Ontario horseman Mark Horner has remained busy during this downtime from racing… A past chair of Standardbred Canada - he says there’s still lots to do around the farm. “Maintaining the track at home here - that work never stops… Plus I’ve got 9 babies training and the race horses have been getting their work in too…”
Horner mentions that he’s looking forward to the sophomore season of Quick Tour… “He’s coming along nice and he’s paid up to the NA Cup. He didn’t draw all that well last year, but he stilled earned $70,000 and won in 51. I actually had him ready to go last month - just as London shut down…”
A $7,000 yearling purchase, at Harrisburg, Quick Tour now has a two-year-old Hes Watching brother in the Horner barn… “We bought him (Hes Touring) for $21,000 at Harrisburg and he’s been coming along well.”
Horner’s raced some real nice horses - indeed some fan favourites - over the years in London - let’s touch on a few…
The Joy Luck Club - “She’s in New Jersey right now and bred to Captain Crunch - it’s a great cross and we’re hoping to hit a home run… He won so easy at Dover in 1:47.3 last November. He’s just a great horse - he’s big, strong and long-gaited and so is Joy. She wore a 63-inch hopple and was always a sweetheart. When things got off on the right foot, for her in a race, things would normally go okay.”
Pinky Tuscadero - “She’s here, with us, bred to Jimmy Freight - we’re just waiting to see if she’s in foal or not… That’ll be her first.”
Button Up - “You’d be hard pressed to find another racehorse that started as a two-year-old and remained in the same barn, throughout his career, to earn $824,000 racing on the B-tracks of Ontario - he was a special, special animal on the track! Near the end of his racing career - he was losing muscle-mass in his back end - so we took him up to Guelph and they diagnosed him with leukemia… That was 4 years ago now, but he’s still with us and remains the boss here - living out his retirement.”
The Masters - “He was a real nice homebred I raced for Ray Webb - my Button Up before Button Up, but I owned Button Up.”
The Masters was before my time in London, but I do remember him in that one particular race back on November 19, 2001… I recently wrote about Firms Phantom, aka ‘The Beast from the East’, making his Ontario debut after winning 28 consecutive races in the Maritimes. ‘Race Night on The Score’ may have began early that night, to show the race, there was so much hype… “I remember my horse was real good at the time - a great half-miler,” says Horner. “And you had to admire the new horse, but at the same time - we’re not going to allow him to come in and just take the money.”
The Masters left hard, with his rail advantage, to be the pacesetter and Firms Phantom would make a break going into the first turn… The end result - Voo Doo Vine (1st) The Masters (2nd) Just Bert (3rd) and Firms Phantom (7th).
Switching things up now with Horner on the COSA trailer wraps and TV shows… “The wraps were an idea Jack Darling and I had thrown around,” he says. “They’ve become quite popular now. It’s a great marketing initiative for our sport and it’s sure beats paying rent on a stationary billboard - these billboards are always moving up and down the road - they’re great! And Greg Blanchard and Curtis MacDonald have been doing a great job with the COSA TV shows - these shows are certainly filling a void right now.
The latest COSA TV show with Casie Coleman, Linda Toscano and Nancy Takter featured - https://standardbredcanada.ca/news/4-22-20/all-star-female-lineup-live-t…
And finally - any thoughts on when we may expect a return to horse racing in Ontario? “My feeling is July 1,” says Horner. “Right now we’re fortunate that we are essential to the care of these horses. We’re still hard at it every day - waiting on a green light to go and when we get it - we’ll be ready!”
Shannon ‘Sugar’ Doyle
The Raceway at Western Fair District