Veteran horseman Ray Gemmill

Veteran Fraser Downs horseman Ray Gemmill retires

A retirement bash is planned Sunday in the backstretch kitchen for a man who was instrumental in building Surrey's landmark racetrack.

Veteran driver, owner and trainer Ray Gemmill, a legend of the Cloverdale Raceway in Surrey’s historic heart, is calling it a day, stepping away from a career in harness racing that spans six decades.

On Sunday, after the races, a retirement pot luck celebration is planned in the backstretch kitchen for a man who was instrumental in building the landmark racetrack.

Gemmil’s career was already well underway when he came out west from Orangeville, ON, with Jim Keeling Sr. and other investors to found the Cloverdale Raceway, now known as Fraser Downs Racetrack and Casino, his base for 38 years.

On opening day, on Jan. 1, 1976, Gemmil drove the racetrack’s first winner – a horse named Guy Dominion owned by nine members of the Vancouver Canucks.

“I don’t remember a whole lot about the race, but I remember the celebration later,” he told Standardbred Canada in 2010 about the group of NHLers.

“Those boys sure knew how to party.”

He retired as a driver in 1991, but he’s continued to own and train horses in the subsequent decades, earning a solid reputation as a respected and well-liked horseman.

Gemmill once told racing columnist and former jockey Tom Wolski (who has just been inducted into B.C’s Horse Racing Hall of Fame) he realized he wasn’t going to be a superstar, but, “I made a living. I was a better trainer than a driver, put it that way.”

When asked by Wolski’s SportOfKingsTV how it was possible to last so long in the business, Gemmill smiled and laughed. “I don’t know,” he shrugged.

Gemmill’s passion for horses has always come first, according to Harness Racing B.C. executive director Jackson Wittup, who says Gemmill bought his first horse at 27. His favourite was a pony named Innocent Bob, bred by his father, and who raced until the age of 15.

A family friend encouraged Gemmill to keep doing something he loved.

“Not many people truly love their jobs,” Gemmill said.

Remarkably, at 84, Gemmill isn’t the only octogenarian drawing on years of experience to hone a new generation of champions at Fraser Downs.

He’s one of eight men in their 80s at the Cloverdale racetrack who are still active in the sport.

There’s Bill Young, 87, Marcel Bouvier, 82, Dan Ingram, 84, Leo Laballe, 88, Vianney Archambault, 86, Richard Craig, and Magne Ness, 82 – all involved in live racing this season as trainers and owners.

It’s a punishing schedule – cleaning stalls, exercising and training the horses as much as six times a week – then there are two days of live racing, Friday nights and Sunday afternoons during the season.

The lure of the next big win might explain their commitment; on Nov. 28, one of Ingram’s horses won a race. And, two weeks earlier, horses trained by Bouvier (Secret Identity) and Young (Lisvinnie) had wins.

When asked what has contributed to their longevity in the sport, Wittup, who helms the association that represents owners, trainers, drivers and breeders, said they’d all told him, “‘The passion of the horse’ had kept them in the game so long. These particular eight also indicated that they needed a reason to get off the couch and to keep their minds active.”

Then there’s the breed.

“The Standardbred horse in general is so easy to work with, so I’m sure that makes a big difference.”

Wittup suspects the cold weather is the biggest reason behind Gemmill’s retirement this December. “I think he would have hung in there a little longer if we raced in the summer.”

Just Posted

Cloverdale town hall adresses climate change and loss of biodiversity

Meeting co-hosted by Cloverdale-Langley City MP John Aldag, Camp We Empower draws about 70 people

PHOTOS: Surrey designer uses toilet paper to make a dress for annual Toronto show

‘The dress is very experimental and avante garde,’ says Guildford-based Alex S. Yu

Police issue warning after four overdoses in North Delta

Police and emergency health services use naloxone to revive four overdose victims Thursday morning

New police force in Surrey must avoid VPD, RCMP errors made in Pickton case: Oppal

Boots are scheduled to be on the ground by spring 2021

Surrey reacts to policing plan getting the green light

Former mayor, councillors and residents weigh in on the Public Safety Minister approving the transition

Trudeau vows to stand firm against ‘increasingly assertive’ China

China has accused Canada of meddling in its affairs

Conan turns to the Property Brothers for tips on buying Greenland

Jonathan Scott suggests removing glaciers and mountains to bring in ‘more natural light’

Forests minister visits B.C. town hit by multiple mill shutdowns

A third of Mackenzie turns out for rally, not much to cheer about

B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

Federal government says officials are seeing the same thing off Alaska and Washington state

North Van music teacher accused of sexual misconduct involving girls

Police believe other victims could be out there after the arrest of Lamar Victor Alviar

B.C. family stranded in Croatia desperate to come home

Funds being raised to bring back mom and two children

B.C. man on trial for daughters’ murders says an intruder broke in

Andrew Berry takes stand in his defense for December 2017 deaths of young daughters

‘Plenty of time for a deal’: Teachers’ union expects kids back in school on Sept. 3

BCTF says class size, composition at the heart of the issue

Most Read