by Dave Briggs
Driver Jody Jamieson said he’s more fortunate than most in Ontario’s horse racing community, but he’s worried about what he sees from his colleagues rapidly fleeing the locked-down province to race their horses in the United States just to stay solvent.
“If they don’t make a move here soon, they are going to be out of the business,” said the three-time Canadian Driver of the Year (2007, 2009, 2011) and two-time World Driving Champion (2001 and 2011). “You can say that the horses are going to come back (to Ontario) and the horsepeople are going to come back when racing comes back (after the lockdown is over), and hopefully that’s the case, but I don’t think there’s any guarantee that they are. People are having a really hard time feeding their horses now. This is the third lockdown inside a year and it’s taken its toll on horses and horsepeople.”
Jamieson said a telling sign is that many larger stables — such as Ben Baillargeon, Anthony MacDonald, Richard Moreau and Luc Blais — are shipping horses to the U.S.
“Those guys are the ones that made all the money last year and if they can’t sit through another shut down for a month, six weeks, two months, what have you, how are the guys that didn’t have a good go or just had an average year last year doing?”
On the driving front, many of the nation’s top drivers have already left the province or will do so soon to race in the U.S. Trevor Henry and two-time Canadian Driver of the Year Louis-Philippe Roy (2018, 2019) are bound for Harrah’s Hoosier Park in Indiana. Reigning Canadian Driver of the Year Bob McClure and 2017 Driver of the Year Doug McNair have landed at the Meadowlands and will drive at a number of eastern tracks. Jamieson is headed for Tioga Downs for its May 1 season opener.
“For me, it’s all based around time with my kids. I don’t want to leave my kids for weeks at a time…Tioga kind of fit into my plans to do a little bit of work and be home through the week while the kids are doing home schooling,” said Jamieson who arrived on Tioga as his destination something by accident.
“I was on the phone talking with a buddy of mine. He wanted to send his horses somewhere and we got looking around and talking about it and thought Tioga would be a good place to get young horses started before they come back to Ontario for the Sires Stakes, so that’s where it all came from. He said, ‘Would you be down there to drive them?’ and I just thought about it for two seconds and then said, ‘Why the hell not? Of course, I’ll go down there and drive.’ It’s an easy decision to say yes, but coming back I’ll have to quarantine unless I get an exemption.”
In the meantime, Jamieson said the prevailing emotion in Ontario’s horse racing community is anger.
“Obviously, the biggest frustration is that the government hasn’t looked to horse racing and seen its perfect safety record with (COVID-19) in harness racing. People are mad that (Ontario premier Doug) Ford won’t look at that,” Jamieson said.
“You look at playgrounds being open or golf clubs being open and hockey being played and people are frustrated. I know (Ford) walked back closing the playgrounds, but not being able to play golf? That’s silliness, so I can get behind that. I’m not even a big golfer, but I get behind that you’re outside and how the hell is Coronavirus going to get you or how are you going to spread it outside? How many guys are in a hockey arena, side by side? It’s entertainment and I love it. Thank God, we’re allowed to watch hockey. I don’t know what the hell we’d do if we weren’t allowed to watch hockey, but the thing is, the cost to the industry from not being allowed to race while all these other things are being allowed to operate when we have a 100 per cent safety record… that really pissed people off.
“You get elected officials as well that aren’t returning phone calls or emails, it just drives you crazy. You can’t get any answers. It might not be the answer you want to hear, but just give us some information.”
Despite a trying year and rising numbers of COVID-19 positives in Ontario, Jamieson said there have been some small blessings during the pandemic.
“I do feel like I live a normal life now. I’m home at night,” he said. “It’s different. I wouldn’t call it nice, because I like being at the track and I like the idea of all day getting ready to prep and go to the track, but I’ve been noticing lately that I’m home. I live a normal life, like normal people do. They come home after work and they do their thing with their family and that’s it. I just haven’t done that for so long that I find it definitely different.”
Beyond watching hockey, Jamieson said he has even started a new hobby with his new-found free time.
“I’ve actually taken up cooking… I’ve been watching cooking shows and cooking, not every night, but almost every night. I’m cooking for (my kids) and cooking healthy meals… When I was going to the track I wasn’t going to be able to do anything like that. I never learned to cook, either, until the last little while and now I have a hankering for it and I really enjoy doing it.”
Though, if given the chance, he’d trade his new hobby for a return to racing in a heartbeat.