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This article was written by Paul Turney and originally appeared in the DAILY RACING FORM Monday, September 9, 1996. 

FORT ERIE, Ontario – There’s a lot of “local colour” on the racetrack. Along with owners who are lawyers, accountants, pharmacists, union officials, retired teachers, just plain horse lovers and racing nut, there is also the shady element.

Not too many sidle back and forth, hiding in corners and puffing on cigars, although most smokers say they feel like pariahs, outcasts from another generation.  They would  probably qualify as local colour the way things are going.  Some pull the brims of their hats down over their eyes, probably reminiscing about better times when Damon Runyon covered sports.  These days, however, the hats are caps, with peaks and baseball team names or Acme Welding Co. crests pasted on the front.

Well, I finally made it into the ranks of the colourful.  Thelma and Louise, Bonnie and Clyde?  Hardly, and I work alone, thank  you very much.  However, I’m now known for my skillful theft of Justin Nixon’s white pickup truck.  The dirty deed must have gone over really well with the backstretch boys because when I brought it back I received a standing ovation.

I had made arrangements to borrow trainer Chris MacDonald’s half-ton truck.  I stood by the vehicle and spoke with MacDonald just prior to the heist.

“The keys are in it,” he said, “and the tank is half full.”

He proceeded to walkover to the race office.  I grabbed my essentials )little black book, cell phone) from my car and went over to the white truck.  As MacDonald had advised me, the key was in the ignition.  I gave it a twist, a shot of gas, and was rewarded with the shake and rumble of the big six-cylinder engine.  Off I went through the gates and out to the Queen Elizabeth Highway.

However, I felt there was something strange going on.  The truck seemed to be running better than usual and the gas tank was just a tick above empty.  I should have picked up on the clues, but the empty gas tank got to me.  I love the excitement of trying to make it to the next town on fumes and the challenge simply got the better of me.

A few minutes later my cell phone rang.  The phone is an integral piece of equipment for operations like this, you know.  It was my belle, Michelle.

“You’ve got the wrong truck,” she said.

Uh oh.

I was almost at Netherby Road, so I used the cut off to turn around.  I headed back to the track and phoned my right hand, Nancy, and asked her whose truck I had – she’s the one who had alerted Michelle to my new status as a felon.

“Who’s truck is this?” I asked her.

“It’s Justin Nixon’s, and he has a horse running at Woodbine today,” she said in her most serious voice.

“You’d better hurry.”

I drove through the gates and the security guard nodded me through.  No reports of a stolen truck yet, I supposed.  I figured I got back fast enough that I would beat the coppers and perhaps not too many people knew.  As I parked the truck in front of the race office, however, (no one had even filled the spot yet) a crowd of horsepeople lolling under a tree jumped up and cheered.  I thought they were applauding my accomplishment.  Finally, when jockey Stacie Clark stopped rolling with laughter, she asked me if she could write my column the next day.  I guess she thought she would be doing me a favour, seeing as how I’d probably be in the hoosegow.  Fortunately, “Leaky” McKellar, head of security, wasn’t among the revellers.

Justin Nixon was calm as he got into his truck and began to drive away.  I was trying to sneak back to the other white truck when he came after me on the run.

“You forgot your phone and black book,” he said.

I thanked him and warned him he’d better hit a gas station or he wouldn’t make it to Niagara Falls, let alone Toronto.  He just smiled.  I found out Saturday that he didn’t have a horse in at Woodbine.  He just wanted his truck back, pronto.

I finally got into the right truck, which was still parked across the road, and headed out again. I’d lost a half hour and was in trouble on the home front. Uh oh.

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This post was written by Paul Turney and originally appeared in the Daily Racing Form Friday, October 4, 1996. It is about one of his favourite topics…his Dad. Enjoy!

Fort Erie, Ontario – Pops is coming for a visit. At 83, he’s somewhat eccentric, but loves the horses.  He’s been punting at Winnipeg’s Assiniboia Downs for as long as I can remember, but the only other track he’s been to is Hastings Park, in Vancouver.  My brother lives on the West Coast and when dad visits, they make it a point to take in a few days of racing.

I can’t wait to show off Fort Erie.  Pops has always been one to appreciate lush, manicured greenery.  I know that because of the way he made me trim the edges of our own lawn when I was a youngster.  I grew up hating the sight of shears.

He also loves to wager – lotteries, Oscar the Mouse and horses.  Even now the first thing he asks when I call him in Winnipeg is, “How’s the horse?” Not how are you, how’s the family, but how’s the horse. Pops is also quite an armchair trainer.  He diagnoses ailments from 1,500 miles away, but his prescription invariably calls for a change in distance.

Pop’s been buying Daily Racing Form since before I was born, but I’m sure all he reads is the total money won and place of birth.  Naturally, he bets on the horse which has earned the most cash, especially if it was foaled in Kentucky.  His most important source of information, however, is ethereal.  He sees numbers in the clouds, numbers in his dreams, and numbers in coffee stains.  He lives to see numbers and then reroutes them onto tickets at the track.

I’ll never forget the time we were walking into Assiniboia Downs and he stooped to pick up a nickel from the asphalt.  Studying the coin, he mumbled “1962.  Nine and one is 10, six and two is eight. It’s going to be a 10/8 double.”

He trundled over to the wickets to place his bet, while my friends roared with laughter.  Just before post time, I snuck away and bet that same double and put a fair bit of money on 10 in the first.  The horse was a longshot, but I knew how lucky my pop was. Ten came home on top and I was up a chunk.  Pop was grinning like a cheshire cat and my friends stopped laughing.  We all be the 8 horse in the second – although the “guys” were somewhat tentative because this horse, too, was paying boxcars.  I went to the $20 dollar wicket. Sure enough, here came Mr. 8, ears pricked and prancing at the front.

Pops was really happy now.  He’d made about $130 but more importantly had something to talk about.  I was up well over a grand but preferred to keep it quiet in case he wanted royalties.

I’ll be bringing pop to the races this weekend.  I know that once he gets over the initial realization that a track can be an aesthetic wonderland, he’ll love it here – there’s a whole new bank of ticket sellers to entertain.  You’ll know him when you see him.  He’ll be the guy with sparks in his eyes when you tell him he can’t bet a 1-1 exactor.  He doesn’t like the new rules and figures he’s been betting 1-1 for 40 years and should be allowed to continue.  I’m sure glad he wasn’t here Monday when Mike Newell sent out his 1 and IA entry Layfield’s Locks and Royal Don to run one-two in the second race.  The exactor was paid off on one-three, as Scottie Jr. ran third.  Pops would have been a tad upset.

And me?  I’m eager to see if my dad’s luck transcends geographic boundaries.  He’s cashed some handsome wagers at Assiniboia and at Hastings, but after all, this is Ontario, a whole different country as far as racetracks go.  Moreover, it’s Fort Erie.  You need to read the Daily Racing Form.  I’ll introduce my dad to Ken Jones at Handicapper’s Corner.  Kenny deserves an opportunity to learn a different way to pick winners.

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