Monday, May 3, 2010

Things coming around at The Downs

Plenty of people associate Sundays with church or football and for most it's the last day of rest before heading back to work. For as long as I can remember, Sundays for me meant the evening card at Flamboro Downs! You too? Yeah, well, we're all sick.

Flamboro is where it all started for me. I can remember getting my foot in the door (thanks to Lonnie and Cathy McFadden and Ken Hornick) as a 13 year-old and just a few weeks into my family's move to Hamilton I was announcing the qualifiers at Canada's fastest halfmiler. Before long, I had a job as a charter and was Hornick's regular sidekick on "The Freak Show", as it was affectionately nicknamed by Walter Whelan as a means of describing the personalities of many of the show's guests. When Hornick took a job at the (then) OJC, Ken Middleton Jr. was just as accomodating to me and he, too, was good enough to share the spotlight with a prepubescent, know-it-all punk. As the years passed, The Downs also became the place where I jogged my first horse (Bill Budd actually let me jog Road To The Top and sure enough he got loose, but that's a story for another time!), began my friendship with Jody Jamieson and lost thousands upon thousands of dollars gambling. Good times! Needless to say, the track on Highway 5 has been a big part of my life.

Last night's races at Flamboro served as a perfect example of the point that I was trying to make (about Doug McNair) in Saturday's post: good drivers are good for the product. Let's be honest: there are plenty of days (Fridays) that while watching the races from Flam you have to do a double take to make sure you aren't watching American Gladiators or the demolition derby from the Ancaster Fair! It's absolute savagery! Every driver leaves as hard as they can, regardless of the horse's idiosyncrasies and such tactics usually lead to ridiculous fractions, which lead to collapsing paces in just about every race. Drivers are underneath one another all the time, in the way and clogging the flow at a very trip-dependent track. In the new buddy system, drivers don't put objections in against one another anymore and the Judges' explanation is often that "we didn't receive an objection." (And we wonder why our gambling customers are leaving in droves?) More times than not, the winner of a race at Flamboro is the horse that most benefitted from the dynamics, which is something that is very hard to predict (handicap). Not exactly the kind of gambling product that customers have a lot of respect for or confidence in.

The product, however, gets a lot better on night's like last night when Jody Jamieson and Mark MacDonald, the two best drivers in the country, are there to hold court. You can say what you want about my relationship with them, but friends or not, it's true - the races at Flamboro Downs are just better when Jody and Mark participate in them. Is it simply coincidence that the only race on last night's card that was somewhat amateurish was the 9th, a race in which MacDonald didn't have a drive and Jamieson was eliminated from early when his horse broke? I don't think so. Last night's handle seems to support the notion that better drivers make for a better product which makes for more interest from our customers, too, as the $228,662 intake was a four-week high.

I love harness racing and because of my lifelong ties to the track, especially harness racing from Flamboro Downs. I want the races at Flamboro to be as good as they were last night all the time and so do our industry's customers. It doesn't necessarily take great horses in order for that to happen as much as it does great drivers. The best race of the night was the 5th and it featured the cheapest (monetarily) horses on the entire card. With the Stakes season just around the corner, here's hoping the pair can continue to commit to driving at Flamboro and other "B" tracks as often as possible.

THE PETE SHEETS for this evening's programs at Grand River and Woodbine will be available by late afternoon. Request your own copy by sending an email to

Until tomorrow...

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