By Laurie Haughton, Chair, CQHA Media, Marketing & Communications Committee
Horse racing in Canada, like all sectors of equine sport, was forced to make some serious concessions last year in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Quarter Horse racing, although a small market in Canada compared to Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing, does have a thriving industry which can boast some of the richest races in all of Quarter Horse racing and a significant historical legacy in Canada.
Life at the track saw a major cultural change, with health regulations impacting the way the sport of horse racing was carried out. Racing was the first professional sport to successfully return to its regular season, although a shortened one. As a result, horse racing in Canada and globally reached new audiences because horse racing was one of the few sports that could return to regular airing by broadcasters. It set an example to all professional sports of how to return safely in the era of the pandemic.
New audiences and established fans were given a lot to cheer about in 2020 within in the world of Quarter Horse racing here in Canada. Here is just one example:
Free Thought, the reigning American Quarter Horse Association’s (AQHA) world record holding Quarter Horse for most consecutive wins, extended his record to 18 straight wins in August 2020. The 2011 bay gelding, adored by fans as “Big Ed,” began his winning streak in April of 2018. He is trained by Canadian William Leech and owned by Charles Stojan of Grande Prairie, Alberta.
The AQHA Canadian Champion of the Year went to freshman Eyesa Timber. The two-year-old gelding was bred and is owned by Wesley Oulton of Alberta. With impressive performances in 2020 on tracks in both the United States and Canada, the 2018 gelding claimed wins at the Alberta Bred Futurity and the Canada Quarter Horse Cup Futurity. Owner trained, Eyesa Timber finished the 2020 season with a record of seven starts: 4(2)-2-0 and earnings of $56,491 USD, racing at distances from 250 yards to 400 yards.
The owner/trainer team of Charles Stojan and William Leech had a number of achievements to celebrate in 2020 with three impressive horses that dominated the racetracks in Alberta during the season — Stripstreak, Flight Club, and Light Footed. All three qualified for the AQHA’s Bank of America Challenge Championships held October 24, 2020 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In doing so, Stojan was crowned the High Point AQHA Challenge Owner Of The Year, and Leech was named the High Point AQHA Challenge Trainer Of The Year, both very coveted honours in the world of Quarter Horse Racing internationally.
Country Boy 123 became the richest Quarter Horse racehorse in Canada, reaching the half million dollar benchmark in career earnings in 2020. Owned by Ruth Barbour of Hillsburg, Ontario the 2013 bay gelding has won 27 races at eight different distances during his impressive career.
Ten-year-old Quarter Horse One Famous Glass owned by Hillerin Farm of Hillsburgh, Ontario, a past AQHA champion, returned victorious to the track after being retired in 2018. Cody Sabilla, age 13, the grandson of the horse’s owners, began breezing the 2010 gelding back in the spring of 2020. It became obvious that “Eagle” wanted to return to his former racing aptitude, and with the help of his grandfather trainer Bryn Robinson, Cody prepared the horse to not only return to the track but cross the finish line in impressive time and form. Cody was named the Canadian Quarter Horse Association’s Youth Rising Star of the Year in part due to this success.
Canadian Quarter Horse breeder Wesley Oulton of Olds, Alberta, consigned the high selling yearling O Tuxedo; the black gelding sold to Preston Crow Chief of Lethbridge, Alberta, at the 2020 Alberta Quarter Horse Racing Association's Canada Quarter Horse Cup Yearling Sale, held September 18 in Red Deer, Alberta. The sale is the most prestigious and richest in Canada.
To read more about these and other 2020 successes earned by American Quarter Horses in Canada please log onto the Canadian Quarter Horse Association’s website.
Photo: Eyesa Timber winning the Alberta Bred Futurity on September 25, 2020 at Century Mile Racetrack and Casino, Edmonton, Alberta. Credit: Rayan Haynes, Coady Photography