Thursday, 07 July 2022 07:15

Racing Club Coordinator turns into Full-Time Ownership

Salary in the stretch drive at Century Downs Salary in the stretch drive at Century Downs Coady Photo/Ryan Haynes

What started as an opportunity to have some fun as the manager of the Century Downs Racing Club has turned Shelley Hastey into one of Alberta’s biggest racing fans and a proud stake horse owner.

A long family history with horses
Shelley comes from a family with a history of involvement in the Alberta horse racing and breeding industry. “My Dad (Al Williams) had a reputation for being an excellent handicapper, so Northlands Park was like my second home, my sister and I knew every square inch of that place! Then in the mid-70s, Dad decided to branch into horse ownership. He ended up being quite successful with numerous stake and award winners,” explains Shelley. “I started spending my summers on the backstretch grooming horses because back then, that’s what teenage girls would do.”

Moving on to Cowtown and standardbreds
In the late 80s, Shelley moved to Calgary and developed a love for standardbred racing. “I noticed that standardbred racing in Alberta was attracting some of the best horses in North America to the big races, and many of the local horses were quite competitive at larger venues. It wasn’t long before I fully switched my first loyalty over to harness racing and became fully immersed, as a fan and a handicapper,” points out Shelley.

With a slight laugh in her voice, Shelley shares: “Then, in the early 2000s, I needed a new car and figured the best way to pay for it was to start working as a teller at Stampede Park in addition to my day job. It was a natural fit, It was then and there I realized that my dream job was to work full-time at a racetrack.”

Landing the dream job and moving on up
Her dream job became a reality in 2015 when her former Mutuels manager called to ask if she would be interested in coming to work for Century Downs full time. Of course, we all know her answer. Almost immediately, Shelley started to formulate a plan on how she could one day own a racehorse.

“Our General Manager, Paul Ryneveld, drew on his widespread experience to institute several initiatives to garner new interest in horse racing. My position quickly expanded from Pari-Mutuels Supervisor to include barn tours, handicapping tournaments, and the Century Downs Racing Club.”

A new racing club
The Century Downs Racing Club was the first standardbred racing club in Canada that mirrored the thoroughbred racing club at Hastings Park. It began with Century Downs purchasing and importing two horses from other jurisdictions. The public was invited to become an owner by purchasing a one-time yearly membership that covered all the costs, including training, veterinary etc. All expenses and earnings are tracked and recorded. Purse money earned by the racing club horse goes into a shared pool.

At the end of the racing season, the club prepares a detailed statement of activities and pays out members if a positive balance occurs. Members receive some, if not most, of their money back, depending on how the racing club horses perform. The membership allows each participant to experience all ownership privileges, including visiting their horse in the backstretch, watching their horse compete, and the thrill of getting their picture taken in the winner’s circle.

A tough start for the racing club
Without hesitation, Shelley dove in and became the Century Downs Racing Club manager with no idea what she was getting into or what might lay ahead. Shelley remembers it all in good detail: “The very first year of the club was inauspicious at best! One of the youngsters (horses) got injured and never made it to the races. The other filly, Warrawee Rap, we brought in from Ontario. She was very good-looking and well-bred, with only a few starts as a two-year-old. When she started her three-year-old campaign with us, she looked very promising with a win and a second-place finish. Unfortunately, she then suffered a hairline fracture of her knee. The injury was not career-ending, but she would need a lot of time off.” In the blink of an eye, the first horse in the Century Downs Racing Club was turned out to pasture. It was only June.

Warrawee Rap tried to return to racing at age four, but it was clear she wasn’t the same. “She had become very tentative in the turns, and she wasn’t enjoying herself. At the time, she was being trained by Carl Archibald, who wanted to keep her as a broodmare but also wanted partners to help split the costs of this long-term venture. Jackson Wittup also approached me at the time, so Rap ended up with a trio of owners: Meadowlark Farms, Jackson Wittup, and myself,” describes Shelley.

Warrawee Rap leaves legacy and tragedy
The following May, Warrawee Rap was bred to Mystery Chase and produced a beautiful colt nicknamed Henry. Tragically, Henry became gravely ill with a gut issue. At only four months old, young Henry was gone.

Shelley pauses, then elaborates: “It was a tough time for all of us. We were devastated. These events changed the dynamics of our ownership group, and I bought out the other partners. Things were not going the greatest. I moved Rap to O’Bray’s Equine, which was only a couple of minutes down the road from us. They specialize in broodmares and foals. To this day, she continues to live there. I knew in my heart it wouldn’t be easy monetarily for me. But I knew with some sacrifices and the support of my husband Boyd; we would make it work. The horses were now a big part of my life and were family.”

One door closes, Rap opens another
After experiencing many challenges while taking a front-row seat riding the rollercoaster of horse ownership, life began to look up for Shelley. On May 18, 2019, Warrawee Rap gave birth to a beautiful filly. Around the barn, she quickly became known as Jessie with the registered name of Salary. Salary… as in Jerry Maguire screaming out… Show me the money?

“Not at all, Salary is a throwback to a thoroughbred we owned a long time ago. That horse won a stake early in her career, and I always remembered the headline back then saying something like: The Aptly Named Salary,” clarifies Shelley.

Warrawee Rap had a reputation for knowing what she wanted, to the point of being on the bossy side. She passed along many of her traits to Salary, and the filly developed a fair amount of independence. “As Jessie got into eating real food, Rap would not step aside, and Salary would have to wait her turn. But Rap showed Jessie how to be the boss lady among her playmates and how to let humans know when she wanted something,” states Shelley.

Next steps for Salary
Next for the filly Salary was the Alberta Standardbred Horse Association yearling sale. Over the winter, she added many layers to her winter coat. “I was worried… how could she be that ugly! But in the spring, she became a real looker,” laughs Shelley.

They quickly went to work teaching Jessie (Salary) how to be handled, brushed, led in a direction, and to work with humans. Excited, Shelley then headed to the sale with a price in mind. Jessie was of good size with good conformation. Shelley emphasizes: “The only downside would be that her sire, Mystician, was not in vogue, and many people shy away from buying a first foal.” Once again, disappointment. Salary showed well in the ring with some early small bids, but Shelley repurchased her for $3,000.

Back home again with a new trainer
Now Salary needed a trainer. “It was a pretty short list because I wanted her stabled-on track in a smaller barn. I had become friends with the Crump family, who had a wealth of experience and knowledge, and I knew Kelly had broken some youngsters for Connie Kolthammer, so I went with Kelly and his girlfriend Nina, whom run an exceptional barn. It was his first year on his own, I wanted to support him, and it was evident the Crump family loves their horses,” reveals Shelley.

In a very short time, Kelly developed his own nickname for Jessie: Brat! “She was handful, destroying pails, nipping on the cross ties, always chewing, always acting up and is still a brat to this day,” points out Kelly. He goes on to further explain, “ When Shelley first approached me to take the horse there was trepidation, you don’t want to let someone down. But I knew with the backstretch community of people around me that were willing to help and share their knowledge combined with some hard work this could all work out. I have no regrets, Salary tries really hard and has a huge heart. Shelley is a great lady and I enjoy working with her.” The “Brat” spent two months being broke to harness and cart before being turned out for the winter. The real training would begin in the spring with the hope of racing Salary as a two-year-old.

“She was so nice to watch, very smooth-gaited and efficient. Her times were dropping. I figured that if nothing else, she would make the races. But over the summer, Jessie got sick and then developed an abscess in one foot. Once again, things were taking a bad turn for us, and Kelly took it as a sign to stop, so back to the farm she went. While this was all going on, her full brother Georgie was born. He is very striking, and we registered his name as Silvertip – yes, after one of my favourite golf courses and did you know a silvertip is a grizzly bear?” announces Shelley.

Salary back training again
Salary, or Jessie, or Brat, returned to training at Century Mile in December of 2022. When the horses moved back to Century Downs, Kelly began dropping Salary’s times with the hopes of her making a spring debut. It was then that Salary began to show something.

“We had her pegged for a mid-April qualifier. I clearly remember a Saturday morning in early April when Salary was going two trips. After the second mile, Kelly returned to the barn with the biggest smile on his face and exclaimed: We Have a Racehorse – I Mean a Real One. He felt then that she had two more gears, which was exciting news for us but dare we hope,” cautions Shelley.

Another setback
Well, someone heard Shelley’s dare and wouldn’t you know it, two days later, another setback. Shelley hesitantly explains: “Kelly and Nina arrived at the barn, and Salary was hung up in her stall. It seemed to me she was practicing some ballet moves and ended up with her right hind up on the stall guard. She was facing out, and so was her back leg!”

Training was halted for the third time. Luckily the injuries were minor, and Salary was entered to qualify the final weekend in April.

Time to qualify
Prior to qualifying day, Salary was sent out with one of Alberta’s best trainers/drivers Dave Kelly for a final assessment. “Dave warms her up a bit, then sets her up for a training mile. Just as he gets her up to speed, we hear Dave cursing at the top of his lungs while asking her to stop. They quickly leave the track, and I am thinking, come on, now what? I ran back to the barn terrified, and it turns out in her excitement, Salary had covered Dave head to toe in a single sploosh. I guarantee Dave will never forget our miss Salary,” proclaims Shelley.

Finally, on April 30, qualifier day arrives, and Shelley admits to being a wreck: “No one could understand why I was so nervous. That was the first time she would be with other horses in a field setting. We had come so far with all the challenges we faced. We had been so patient. I had even lost my job during COVID. It was difficult on all of us, and I just was so proud of where we had now landed.”

Top results quickly
In the qualifier, Salary got away mid-pack and finished second that day. Salary drew the eight-hole the following week and came from last to fourth with a quick back half and final quarter. In her next starts, she drew outside post positions, once again with each start finding herself back in the field by over ten lengths but always tipping two or three wide around the final turn to finish strong.

Finally, on June 4, Salary drew a decent post and was pegged as the day's best bet. “On that day, the nerves came back with a vengeance. It was nerve-racking as I’m not the greatest with anxiety. I felt so much pressure. Was this the day three years’ worth of work and worry would finally be lifted off my shoulders,” questions Shelley.

We got a winner and a Horse of the Month!
Salary with Logan Gillis driving did not disappoint that day, winning the mile in 1:58.4. Salary was named the horse of the month in June at Century Downs, going three for three.

Shelley quickly summarizes: “I feel she has something still in reserve. Next, she will be tested against some stake company. We hope she continues to improve. I keep pinching myself. I’m so proud of her and where we all came from. To think this all started with me managing the racing club and now look where I am. I can’t tell you enough about the similarity between Warrawee Rap and her daughter Salary - it is so striking, including their temperament. The girl knows how to look after herself and loves the attention. Owning and looking after these horses has allowed my husband and me to spend quality time together. The horses made us all closer during COVID. They are our family. When Salary was a youngster in training, I always asked her: Did You Have Fun Out There? I still ask her that today. You know what? I really think that she is.”

Catch Alberta’s top three year old Filly’s and Colts in the finals of the Alberta Marksman and the Alberta Diamond this Saturday July 9th at Century Downs! See Salary in action this Saturday in race #2. For information on racing clubs, contact HRA through the track licensing offices.

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