Alex Brown, exercise rider for trainer Steve Asmussen.
Brown needs little introduction here as his work to end horse slaughter has been well documented on this site.
Sporting a Mine That Bird cap, Brown offers his thoughts on the importance of horses in his life and how he came to launch the Alex Brown Racing website to fight the practice of horse slaughter in North America.
Alex Brown featured on The Score (Part 1 of 2)
Those readers who know Woodbine will enjoy seeing a rare glimpse into life on the backstretch as there are several clips of horses grazing, galloping and cooling out. The producers even took time to shoot Brown typing away in his favourite backstretch hidey hole - The Jake - where Brown also teaches an "Introduction to the Internet" course for backstretch workers.
Alex Brown featured on The Score (Part 2 of 2)
Narrator Jeff Bratt does a good job laying out the history of horse slaughter and highlights some of the prominent tragedies (Ferdinand, Exceller) of horses that have fallen in its wake.
The film is an entertaining ten minutes of footage that is political in its effort to make a point, but features enough of Brown's love for horses to let viewers understand why the Cheshire native works so passionately. The latter point best demonstrated through a shot of Brown with his favourite horse, the hard-knocking Woodbine winner Salty Langfuhn.
I encourage those not already familiar with Brown's work to visit his website, Alex Brown Racing, and get involved.
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In addition to the events above, let's not forget about the hard work being done day in and day out by the horsemen/women of Woodbine.
The Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario has worked tirelessly for Owners and Trainers of Thoroughbred racehorses since 1950.
As well, organizations such as the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society and the LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society are diligently working to find homes for retired racehorses daily.
If you've spent a few dollars wagering on horses in 2009, why not take some of those winnings and donate it to a horse-related charity.