It’s not every day Canada gets to claim credit for a winner of one of the world’s great horse races, but the Maple Leaf is stamped all over I’ll Have Another’s victory in Kentucky last week. I didn’t get to watch the race live because I was busy making a living at my ‘other’ career – designing dressage freestyles – but I have of course got myself up to speed (pun fully intended) by watching a web replay. Am I the only one who finds watching an exciting horse race so emotional I want to cheer, laugh and cry all at once? Horses are such heroes. What heart.

Anyway, I want to share with you my one degree of separation from Mario Gutierrez. He spent the last six years racing at Hastings Park before the big break that took him to California and ultimately to the Derby winner’s circle.  For the past three years I have raced my loyal dog Chorizo at Hastings Park during the wiener races which take place in between horse races on the third weekend in July. I’ve blogged about the great fun had by all at the wiener races, and even posted video of Chorizo’s efforts.  It’s not just possible but probable that Super Mario was in at least one of the races I’ve watched between wiener heats. I might even have bet on a horse he was riding. That’s almost like being pals with him, right?

Racetracks across North America are struggling to stay afloat. Ontario has special problems thanks to the provincial government, but Hastings Park in Vancouver –  which has one of the most spectacularly beautiful settings for a racetrack anywhere in my opinion – has more than its fair share of troubles.  There is now a casino at the track, and on a Saturday afternoon there are more people playing the one armed bandits than there are watching the horses. I passed through the track one Wednesday evening during the Pacific National Exhibition (which no longer has a horse show – it’s not only racing that has been replaced by other forms of entertainment) in 2010. The last race at 10 pm was about to get under way, and there could not have been more than a dozen people in the grand stand area.

Vancouver newspapers are bristling with renewed optimism for Hastings Park, riding the wave of excitement created by a talented young Mexican jockey who honed his skills there.  I’d be lying to say I share their level of hope, but what the heck. It certainly can’t hurt to believe that a gossamer thread connecting Vancouver’s racing community to the Kentucky Derby will give the local racing world a badly needed bump.