The racetrack at the Ormstown fairgrounds will be the stage for plenty of action this summer, as harness racing horses and drivers are set to return to the scene on June 25 and September 10.
Not only will there be plenty of races to take in, organizers from the Circuit Régionale des courses de chevaux du Québec have several special events up their sleeves. Pierre-Paul Naud, board member for the circuit, says they have confirmed a special appearance by a group of former professional hockey players and a presenter from the Réseau des Sports (RDS) for the June event. The special guests, including a former Montreal Canadien, Benoît Brunet, will participate in a special race in two-seater “training bikes” (as opposed to single-seat carts, the sulkies, normally used for races) – each with a professional driver. Naud says he expects the race “should bring [spectators] in.” The event in Ormstown will also be featured on the Hors Jeu program on RDS later this year.
In September, the day will feature a special tribute to the late Maurice Paquette, whom Naud explains was “the soul of harness racing in Ormstown,” and well-known to anyone who was at the fairgrounds with any regularity. It was a collaboration between Naud and Paquette that brought racing back to Ormstown in 2012 after a decade’s hiatus. Following a casual conversation between the two at another racetrack, they arranged for Naud to come down to visit the fairgrounds, which he had not seen for many years. He said when he saw the site, he knew he couldn’t do anything but get racing going again in Ormstown. “The location was too magnificent… [and] there was an audience [of racing fans]” already established in the community, which has hosted harness racing events for more than a century.
While the number of racehorses in the area has been in steady decline over the decades, Naud says that the fairgrounds itself is a draw that brings owners and drivers from across the province. He says they drive long distances, from as far as Gaspésie and beyond, to come race in the Valley – for the love of the sport, but also “truly because they love the location.”
Naud urges those who have never attended a harness racing event before to enjoy all aspects of the day, watching the magnificent and athletic horses and enjoying the thrill of betting on their favourites. But most of all, he says, don’t be shy to ask questions and come see the horses and drivers up close. “We invite [the spectators] to come see us” down near the paddock area where the drivers and trainers gather, and he emphasizes that it is a “friendly, family-oriented” atmosphere.
For those who would like to try their hand at betting, the lifetime horseman says they should jump in and go with their instincts: “it all starts with choosing the most beautiful horse, or the colours of silks that you like best.” What it comes down to is the same allure that keeps the horsemen themselves in the game, Naud says: it is the horses. “They are the most magnificent animals of all creation… they are the kings and queens of the day.”
More information on the events can be found at the Hippodrome Ormstown Raceway Facebook page, or the page for the Circuit régional des courses de chevaux du Québec.