I was not raised on the backstretch. I don’t have deep familial ties to the industry; in fact, no one in my family does anything with horses. The reason I ended up at Marquis Downs? My love of horses and the fact that I lived within biking distance of the racetrack.
Over the years, which amount to nothing compared to some of the old racetrack veterans, I have worked as a groom, as a pony person, as an exercise rider. I was up early, I was up late. I did the whole “3 a.m.-on-a-school-day” thing. I didn’t mind. The racetrack was the only place I wanted to be.
Some of my favourite memories took place at Marquis Downs. Yet there always seemed to be this underlying notion that, while you could get started here, you should never stay.
“You’ll leave soon. Everyone always does, eventually.”
I heard it often. Go to places with more horses - better ones. Go to places with more race days, more opportunities. This place is dying, it’s not what it used to be. Leave while you can. There’s nothing here for you.
So I left. After graduating from high school, I moved to Alberta. I worked for Bar None at Northlands Park. It didn’t feel like home. I went to university and got a degree. I travelled across the ocean, going to Germany for school and to conduct research. I went to Woodbine, once, for a few days. I didn’t care for it. Those weren’t my people.
No matter how much fun I was having, how many new things I was able to see and do, it always felt like there was something missing.
Was this the “better life” beyond the gates of Marquis Downs, the one that everyone was telling me about? The one with the new faces, the better horses, the exciting opportunities?
If so, it was not what I wanted.
I returned to Saskatoon six years after leaving the city for those bigger, better, brighter opportunities. I noticed that not much had changed, a wonderful feeling that somehow still managed to made my heart sink.
Was there a future for this place? Have I returned, finally, only to have to leave again? There’s no money to speak of, anymore. Race days have been continually reduced, purses have decreased.
But that feeling I get whenever I’m on the grounds, that has remained. The people have remained. The passion has remained.
Another thing that has remained: the “I wonders”. I wonder what we’ll be doing next year. I wonder how many days we will have. I wonder who will be left. I wonder what I will do, when we have lost this place forever. All of these years spent waiting for something to happen.
Wonderful people, WE are the something that happens.
I don’t know what I would do without the track. It was a part of me through all of those years. No matter where I was, I missed it. You can take a person away from the racetrack, but you can never take the racetrack out of a person.
My greatest wish is to see Marquis Downs returned to what it once was. I want people to tell future grooms, exercise riders, pony people, horse-crazy kids to come HERE, to see what is in store for them HERE. To hear that the breeding industry is thriving, Saskbreds have made a name for themselves on home turf, not just out-of-province. That we have more race days, more horses, more trainers, younger generations getting involved alongside new. That we bring the best live entertainment in Saskatoon for young and old alike. That we don’t plan on stopping and we see no end in sight.
I do not plan to stay in Saskatoon forever. But I do plan to do what I can to help save the industry. Having a home to return to is what makes leaving worthwhile.