Fifty years of racing, winning and family.
That was pretty much the theme of the Salute to Kelly Sutherland & Chuckwagon Racing in Clarkson Hall at Evergreen Park on Saturday.
In an event put by Evergreen Park, the Chuckwagon Heritage Foundation and Stompede, Sutherland - who celebrated his 66th birthday the day after the event - was praised, kidded and cajoled by a group of speakers including long-time chuckwagon supporter Al Side; long-time Stompede volunteer Alex McDonald (who spoke on behalf of himself and former Stompede board member Glen Keddie, who couldn't make the event); former world boxing champion from Grande Prairie Willie deWit; Western Chuckwagon Association member Lane Kimble; Chuckwagon Heritage Association member Justin Tidd; and new Stompede president Trevor Denis.
Side's speech stretched back to the Kelly's early days in the sport in the 1960s and those involved, including people like Ralph Vigen, Dave Lewis, Tommy Sinclair, Tommy Dorchester, Archie Hackwell and Kelly's father Max. Hackwell was Kelly's first tarp sponsor and Max was an important builder of the sport. They, along with people like Side himself, Fred Tissington and others, were instrumental in forming Stompede in 1978.
McDonald, who spent years as a volunteer grooming the track at Stompede cutting figure-eights like no one else, said he was told by Keddie to "not blow smoke up anyone's _ss".
He didn't, talking about several Sutherland "adventures" including one that featured some interesting evenings at Sutherland's bar in Clairmont. He also told a story about looking for Kelly on the grounds of the Calgary Stampede and found him behind the bucking chutes sharing knee-slapping laughs, and a few beers, with a "little" guy. McDonald said that was the first time he ever met former Alberta premier Ralph Klein, who became a very good friend of Kelly's.
De Wit, who is now a judge based in Calgary, had some good-natured jabs to hand out and also praised the toughness of chuckwagon drivers. He said it was appropriate on his last night of racing at the Calgary Stampede Kelly ended the night with blood streaming down from his head after, de Wit said, he had been kicked by a horse..
He added, "a horse whisper had spoken with the horse and the horse told him he had wanted to do that for a long time."
Kimble, one of the most successful drivers on the WCA circuit, credits Sutherland for getting him started in the sport.
He got some horsepower from Sutherland - 12-time Calgary Rangeland Derby champion and 12-time World Professional Chuckwagon Association champion - and several other WPCA drivers and, handily won his first-ever race held at Stompede using a foursome of steeds that had hundreds of races under their belt.
Chuckwagon racing was so easy he was sure there would eventually be a sign - just like the one that says Home of Kelly Sutherland on it at the north entrance to the city - erected for him with "Home of Lane Kimble" on it.
On Day 2 of Stompede Kimble hit three barrels and at that point realized that winning over dozens of championships like Sutherland has might be a little more difficult than he thought. Put the sign on hold . . . winning races is more than just about having good horses!
Kimble praised Sutherland's dedication to the sport realizing, now that he has been in it for a few years, it's a year-round job of worry, planning and expertise.
He said he was also amazed with Sutherland's knowledge of horses relating a story about a time in Dawson Creek when he couldn't figure out why one of his horses wasn't pulling properly. He said he spent a lot of time trying to diagnose the problem checking out the horse from top to bottom and finally went to Sutherland, who walked into the barn and within seconds had it figured out. "Your horse has a pulled groin," said Sutherland, who walked out of the barn past a stunned Kimble scratching his head amazed at the quick, and correct, diagnosis.
Tidd and Denis, who have been heavily involved in the sport through their association with the Heritage Foundation and Stompede respectively, also heaped praise on Sutherland for putting Grande Prairie and the local chuckwagon racing scene on the map.
Mayor Bill Given gave greetings from the city comparing Sutherland to feisty just-retired councillor Helen Rice. County of Grande Prairie No. 1 Reeve Leanne Beaupre sent a recorded message telling Sutherland how much an inspiration he has been for County residents and those around the province, country and world.
And then Sutherland, who picked up the nickname ``King`` during his 50-year career, spoke.
His wife Debbie, who has been a backbone of the Sutherland racing operation for 50 years, was just 16 and Kelly 17 when they got married, he said.
He recalls telling his dad, Max, that he and Debbie were getting hitched. Kelly didn't have a job and money was a bit of a problem in the Sutherland family.
He said his dad was broke "and I was broker."
Max told him he wasn't going to work pumping gas so he phoned a friend and got him a job at a rig site in northern Alberta - three weeks on and a week off.
During one of those weeks off he and Debbie were married on a Wednesday and headed out on a honeymoon - to Pouce Coupe. They spent two days there and then "upgraded" for two more days to Dawson Creek . . . and then it was back to the rig for another three weeks.
Debbie and Kelly have three children - Tara, Mark (a WPCA driver) and Mandi as well as six grandchildren (grandson Dayton is also a driver) and one great-grandchild. Tara is married to WCA chuckwagon driver Dean Dreger. Kelly`s brother, Kirk, is also a driver as is Kirk`s son Mitch. Another brother, Murray, died in an accident several years ago.
Kelly, winner of the Grande Prairie Chuckwagon Stompede in 1979, talked about the importance of family and the role they played in his success. He said it was really tough on the family, sometimes with and sometimes without him, from May to September during chuckwagon racing season missing graduations, weddings and other events in Grande Prairie.
He said there are a lot of people who don't like him, but "they don't know me."
Those who know him know about him visiting children at a cancer clinic in Calgary three times a year to pick up their spirits and encourage them.
His father had cancer so Kelly has some experience with the disease. The doctors told Kelly that Max had six months to live after the initial diagnosis. When he told Max the bad news they agreed they weren't going to give up. They didn't, ensuring Max got treatment, kept positive and kept fighting. He lived for 13 years after that and that's the story Kelly can tell to those young people battling the disease thinking there is no hope.
Kelly, other speakers said, worked tirelessly to promote the sport and rolled his sleeves up to do such mundane things as spending hours picking rocks off of race tracks so drivers and horses would be safe; using his own resources to help shape tracks; sponsor events related to the sport of rodeo and chuckwagons racing; and helping out after the disastrous floods in High River.
He was also one of the first chuckwagon drivers who didn`t shy away from a reporter or camera and was, as Al Side said, ``a fresh face for the sport``.
Sutherland said it didn't matter if fans in the stands were cheering for him or against him, the important thing was they were there supporting the sport.
Kelly said, for years, he and former racing legend Tommy Glass of High River didn't get along.
"It never came to fisticuffs," he said, "but we did bump chests a few times."
That all changed in 2011 when the Royal Couple, Kate and William, visited Calgary.
Kelly said Glass had his nose a bit out of joint when he, and not Tommy, was selected to officially meet the couple while Glass had to remain in the seat of the chuckwagon.
Breaking all protocol Sutherland not only showed the Royals some photos and other items from the time the Queen was in Calgary and had her photo taken with Kelly at the Stampede, he also patted William on the back (a huge no-no) saying he would make a good outrider and then also advised him he should ``go sit on the seat of the chuckwagon with Tommy Glass - he`s a world champion driver.``
Sutherland said, ``Tom and I have been good ever since then.``
Kelly also talked about the sport and how expensive it is and the importance of financial and fan support. He said he has spoken to the organizers of the Calgary Stampede about the fact prize money has not been raised in 15 years. He says he is going to remain involved in the promotion of the sport.
Grande Prairie will always be his home, he said, and he is going to ``give back`` to the community in as many ways as he can.
His first two years in the sport he was an outrider and is looking forward to getting back onto horses and spending time with his grandchildren, including a granddaughter who is in love with them and would ``ride when it`s 20 below out.``
If they ride out to Evergreen Park they`ll be able to trot by a road sign that says ``Kelly Sutherland Way`` - the fist-ever road named after anyone at the Park. That honour was bestowed on Sutherland at Saturday`s event. He also received a beautiful silver belt buckle that included his name, the words ``King`` and ``50 Years".
Others said Sutherland`s records will never be broken, but the King himself feels, because of how sport has changed with training, better athletes and other advances his marks will fall at some point.
It will probably take more than 50 years!
After 50 years, the career of the greatest champion in chuckwagon racing history has come to a close.
Kelly “The King” Sutherland hung up the reins at the end of the 2017 World Professional Chuckwagon Association season.
He is being honored with A Salute To Kelly Sutherland And Chuckwagon Racing in Clarkson Hall at Evergreen Park on Saturday, Oct. 28.
“The Grande Prairie Stompede is the signature event annually at Evergreen Park so we are delighted to be able to host this salute to Kelly on Oct. 28,” said Evergreen Park General Manager Dan Gorman. “The Evergreen Park board initiated the idea of honoring Kelly this fall and both Stompede and the Chuckwagon Heritage Foundation jumped in quickly to be a part of it.
“It is going to be a wonderful event and tribute to a man and the sport of chuckwagon racing. Kelly has done so much for chuckwagon racing and the Grande Prairie area over the last 50 years. It is fitting he is being honored with this salute on the 28th.”
Sutherland leaves the sport as a 12-time Calgary Stampede GMC Rangeland Derby champion: 12-time World Champion Chuckwagon Driver; a six-time Calgary Stampede aggregate winner; and an eight-time Ponoka Stampede champion. He also won Stompede II in 1979.
Sutherland is the only driver to have competed in all 40 Grande Prairie Stompedes.
“The legacy and contribution from Kelly Sutherland has placed Grande Prairie region on a world stage and brought recognition to the sport of chuckwagon racing,” said Stompede president Terri Sudnik. “His investment into Canadian western heritage has led the foundation for the Grande Prairie Stompede to give back to our community over the past 40 years.”
Sutherland is a founding member of Stompede and was its first president. Over one million patrons have watched him competed at Stompede since 1978 - an event that contributes $6.5 million dollars back into the local economy annually.
“On behalf of the Grande Prairie Stompede, we tip our hats to the legend Kelly Sutherland and say Thank You!”
The Chuckwagon Heritage Foundation has also been heavily involved in the sport both at Stompede and around the Peace Country with amateur events.
“For 50 years Kelly Sutherland has dedicated his life to the sport of chuckwagon racing and representing Grande Prairie on the world stage,” said Chuckwagon Heritage Foundation president Justin Tidd. “The Grande Prairie Chuckwagon Heritage Foundation is proud to be able to celebrate this amazing accomplishment with Kelly and Debbie and to honor ‘The King’ in his retirement from the sport he shared with the fans of chuckwagon racing for so many years.”
The Oct. 28th event starts at 6 p.m. and continues until 1 a.m. and will include a buffet meal, midnight lunch, special guest speakers and lots and lots of memories.
Tickets are sold out!
Evergreen Park Racing Club 2017 is in the books . . . and the 2018 version is officially underway.
The Evergreen Park board, on Wednesday, officially approved the formation of Evergreen Park Racing Club 2018.
The decision to continue the Club was no doubt made easier by the success of the first-ever racing club in 2017.
Evergreen Park General Manager Dan Gorman made the announcement about the 2018 Club at the 2017 Club windup at Evergreen Park on Thursday night at Badger Stadium at the Park.
It was not just a great year for the Club, but for The Horses At Evergreen Park as well, said Gorman.
Gorman revealed there was a 58 per cent increase in the handle at The Horses At Evergreen Park this year over 2016 . . . and some of that can be attributed to the Evergreen Park Racing Club 2017.
Club horses raced during the July-August pari-mutuel schedule seven times and each time a Club horse was featured Club members came out in droves. Attendance, especially among the younger demographic, was up overall over the season.
Gorman also said the fact there were more and fuller races was a factor in the increased interest and handle. Evergreen Park provided free sawdust bedding for all of the 350-plus horses over the summer and, says Gorman, that encouraged more owners to bring horses to Grande Prairie for the summer.
Most weekends there were over 20 races and most of those races had six to eight horses in each of them.
Full race cards create more interest, more betting and a better handle.
It was also announced on Thursday that each 2017 Club member, a total of 106 of them, would be getting a cheque for $136.80.
Racing Club manager Norm Tremblay, who has owned horses for years, said being able to give Club members a return at the end of a racing season is somewhat unusual. Tremblay (left) is shown in the photo with the first 2018 members - Jan and Joe Gass - and Gorman on the right.
It was announced Thursday that Tremblay will be returning as manager for 2018 and the Club will also be retaining the services of renowned trainer Robertino Diodoro to help the Club “scout” for horses for 2018.
"I would like to thank and congratulate our Club members," said Tremblay. "And to thank Evergreen Park for the support.
"I also want to thank Allen Goodsell (assistant trainer to head trainer Robertino Diodoro) and his team for the horse care and training.”
Tremblay said the Club will likely purchase at least two more thoroughbreds and could upgrade somewhat this year for better quality horses.
Improving on the 2017 numbers would be impressive.
Club horses were in the money – first, second or third – over 70 per cent of the time and won 44 per cent of the time. The best numbers of any owners at Evergreen Park this past summer.
Red N Black Attack raced four times at Evergreen Park and won twice; Xtreme Spell raced twice and was first once; and the third Club horse that appeared at The Horses At Evergreen Park, Dman Doughty, was in the gates once and finished fifth. Another Club horse, Command The Land, raced twice under Club colors at Northlands Park in Edmonton and won once, but was claimed in that winning race and didn’t appear in Grande Prairie.
Tremblay said the 2018 Club horses may again train in Edmonton before venturing to Grande Prairie for the summer season.
For many of the Club members it was their first experience with the sport.
“It was so much fun following our horses and learning about racing,” said Club member Garett Dika, who had never been involved in the sport. “I didn’t get out to many races, but kept on top of it through the Evergreen Park website and the Club Facebook page. It was a lot of fun.”
Dika said he had no idea what a claiming race was until Command The Land was lost to another owner in the spring.
“It was explained to me that’s horse racing. It’s a way to keep things honest and even and I’m all for that. I found out a lot about the sport and I’m looking forward to being a member again in 2018.”
At the windup Thursday many of the 2017 Club members who were in attendance signed up to be part of the 2018 club. Jan Gass was the first returnee and her husband, Joe, the first new recruit for 2018.
Anyone wanting to join the Club can do so in several ways.
It can be done online at www.evergreenpark.ca or by picking up a registration form at the Evergreen Park administration offices in the ENTREC Centre; at the Pines Restaurant & Casino; or by contacting the Park at 780-532-3279 and having a membership for sent.
For more information on the Club contact Tremblay at 780518-7914.
The 2017 The Horses At Evergreen Park season ended with purple Frisbees being tossed at a purple tractor tire on August 27, but things also came to an end with lots of smiles.
Mr. Mike’s Paint The Park Purple – Race For The Cure was the final event after 22 days and eight weekends of racing at Gordon Badger Stadium and the smiling was done by more than just the winner of the Frisbee toss.
The entire season was a success – good crowds and an increased handle.
The only downer was the fact one day of racing had to be cancelled because of a smoke hazard caused by the forest fires in British Columbia. For the most part, all of the other races were held under sunny skies and warm weather conditions.
Highlight of the season was the Alberta Derby at Evergreen Park, held on Sunday, Aug. 30. That event drew the largest crowd in two years following a rainy 2016 Derby Day.
The fact that over 350 horses ventured to Evergreen Park for the season was also a plus. Pretty much every night at least five and for the most part six, seven or eight horses left the starting gate for each race. And there were plenty of races with the minimum being six topping out at 10. One weekend there were 25 races over the three days.
The 2017 Mr. Mike’s Paint The Park Purple Stakes was won by Beach Premier. Jockey Larry Munoz was on board. The horse is trained by Floyd Arthur and owned by Excel Farms.
Blandford Stewart ended up the top jockey when the dust had settled at the end of the season and Lyle Magnuson was the top trainer.
Another success at the Park was the first Evergreen Park Racing club 2017. Over 100 people signed up to be “owners” and three times they got to make an appearance in the winner’s circle – twice with Red N Black Attack and once with Extreme Spell. A horse the Club had purchased, Command The Land, also won a race at Northlands Park in Edmonton. In that race he was claimed so the Club lost him, but members still enjoyed following the horse as he ran all summer in Edmonton.
The Club horses have been sold and could make appearances at Edmonton or Lethbridge in the fall.
The 2017 version of the Club will be dissolved soon with owners receiving their share of any profits and Evergreen Park Racing Club 2018 will created and, no doubt, looking forward to The Horses At Evergreen Park next season.
Local racing fans can continue to watch, and wager, on the horses at the Pines Restaurant & Casino. There are 11 screens and two self-bettors in the facility.
By SVJETLANA MLINAREVIC
There is nothing more enjoyable for adults than watching children play the role of an adult, as well, there is nothing more exciting for a child than taking on the role of a grown-up. This was the case at this year’s Peace Country Classic Agri-Show children’s auction and workshop, said Agri-Show president Sonja Raven.
“I think they like it because they’re getting a chance to try something that’s grown-up, but for stuff they can relate to. They’re bidding on stuff they would want and they get a feel of, ‘I’ve seen Dad or I’ve seen Mom bid for stuff – look at me, I can do the same thing.’
“Everybody is always fascinated with that auctioneer patter and to learn what the tricks are to that, it’s like, ‘Oooh, I’ve got a really cool skill that most of my friends won’t have.’ I think it’s the novelty and it’s just exciting! You look at those kids and it’s just awesome.”
Despite the freezing temperatures this year, Raven said the show went exceptionally well with vendor slots selling out both indoors and outdoors.
“Despite the horribly cold weather, that made it a little challenging for our outdoor exhibitors, but they still said it was good and in speaking with a number of vendors inside, they were really pleased with it. They said there was really good traffic and they were really happy they came.”
As for attendees, Raven said the overall impression was that there were more people visiting the show this year than last. She attributed the rise in attendance to a diversity in programming.
“People are starting to realize that it’s not just a farmer show. It’s an agriculture show, but there’s things for everybody, there’s stuff for whoever wants to be kicking the tires can kick the tires and the rest of the family can (do what they want). There’s stuff for kids, there’s stuff for spouses. I think it’s that diversity (that makes it popular) and the kids auction was a huge success.”
As for urbanites coming out to the show, Raven said there was strong showing of city folk, but rural visitors still comprised the majority of attendees. First and foremost the event is an agriculture show which means the emphasis will be on the rural components, but she said there are components that might be interesting to urbanites such as the petting zoo, the horse show, the bull sale, and agricultural information sessions.
One of the draws of the Agri-Show is the bull sale which draws both urban and rural watchers. Out of 75 bulls sold, this year’s top bull, a Simmental, went for $15,500, from Willow Creek Farms; the average bid in the auction was $6,776.
Willow Creek’s top selling bull was followed by a JayDawn Farms’ Simmental for $15,000 and a Charolais for $10,000. The two farms have been selling their bulls at the Agri-Show for 14 years.
“It was very successful with lots of probably record number of bidders registered. It was very good,” said JayDawn Farms owner Jason McQuaig, attributing the success of the sale to the cattle industry being in an upswing, good advertising, a good payment plan, discounts, and extensive delivery service.
“We stand behind our product and guarantee our product, which is very, very important and local support is outstanding that we get from all our neighbours and people from the north.”
Raven said planning for next year will begin once the board has a chance to meet in the next couple of weeks.
“I think it’ll be a really good, fruitful discussion. We’re very pleased with how it went this year,” she said.