Racing Future is determined to inspire a new generation of fans to enjoy the sport of horse racing.

Fort Erie celebrates the horse, welcomes fans with open arms

I stood in the apron for the 79th running of the Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie with my daughter. The sky was overcast and Ellie huddled close to me as we watched her favourite horse, Coltimus Prime, win the race in a very definite finish. It was exciting – we were jumping up and down as he crossed the finish line.

When we’d arrived earlier in the day, we stood beside the rail, watching the races and reading the program, deciding which horses and jockeys we favoured. As I watched Ellie eating a wrap we bought from one of the food trucks, I thought about where kids like her “fit” into the sport here in Ontario. Ellie is 12 years old; she loves horses, games, and computers. She is also intrigued by the idea that you can look at the racing program and maybe win real money out of what you learn. Young people like her could become more serious horseplayers down the road -- which is exactly what horse racing needs  -- but the sport must do all it can to make kids and all potential fans feel valued and welcome. Fort Erie Race Track does that in spades.

The best part about the Fort Erie experience is the immediacy of the horses. Standing trackside, the horses are so close that it seems as if you can reach out and touch them. When they thunder past, the sound is amazing, the ground vibrates, and you get a true sense of just how fast they travel. You’re so close to the action, you can see every muscle and nostril flare, their will to run fast and win. Track dirt – which has the appearance of dark fluffy sand -- cushions their hooves and flies up with each footfall. Racing here is truly magical to watch.

Ontario Horse Racing: Coltimus Prime cooling off after Prince of Wales win“There’s your horse,” I said to Ellie when Coltimus Prime was lead past us after the winner’s circle presentation.

“Wow! He’s right there,” she exclaimed. Later, in the car, she told me that seeing her horse win and how close we got to him after was her favourite part of the racing experience.

After the race when I introduced the track’s CEO "Mr. Thibert" to Ellie, he grinned at her, stretched out his hand and said, "Everyone just calls me Jimmy."

That moment said it all about why this track should be on everyone’s list of favourite places. No, Fort Erie isn’t all about Jimmy Thibert (although few can argue with the amount of time and effort and sheer bulldog determination he has mustered -- along with the friendly, hardworking staff and many, many others -- to keep the track alive). It’s all about all of us. We all have a common purpose: enjoying horses and horse racing. There's no pretence and everyone is welcome.

Graciously, after the races were over, Jimmy took us up to the caller’s booth.

In the walk up through the grandstand, he stopped and chatted with many people, smiling, saying, “12,000 here tonight” and “Best Prince of Wales wagering since 2000.” He was clearly ecstatic. As we all should be when North America’s most picturesque race track experiences this kind of fan renewal and commitment.

When we got to the booth, what a view! Looking out over the beautiful infield and its famed Win, Place, and Show Lakes, it was obvious: Fort Erie isn’t trying be something other than what it is – a race track which welcomes and celebrates what’s important in the sport: people from all walks of life and, above all, horses.

By Jenny Bridle

 

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Comments

What a wonderful compliment for our racetrack and all it's staff. Thank you Jenny and your daughter for attending and writing that beautiful compliment. I own a Jewellery store in town and am not affiliated with the track but as a resident, I am proud to know Jimmy and many other that have fought so hard to save this track that has been so much of the history of Fort Erie and hopefully will continue to be part of our future.

By Lesley North

Thanks for commenting Lesley, and for being so complimentary about the piece. I totally agree with you in hoping that Fort Erie continues to be a part of your town and our province's future. We can't wait to visit again!

By J Bridle

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