The Horses At Evergreen Park summer pari-mutuel live racing program returns to Gordon Badger Stadium at Evergreen Park July 8-10 and runs until Aug.28.
Post-times this season are every Friday at Saturday at 6:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday and the odd holiday Monday. Starting Aug. 19 post time will move to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
Pat Hill, racing manager at Evergreen Park, said the horse racing program is inexpensive for the entire family. Not only is admission free, but on each race day there's a kids' play area with bouncy castles and sand pile, as well as on-site food vendors.
"I think it's going to be an amazing year," said Hill.
"For those that are new (to the area), or who haven't been out here before, come to the race meet. It's free; you don't have to pay to get in. You bet if you want to bet; there's people there that if you've never bet they'll try and help you."
"We're working on our marketing plan to improve everything every weekend and have something exciting and new going on. We've got vendors underneath the grandstands; we try to have one under there every weekend."
This year's Alberta Derby is being held in conjunction with the Grande Prairie Derby.
"We're making our (Alberta Derby) bigger and better than it was last year, so we have more money for the Alberta Derby which runs on July 31," said Hill, noting purse monies are up from last year.
"I think it'll be our hugest day. We push the hats and the fascinators and the tea to get the women more involved and get them interested in wearing hats and really making it like a Kentucky Derby with getting everyone dressed up. It's just not the casual look. Some of the ladies come dressed in dresses and big hats. It just makes it fun."
Behind the scenes, back at the Evergreen Park horse stables, it's similar to a small community.
Hill said there's 40 horse trainers, 15 jockeys from Jamaica, Mexico and Canada, as well as space to accommodate more than 400 horses.
"We have horses coming out of Edmonton, some horses coming out of the States, so everybody enjoys coming back to this park because its so huge and lots of room and lots of space," said Hill.
"We've got quite a bit of pony riders coming this year that they're the ones that take the horses out and pony them to the gates, so we've got lots of them."
The track is also highly regarded among horse racers and Hill said it's a credit to the track crew.
"We always do upgrades to the track and we always keep it in mint shape. Our track guys here are very, very good with keeping the track up and they're always out there changing something, or picking rocks and just making it better for (the horses) to run," said Hill.
Horse racing family affair for McNally
Back at the horse stables, Kathy McNally and her team have been hard at work this week preparing for the opening race weekend at Evergreen Park.
McNally, a local horse owner and trainer, will have horses in several races this weekend.
Her crew consists of her brothers Herb (an ex-jockey) and Bruce, as well as Abelone Petersen (pony rider/groom), Josh Budgell (groom), Carl Herbert (jockey), Alexis Martinson (galloping), and her son and three-and-a-half year-old grandson Chance.
"With horse racing, yes you have to improve your stock, by getting better stock and it's always a challenge. I love it," said Kathy.
"It's not the trainer who makes (the stable), it's everyone on the barn. It's a family thing. My brother (Herb) used to ride and my brother (Bruce) is handicap, but it's coming... he works on the gate. It's just really nice to have them involved."
Kathy said she has 13 horses and two ponies in their stock.
Herbert and Kathy are reunited this season after nine years apart and have previously won several races together.
The team is quite happy with how their stock looks this season.
"We've improved the stable (this year), which always helps," said Herb.
"We're still working and hoping on a derby horse. We're just crossing our fingers," noted Kathy, with a smile.
"I'm hoping I have a strong stable. I feel like we do, but I have strong help. I have very good help and a lot of support." "The horse will tell you when they're ready and when they want to enter in between us doing our jobs here."
Horse racing for isn't a part-time job for Kathy and her crew.
There's long days preparing the stock for racing.
"I don't know (if people) realize that we get up at 5 a.m. in the morning," said Kathy.
"After they pony or gallop, they get magnetic blankets on back on track and get mudded. There's all that kind of leg work. (People) don't realize all the work that goes on."
DERBY DAY (July 31)
Derby Day goes Sunday, July 31 and includes the Grande Prairie Derby and the Alberta Derby At Evergreen Park.The Grande Prairie Derby is for three-year-old thoroughbreds. Allowance stake horses are preferred based on money earned. The race is a mile with a purse of $15,000 plus horsemen’s fees of $150. The Alberta Derby if for three-year olds with highest lifetime money earners preferred. It is a mile and 1/16th with a purse of $50,000 plus added fees. The Peace Country Stakes is also being held on July 31. It is for two-year-olds with Class B track horses preferred. It is 5 ½ furlongs with a purse of $9,000 plus horseman’s fees of $150.
DERBY DAY BRUNCH
Part of the Derby Day experience is a Derby Day Brunch. It goes at 11 a.m. under the grandstand at Gordon Badger Stadium. Cost is $25 for adults and $10 for children. You can purchase your Derby Day Brunch tickets online at www.evergreenpark.ca. If there are any tickets remaining they will be available at the door on Derby Day.