Legendary Downs trainers named to Indigenous athletics hall of Fame
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Two of the best trainers in the history of Assiniboia Downs, Jerry Gourneau and Tom Gardipy, Jr. have been inducted in the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame (NAIAHF).
Gourneau and Gardipy are the first to be inducted in the Trainer category, which was recently added to the NAIAHF, and join new Manitoba inductees Theodore Niizhotay Fontaine (media/athlete) and Jayme Menzies (athlete/coach).
The NAIAHF includes an incredible array of world-class athletes, coaches, teams, builders, media and officials from across the sporting spectrum, such as Athlete of the Century Jim Thorpe, double gold medal-winning hockey player Victoria Bach, four-time Stanley Cup winner George Armstrong and Olympic silver medal-winning curler Carolyn Darbyshire-McRorie, among many more.
“What an incredible accomplishment and honour for these two very deserving individuals,” said Assiniboia Downs CEO Darren Dunn.
“We have long said that Assiniboia Downs reflects an Indigenous sport of excellence and Jerry and Tom have led the way. Jerry Gourneau and Tom Gardipy, Jr. are true mentors for the future generations of Indigenous horse people who will participate in racing at Assiniboia Downs and North America.”
Gourneau, who hails from the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Reservation in Belcourt, N.D., has led the trainer standings at Assiniboia Downs for the past three years and four of the past five, helping his major owner Henry S. Witt Jr. to five leading owner titles at the Downs. The 61-year-old began his racing career patching up cast-off horses at the age of 16 with his father and brothers and has since gone on to build a career win-place-show record of 670-654-646 from 4,691 starts for purse earnings of $5,254,722.
Top local horses trained by Gourneau include 2015 Manitoba Derby runner-up and Star of Texas Stakes winner Witt Six, whom Gourneau regards as the best horse he’s ever trained, among other stars Big Blue Caboose, St. Louie Guy and Deep Explorer.
Gardipy has won six training titles at Assiniboia Downs and previous to that he won three titles at Marquis Downs in Saskatchewan. The 62-year-old Cree from Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation in Saskatchewan is a fourth-generation horse trainer who, like Gourneau, has built an incredible career by persuading his horses to give their best. Gardipy conditioned one of the best three-year-olds at the Downs in 2022, Golden Boy and Lord Balcony Overnight Stakes winner Brody’s Streak and has now compiled a career record of 872-847-721 from 4,851 starts for purse earnings of $4,925,535.
Both trainers were quick to credit their wives, their help and their clients for their successes.
“I’d like to say thanks to my wife Cheryl, my family, my help, and my clients over the years,” said Gardipy. “Nobody does this on their own. This is more for them than it is for me.
“I think it’s quite nice. The family is really excited about it. It’s not just mine. It’s for everybody that helped me, worked for me and rode for me, and all my clients, who have always supported me. I really appreciate all the people who have given me horses over the years. I don’t think it’s so much an individual award, there’s a lot of people that help you get there.”
Gourneau also credited his wife Lyn Blackburde, his help, and his major owner Henry S. Witt Jr. for his success and hoped that it would inspire more young people to pursue their dreams and get into the game.
“It’s always an honour to receive recognition from someone for all the hard work that you do,” said Gourneau. “It makes you feel good. With all the things that are happening in your life, when you get an award like this, a Hall of Fame induction, it’s quite an honour. People will see them (NAIAHF members) and they might reach out to them. It might be a good avenue to get some young people involved and interested in our sport.”
And many more.
Updated on Thursday, February 9, 2023 12:33 AM CST: Fixes typos in cutline