After a lifetime in the game, horseman and track superintendent Doug Hie said there’s nothing like the summer vibe at the Fraserville, ON track near Peterborough.
by Sandra Snyder | Sponsored by Ontario Racing
Kawartha Downs will kick off its 47th season on May 11 and track superintendent Doug Hie said the five-eighths mile oval is in excellent condition in spite of the tough winter and wet spring Ontario has weathered.
“Because the track never had a horse on it from the end of September last year until the first of April this year, the track was super,” said Hie. “It really didn’t take a lot to have it right for training, and then yesterday (April 29) we graded it all up.”
Hie has seven horses of his own ready to qualify at the Fraserville oval this Saturday, May 4, so the veteran trainer/driver will get a first-hand feel for the surface he has been laboring over for the last month.
Hie’s farm is just down the road from Kawartha Downs and the horseman will make the bulk of his starts there this season, but the Cobourg, ON native has seen a lot of North America since he and older brothers Carman and Roger were introduced to standardbreds by their father Clifford in the late 1940s.
“The doctor told him to get a hobby. He said he was concentrating too much on his business. He used to buy livestock and take it to market,” Hie said. “Anyway, it got to be a pretty big business, and one day he was at the doctor’s office and the doctor told him, ‘You better get a hobby,’ so he bought a horse.
“Actually, Garth Gordon’s father, Jack Gordon, and dad were partners on the first few horses they had. He eventually sold the trucking business, the livestock business, and we were raised with the horses then full-time. We used to go to the track when we were small kids and eventually it just became full-time for us. Well, it became full-time for dad too, but Carman and Roger and I, it was full-time for us right from the get-go.”
After getting his training and driving licenses at 17, Doug Hie was a fixture at Peterborough’s Morrow Park and the Orono Fairgrounds before making the leap to the Ontario Jockey Club circuit, stabling a string of horses at Greenwood Raceway in Toronto and Garden City Raceway in St. Catharines.
“The first stake race I won, serious stake race, was a $50,000 Sires Stake at Garden City Raceway with a 2-year-old trotting filly and that was, I mean that was huge for me at that time. I think I was probably 20, 21 and that was huge to win a $50,000 race,” Hie said. “I was racing for $200 and $150 at Orono and Morrow Park when I started, within three or four years to win a $50,000 race — with 12 horses in it and starting from the 12-hole with a 2-year-old filly — that was quite a deal.”
Hie launched his career in the days before catch drivers, but he was always available to drive horses for other trainers and heading into this year’s Kawartha Downs meet he sits at 2,512 wins and $9.96 million in earnings as a driver. On the training front, he has tallied 589 wins and $3.75 million in earnings.
“There wasn’t very many people that just drove, well there wasn’t really any. Brent Davies came from the west, and they had horses of their own, but Brent was what I call a catch driver. Brent drove a lot of horses for a lot of people,” said Hie. “Everybody had their own stables, I mean big stables. Ronnie Feagan and Ron Waples and Keith Waples, it wasn’t unusual for those people to have 30 horses in their stable, (and) they drove their own. I drove for people that I knew that didn’t drive; sometimes it was people from home that came up to race in Toronto.”
After purchasing his farm in Fraserville in 1974 Hie, and his late wife Marlene, decided to head south for the winter and spent almost two decades wintering at Pompano Park (read a story about one of Hie’s 1977 Pompano stars here).
“One year, we went down with one horse. I worked with Sandy Fisher and had one horse, but I came home with five,” Hie said with a chuckle. “And sometimes I’d do the opposite, sometimes I’d go down with half a dozen and come home with three. I always said we should have kept a record and wrote the horses’ names down that we had over the years, because I don’t know how many it would be, but it would be a lot of horses.”
Among the horses that would top that record are free-for-allers Timely Archer (Good Time) and Big Brother (Laverne Hanover). From modest beginnings, both horses would earn more than $225,000 for owners the Van Stables.
“Big Brother had only ever raced once before we got him and he’d made a break and requalified. We bought him from Frank Conlin. He had brought him home from the states, and we bought him and he went from the maiden class to the free-for-all class, so that was pretty nice,” said Hie. “And Timely Archer had been a decent horse and then got sore, and then we got him and he got to be a free-for-all pacer. So they were nice.”
Hie also has a special fondness for trotters, among them homebred Hi Edith, who won four Ontario Sires Stakes events in her 2007 sophomore season, including a Grassroots Semifinal at Kawartha Downs. Hie and his late brother Roger bred the filly, with Roger handling training duties and Doug doing the driving. The daughter of Earl and Maritime Fidelity would go on to lifetime earnings of $390,771.
“I’ve had times where I had a lot of trotters and I’d come out with a pacer and people would say, ‘What are you doing with a pacer?’ Well right now I’ve got one trotter. Out of 14 horses I’ve got one trotter, they’re all pacers,” said Hie.
“Now I’m going to try and qualify a couple of the pacers free-legged and I always say that’s the next best thing to a trotter. I love trotters, I love working with them and trying to get them going, but it just works out whatever you have, that’s what you wind up with.”
While Hie does not have any standouts in his 2019 string, he does have a trio of 2-year-olds that have impressed him through the early stages of their development. Due to weather and a barn-wide bout with a virus all three will miss most, if not all, of their freshman season, but Hie is optimistic about 2020.
“Two of them are Sportswriters and the one is Hes Watching and I like them, I really like them, but it’s going to be fall before they’re ready, if we do continue on,” said the horseman. “They’re not going to be in the Sires Stakes this year, hopefully next year they’ll be good enough, but this year is just going to be a summer project.”
With 21 dates between May 11 and Sept. 28, Kawartha Downs is a summertime track and Hie said the environment reflects the area’s easygoing lakeside vibe.
“There’s a great customer base here in the summertime because they come from all over and they have cottages and trailers, it’s just a great customer fan base,” said Hie. “People love it. They love bringing their kids here, they’re close to the horses, and they try to do a lot of things now to give the people a good time for the three hours they are here — as most tracks do, we’re not alone there.
“There’s been horsepeople in this area forever, from Morrow Park days and Orono Fairgrounds and everything. It’s not like it was when it was 100 days a year, but it’s still a social event for people to show up, whether they have horses or used to have horses. There’s a lot of old timers that are pretty well out of the horses now, but they still come to the races on Saturday nights and they still like to socialise with everybody. It’s just the way it’s always been.”
Kawartha Downs is located in eastern Ontario, just south of Highway 115 on County Road 28, about 20 minutes north of the 401 and on the same longitude as Batavia, NY.
Hie said there are a wide variety of restaurants to choose from in Peterborough’s bustling downtown, which is less than 10 minutes from the racetrack. Home to Trent University and Fleming College, Peterborough also caters to the summer cottagers, campers and canoers enjoying the dozens of fresh water lakes and the Trent-Severn Waterway.
If you have a few extra hours before Kawartha’s 7 pm post time, Hie said the Peterborough Lift Locks are a must-see.
“If you want to see something spectacular, you have to go and see the lift locks,” said the horseman. “I think the one that’s here, don’t quote me on this, but I think it’s the biggest one as far as level-wise and the drop to it and everything. It’s just amazing to have something like that that was built more than 120 years ago.”