Sometimes good things do happen to good people.
Karma, what goes around comes around, the laws of compensation -- call it what you will, but if you're on this earth long enough you'll eventually notice that nature never fails to balance things out. Sometimes it just takes awhile.
Like 32 years.
Veteran Manitoba horse owner and breeder Jarvis Swereda and his wife Florence were in the winner's circle for the seventh time this year on Wednesday night, after their Starfield Stable won the fourth race with Major Hurricane off a two-year layoff. And they brought long-time friends Dr. Roman and Carol Ann Odwazny with them for a special race-winning presentation from Olympic curling gold-medallists Kaitlyn Lawes and Dawn Askin.
"There were hugs all around," said trainer Tanya Lindsay.
Starfield Stable is having a banner season for the second year in a row with Lindsay, who has done some stellar work with their horses. But Swereda himself has slugged it out with homebreds on his farm in Zhoda, Man., for over 30 years now, and there have certainly been some lean years along the way.
According to the available official Equibase statistics, the stable didn't win a race in 2004 and 2006, and only won a single race in 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2009. Purse earnings for the stable have topped $30,000 each year since 2007, partially bolstered by 2008 Manitoba-bred Horse of the year Queen Tina. But keeping 25 horses can get expensive.
Luckily the 72-year-old Swereda isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, which helps to save on costs while also keeping him healthy and strong.
"We make our own hay and I still get out there and throw bales," said Swereda. "And we get our oats from my cousin Roy. We still have family fun but we work hard at it. Our horses are our kids, but they eat more. You can't stop working. I have friends who are 60-65 who can barely move now."
Jarvis' parents Nick and Evelyn brought their work ethic with them when they arrived in Canada from Ukraine in 1939 and it certainly wasn't lost on their son. With only a Grade 8 education, Swereda went to work at Birchwood Motors in 1972 and started Starfield Auto Body a few years later.
Now in business for over 35 years, Jarvis and Florence have worked hard together on Starfield Auto Body and have been able to take it a "little" easier over the past few years, with six employees who have been with them for over 30 years and at least 10 more who have been with them for over 25 years.
There were doughnuts at the barn the morning after Major Hurricane's win, and Lindsay was quick to point out that the Swereda's were generous owners. Everyone in the barn gets a Starfield Stable jacket, win pictures and more, which is not as commonplace as some might think. Starfield has also let Lindsay use patience and run their horses in the right spots.
The weather stopped Lindsay from getting off to a strong start this year, as it did many other Manitoba-based trainers, but her horses are rolling now and when she's got the stock, she's proven she can operate with the best. The highlight of her career to date was conditioning 2008 Champion Sprinter and 2009 Horse of the Year Rock' n USA, who won both the Assiniboia Downs Gold Cup locally and the Harvest Gold Plate in Edmonton. Last year she won 21 of 79 starts, a 27 per cent win clip that might have made a less- experienced trainer difficult to work with.
"I have a great crew," said Lindsay, who has top hand Glen Miller on staff as well as number of grooms from Jamaica and Barbados. "I may not have been around as long as some here, but you learn fast. This game goes in waves. Keep your head up when you're down and your head down when you're up."
The relationship between Lindsay and Starfield Stable appears to be working beautifully, not unlike the Swereda's relationships with their employees at Starfield Auto Body, or their own long and loving marriage. So what's the secret to the latter?
"She's an angel," said Jarvis of Florence.
And suddenly it all seemed so fitting that the winner's circle presentation by the Olympic champions, be made to a couple who had recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.