To call Edward Tracey a veteran of standardbred racing would be the cliched understatement.
“I was born in 1943 and got my license to drive when I was 15,” he said as he relaxed in his trailer on the backstretch of Cornerstone Raceway in the city.
For Tracey, 69, standardbred racing was simply in his blood from birth. His father Hugh drove horse, his brother Pat had his license at 12, and brother Don is still active in the sport, including being at the Yorkton.
“It really is (in your blood),” he said, adding once there it is pretty hard to walk away from.
“I’ve seen the world as a driver, from California to Florida. I’ve driven in St. Louis, Kentucky,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of the world.
Tracey has also paced miles in six Canadian provinces.
“I haven’t been to the Maritimes yet,” he said.
When pointed out he had used the word yet, Tracey said it’s still something he wants to do, adding he has been told the Gold Cup and Saucer in Charlottetown, PEI is a great holiday. “I’d like to see it,” he said, adding once there he’d be up to drive a bit too.
Of course in Tracey’s case it has helped he is one of the most successful drivers to ever come out of Saskatchewan. He was born in the Weyburn area.
Through his 54-years of driving Tracey has drove more than 3,000 winners and captured purses in excess of $1 million.
Tracey said the 3000th win came in California, but he hadn’t been aware it was benchmark victory until after the fact.
“There’s been probably another 100 since,” he said.
So are wins still something he gets excited about?
Tracey said going to the winner’s circle always feels good.
“I won with Skittles N Beer the other night (in Yorkton) … You’ve got to celebrate it a bit,” he said with a grin.
Skittles N Beer has actually been a very steady horse for Tracey. He bred the now eight-year-old gelding which has lifetime earnings of just under $65,000, and a lifetime best time of a crisp 1:56.3.
For comparison Tracey said he recalls his lifetime fastest time was “probably :52.”
The veteran driver said times in the sport are getting faster than when he started more than a half century ago. He said it’s a combination of “better horses, better tracks and better equipment … The track means a lot and weather means so much to track conditions.”
As for all the money he has won, not that the driver gets it all, Tracey said it has helped keep him on the track. He said it has become far more difficult to make a dollar in the sport.
“If I didn’t have money put away I couldn’t stay in the business,” he said, adding he isn’t sure how younger drivers and trainers manage.
Among the 3000-plus wins Tracey recalls his first. Tracey also remembers his first win. It was at Weyburn with Silver Direct, about a week after getting his license.
He is also is quick to pick his most memorable win.
It came with Quill Lamont at Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland.
“The Miller (feature race) for a purse of $250,000,” he said, with a smile.
Tracey said Quill Lamont was a special horse.
“We bought her in Kentucky,” said Tracey, adding he had a partner on the horse. “… You go a lot on the breeding. The breeding means a lot.”
Tracey said bloodlines are the first indication of what a colt might become.
In this case the pedigree was Hanover breeding.
“I always wanted a Hanover … He was one of the top sires in the sport.”
But Tracey was quick to add you need to look at the animal up close too.
“You don’t just buy a horse sight unseen,” he said, noting they even took a veterinarian with him to give the animal a closer look.
Tracey said over the years “I’ve had a lot of good horses … But he (Quill Lamont) was the best horse I ever owned; by quite a bit. I’ve had a lot of horses win a lot of races, but they weren’t up to his calibre. He was just a bit above the rest.”
The win was bigger than the big pay cheque, it raised Tracey’s profile as a driver who could win big races.
“It gave me better drives when I got back (to Canada),” he said.
While the horse proved itself, Tracey said you never know if an animal will be a winner.
“We didn’t know but we were hoping,” he said. “There were no guarantees with it.”
Over the years Tracey said there have been horses which fell short of expectations — well short. In such cases it isn’t easy sending a horse down the road, “You don’t want to give up on them,” he said.
When you get a good horse, you want to keep them. Tracey said most veteran horses know exactly what’s going on when on the track. He turned back to Skittles N Beer.
“Older horses go around the track by themselves,” he said. “He’d stay out of trouble. He could be out there alone.”
But trouble on the track is also part on the sport. Tracey at 69 was in a wreck in 2011 at Cornerstone Raceway, and another in Lacombe earlier this year.
“Most of the top drivers will have spills. It only takes that much,” he said, making a gesture with thumb and forefinger being about an inch apart “to his a wheel or something.”
The accident in Yorkton last year caused a concussion, but that was minor. “I was driving two days later. In fact I won with the same horse two days later,” he said.
The worst wreck Tracey has been in came years ago “I broke my leg,” he said, adding it was the femur bone about an inch below the hip.
“I was off six months with that.”
Tracey takes the risk of injury as just part of the sport.
“If I was going to get hurt bad, or killed, I’d rather do it behind a horse than anywhere else,” he said.
Tracey added he used to like driving truck -- he and his brother still own a trucking company in Alberta -- but he said with the way other drivers are today he figures the highway “is more dangerous than the track.”
But Tracey likes owning the horses he drives.
“When you drive for somebody else they can tell you where to go,” he said, adding he likes being in control of what he does. “When I’m driving for myself I can load up and be gone in 20-minutes,” he said.
So Tracey still raises horses too, sometimes breeding a moneymaker such as Skittles N Beer and sometimes not. He recalled one year having 22 colts on the farm.
“I never got one of them to the races,” he said, adding he sent the whole group down the road.
But he’s still at it. He remarks on his way from the track in Edmonton out to Cloverdale in B.C. later this year he’ll pick up a colt at his farm at Leduc to break while being out west to race.
“We all want to raise that champion ourselves,” he said.
And sometimes you just get a steady performer that obviously holds a special spot for Tracey. Skittles N Beer brings a smile to his weathered face,
“He’s been a real nice horse,” he said, adding when in Alberta the pair often head to the mountains so he can ride the race horse.
While at tracks most of the year Tracey said his wife Aldnoa and daughters Barb and Betty run the farm.
“They like the track as much as I do,” he said, adding his daughters were at a horse show in Ponoka just last week.
Tracey might have a house in Alberta, but his home is the camper area at the front of his horse trailer, one he has dragged to tracks across North America for years.
This year he expects to be in Leduc for Christmas, but it will be a pit stop. In fact Tracey noted his daughters were born 13 years apart.
“You can see I don’t get home often,” he said.
So how long before Tracey heads to Leduc and stays there?
It won’t happen according to him. When asked when he will retire from racing he simply responds “when I die,” then he adds “I could retire now, but I don’t want to.”
But what happens if racing is dead in Saskatchewan, a possibility with the announced provincial government grant cut earlier this year? Racing is taking hits in Ontario and Manitoba too.
Tracey said the business has always changed. He remembers racing in places like Weyburn, Nipawin, Prince Albert and Melfort in the past, spots long ago lost to the sport.
“If I’ve got a good enough horse I will find someplace for them to race,” he said.