The strange thing about hitting a milestone is, that on one hand, it stands as a glowing testament to a person's success. On the other hand, it's a bittersweet reminder that a great career is in its twilight.
Gary Danelson, who came to Assiniboia Downs in 1959 with one horse, hit a milestone on July 16 when Christopher Husbands rode three-year-old maiden CC's Jeans to victory over six furlongs in the second race.
For Danelson, who was already the winningest trainer ever at the Downs, it was his 1,100th victory.
The Manitoba-bred filly went off at 18-1 and paid $38.60.
Growing up on a ranch near Skobey, Mont., Danelson got his start breaking broncos for his father, who was a rodeo rider. "When we'd get colts, I would break them. But, if they bucked really hard they usually bucked me off, unless I could get a good hold on the horn," he said.
Around the age of 14 he began to get an apprenticeship in training and caring for horses.
"I did jockey for a couple of years around the bushes in Montana, and I enjoyed it. My father would bring me down there on the weekend, and after the races he'd go home and I'd stay and take care of the horses, until he came back the next week."
While 1,100 wins boggles the mind, Danelson, who turns 73 next month, estimates he's probably won another 600 races at other tracks.
"I've raced in 17 or 19 states, and four provinces," he said. "I've raced from New York to California and most of the places in-between."
He's never had a huge stable of horses. This year he has only 16. The most he's ever had has been around 20 give or take a few. Still, he has managed to win Trainer of the Year honours at the Downs three times.
In 1969 he had 22 wins in 56 days of racing, to tie for the title with R.J. Watt. In 1970 he tied again, only this time with Clayton Gray (22/56). Then in 2003, Danelson's horses reached the winner's circle 55 times in 75 days as he claimed the title all for himself.
On July 16 CC's Jeans joined a list of horses that Danelson holds dear to his heart.
"The first horse I ever had (Coherence), I bought for $400," he recalled. "I ran him for four years, and he won 24 races for me. I've never had a horse win anywhere close to that again.
"Electric Fever won the Victoria Day Stakes three years in a row, which is quite a feat for a mare," he said. "Then there was Baladi, who won six races in a row here."
Danelson also trained Smokey Cinder, the 1999 horse of the year, which made about $500,000 for Manitoba owner Ed Pollock. "I think he bought the horse for $2,500 at a yearling sale in Kentucky," said Danelson.
Having raced just about everywhere in North America, Danelson thinks of Assiniboia Downs as a second home.
"I like it here. I think you are treated really well here," he said. "You know, the purses should be better, and it's going to be hard for them to maintain the track if the provincial government don't step in a do something to help them. But I think management has looked after things very well here, with what they have to work with."
As far as hanging up his tack, Danelson says he takes it one year at a time. "When I set the record here in 2003 with 879 wins, I didn't think I'd be around long enough to reach 1,000 (Aug. 10, 2005). But you know, you have to have something to do, and I've done this all my life. I enjoy what I do and I enjoy the people here."
Danelson has four horses racing this weekend. Tonight his horses are running in the first and sixth races. Saturday's program has Danelson's horses entered in the fifth and sixth races. Post time both nights is 7 p.m.