Ashes on the floor
Devastation all around
The sadness runs so deep
The loss is profound
I’m sorry for your loss
For what you’re going through
I love all horses, just like you
When they suffer, it breaks my heart in two
I pray you find the strength, to get through
And with all our help, a brighter day awaits,
This poem, by Frank O’Toole and posted to www.standardbredcanada.ca by Katie Miller after O’Toole repaired one of her horse’s feet, aptly describes the sentiment by so many in the Standardbred industry – and beyond – in response to the recent tragedy at Classy Lane Stables, Puslinch, ON. A fire, which broke out in Barn 1 around 11 p.m. on January 4th, was burning with such intensity by the time it was discovered that the 43 horses housed within could not be saved.
Having loved, owned and raced Standardbred horses for many years with my late husband Hugh, as well as having written – the Standardbred industry is where I cut my journalistic teeth – extensively about them, I feel compelled to share this story, to pay tribute to the lives lost.
The day after the fire, top Canadian trainer Ben Wallace, who suffered the most losses (16) of the six trainers affected, told Moore in the Morning on Newstalk 1010, “It’s the horses that we lost which is the tough thing to stomach. Buildings you can build, but these athletes that we have, we love and cherish. We work with them every day, and they’re gone.”
The star of Wallace’s stable, Apprentice Hanover, a son of Canadian Hall of Famer Somebeachsomewhere, had just gone over $1 million in earnings before Christmas. He also won a qualifying race at Woodbine Racetrack the day of the fire. Driver Jody Jamieson, who along with Wallace has been labelled “savvy” and “impeccable” in terms of dealing with the media in response to this devastating event, told John Oakley on AM640, “I literally sat behind Apprentice Hanover Monday night and he (unfortunately) got home in time to be a part of this tragedy. It’s just something you cringe at. I got a phone call late that night . . . and I just couldn’t believe it.”
Rob Longley, writing for the Toronto Sun, also noted that a lucrative stallion deal was in the works for Apprentice Hanover. “That deal, if completed, might have brought several hundred thousand dollars more to owner Bradley Grant.”
Apprentice Hanover was a “bay” horse, a predominant colour among Standardbreds, and a “pacer”, which means his right front and back leg would stride together, then left front and back. The other gait among Standardbreds is “trotter”, which means front right back left, then vice-versa. Standardbreds race with a “sulky” or “race bike” behind, on which the driver sits. Regardless of when they’re born, all Standardbreds share January 1st as their birthday, so when buying at yearling sales, purchasers tend to gravitate to those born earlier in the year, and those with size – kind of like the theory behind potential NHLers. A good goal for Standardbreds sired in Ontario is to train to race as 2- and 3-year-olds in the lucrative Ontario Sires Stakes program, but it is difficult (and a bit like winning a lottery) to get a 2-year-old to the track.
Other horses lost in Ben Wallace’s stable: 2-year-olds Balletonthebeach, Blue Heaven, Mr King Koal, and Stretch Run. 3-year-olds Northern Horizon, Proven Effective, and Tommys Trooper. 4-year-olds Jewels For Rose, My My Hey Hey, Penji Hanover, and Sports Warning. Older geldings Makers Mach, Whiskey N Pie and Whistle Jimmy K. Wallace had one thoroughbred in his stable as well, JMR Chanel.
Trainer Roger Mayotte lost 4 horses: 2-year-old Georges Legacy and 3-year-olds Dreamliner, Vintage Rose, and Weight Time. Commenting on Standardbred Canada’s Trot Blog, Mayotte said, “I lost some of my best friends on Monday night, as did some of my fellow horse people. These friends cannot be replaced. The way they perished will never be erased from our minds.”
I spoke to trainer Dan Lagace (pronounced “legacy”), who lost 7 horses. It’s a family affair for the Legaces, with his wife and son working in the barns, and also his daughter in the summer when she’s not in school. “The first few days were tough,” he said, “with the horses laying there, with the investigation, the agricultural society had to come in. I couldn’t be around there much. It’s getting better now.”
He told me about 2-year-olds Big Jim Dandy “sharp and athletic”, Freedom Summer “quite pleasant and proper, he did things right”, and Prowl Seelster “a complete gentleman, everybody loved him, soooo lovable” and 3-year-olds Dial K “big, but my wife called him ‘Peanut’ because he was a little baby”, Micro Venture “moody”, Playtime Jack “the class clown, he really, really liked life” and Southwind Billy “a little spark plug, pretty spunky”. Southwind Billy will be missed by stablemate Southwind Monty (owned by Brad Gray, like all in Lagace’s stable), the one horse Lagace is left with to train. Monty, a 3-year-old, who had been turned out to a paddock to recover from an injury, was supposed to come back into the barn that fateful Monday, but Lagace said he was so cold from being outside training that he didn’t want to deal with it.
Trainer Chantal Mitchell also lost 7 Standardbreds. She said she’s, “doing as good as I can, I guess” and when I mentioned generous fundraising initiatives she said, “it’s overwhelming”. Like all of the trainers I spoke to, she plans to rebuild and is working away at that.
Her 2-year-old Railee Special, “was very friendly. She acted like she was attention-deprived, but she wasn’t. She just loved people so much.” 3-year-old Edgartown was, “young, just learning, quiet and polite.” 4-year-old Striking Cheetah was aptly named. “Pretty sassy,” said Mitchell. “Like Conata, in that it was ‘my way, or the highway’, but meaner.” Conata (a 5-year-old) was a beautiful roan colour, which stands out. “She was pretty,” said Mitchell, “and she knew it and she was the boss.” Rounding out Mitchell’s stable were older geldings SOS Ticket “energetic, fun-loving”, Sky Desperado “a very kind soul and a tough racehorse” and the gorgeous trotter Body Balance, owned by Doug Millard, who, over the years, had partnered with my father-in-law on several horses. About Body Balance, Mitchell said, “He was just one of the kindest horses you’d ever want to meet. He did his job and he did it well.”
Mitchell also lost three miniature horses in the blaze, Daisy, Marguerita and Sammy (owned by Mel Tilley). “They were pets for me,” she said, “and also for the horses. They can calm a horse right down.”
Trainer Kris DiCenzo lost 4 horses. 2-year-old Beautiful Vista “a nice little filly, did everything right, a real sweetheart to be around”. 3-year-old Lost Glory After an injury at 2, then surgery, DiCenzo didn’t know if she’d return. But she won her 2nd start back, then was scheduled to race the Saturday after the fire. “She would have been a steady performer on the ‘B’ tracks.” Older gelding No Serious Matter, also aptly named. “He was a fun horse. A real character. Bouncing around, trying to get things outside of his stall and even on the track, leaping and carrying on.” And older horse Distant Cam “one of the elder Camlucks (sire) still racing. His owner, a lady from Oakville, just absolutely loved him”.
Trainer Floyd Amos lost 2 horses. 3-year-old Hasty Heart “He was a real character. He wanted to play all of the time, taking my hat, grabbing my coat, looking for more feed and so on. But when he got onto the track he behaved.” And 4-year-old Big Bang Ballykeel “easy to get along with, very friendly”.
Said Amos, “I work full time, so I just do this for relaxation and enjoyment. Unfortunately, it has not been so relaxing and enjoyable this month. I’m going to get through January, then will look to get a couple more.”
The loss is estimated between $4 and $6 million. As for insurance, material things are covered, but the horses? A few were insured, yes, but driver Jamieson likened it to carrying insurance on our children. And then, there is the matter of so many trainers and grooms being out of work. Within 24 hours of the tragedy, a GoFundMe page was set up by Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA), click here, with a goal of $500,000. As of 9 this morning, the balance was an impressive $291,950.
Donations can also be mailed to:
Central Ontario Standardbred Association
P.O. Box 297
Campbellville, ON L0P 1B0
Cheques should be made out to “Classy Lane Barn Fire”
On Thursday, January 7th, Woodbine Entertainment Group dedicated the racing card to the 43 horses lost. Horsepeople watched a tribute video created by Woodbine Broadcasting Department, click here, and held a moment of silence.
Photos: 1) Apprentice Hanover, wearing 9, winning with Jody Jamieson in the bike, credit Clive Cohen. 2) Collage clockwise from top left – Conata goofing, mini Daisy chatting with a friend, Chantal Mitchell speaking to the CBC after the tragedy, Mitchell grinning from the bike behind Body Balance, Striking Cheetah resting, Railee Special, credit Chantal Mitchell, Kathy Wade Vlaar and Clive Cohen. 3) Moment of silence at Woodbine & 4) Body Balance, wearing 6, winning with Steve Condren in the bike, credit Clive Cohen.