Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Aaaand, they're off

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When I was a kid, my uncle Kenny would take me to the track to watch the horse races.

It was a long bus ride out to Assiniboia Downs from the North End, but people-watching and looking out the window was a good distraction. Bus rides were a big thing for me back then.

To this day I don't know why my uncle took me there. Perhaps it was because my mom thought I needed a father figure in my life. My dad wasn't in the picture yet.

Maybe it was because my auntie didn't want my uncle to get into any trouble on his own. He was still a young man back then and, as I remember it, he was still working as a bouncer at the Occidental Hotel.

Well, whatever the reason, I was the beneficiary of an education in horse racing.

Uncle Kenny was always careful to point out the Downs in the distance as it slowly grew bigger and grander from my viewpoint. Maybe he was just as excited at the sight of it as I was.

From what I remember, Uncle Kenny never drank beer while we sat in the stands, like some of the other men sitting around us. He'd buy us cola and maybe a hotdog. Maybe it had something to do with his job.

I learned lots of new words at the horse races.

Words like handicap, win, place and show. Uncle Kenny taught me all kinds of stuff about the races and the horses, some that had been brought thousands of miles just to race.

I also learned words like triactor, exactor and quinella -- the latter was my favourite racetrack word because it sounded so fancy.

Uncle Kenny and I would pick the horses we thought would win and he'd mark up his race program. All the while he'd tell me about the horses, where some of them came from, and which seemed to be a sure bet. He also talked about some of the jockeys.

Sometimes he'd rush off and place a bet. Sometimes I'd go with him and, on occasion, I'd sit in the stands on my own.

Once the announcer got revved up, the bells would go off and the horses would start to race; a great thundering began. People in the stands would cheer and some even stood up to watch the first horse cross the line.

Winners and losers alike would cry out. It was very thrilling.

Gambling used to be big with Indian people way before Europeans landed here; it was something to do to break up the monotony of the daily grind, I guess. I can see its allure, at least in small doses.

What is life without taking a few risks once in a while?

One day Uncle Kenny bet on a horse he let me pick. I studied the list and pointed at one especially exotic name.

"That one?" he asked.

It was a super long shot but it was the one I wanted.

"Yep," I said.

Uncle Kenny placed the bet and wouldn't you know it, our horse came in first! I can't remember what we won, but it was a good chunk of money.

My cut of the winnings was good -- around $200 cash, which was a lot of money for a kid 30 years ago. Just think how much candy I must have bought.

We didn't go that much after that since the season came to an end. Or maybe it was because of Uncle Kenny's job, or I just didn't want to go anymore.

Maybe it was just best to quit while we were still on the winning side.

There aren't many horse races in my life anymore, but that was a day to remember.

Boy, what a sight we must have been -- a Cree guy and a little girl, screaming away for our horses to cross the line first.


Colleen Simard is a Winnipeg writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 21, 2012 J1

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