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

Surrey’s mayor-elect McCallum has big promises to keep

From estimated 337, 289 eligible voters in Surrey, 109,791 votes were cast for 32.5 per cent turnout

SURREY FIRST, burst: How the ruling slate earned just one council seat

Mayor Linda Hepner thinks another ‘entity’ will replace her slate

Early morning crash in Surrey on Sunday sends three to hospital

Traffic crash at 4 a.m. at 152nd and 88th Avenue. Police say intersection closed for “some time.”

THE VICTORY: Doug McCallum is Surrey’s mayor once again

Safe Surrey Coalition has huge night, taking all of city council but one seat

THE DEFEAT: Tom Gill concedes to Doug McCallum in Surrey mayoral race

Only one Surrey First candidate, Linda Annis, has been elected to city council

Tommy Chong says cannabis legalization makes him proud to be a Canadian

Legendary marijuana advocate and comedian celebrates cultural milestone at Kelowna event

Fraser Valley man dead after head on crash in Okanagan

Accident occurred at about 7:35 a.m.

Kennedy Stewart challenged with building bridges as mayor of Vancouver: expert

The former NDP MP, who ran as an Independent, will lead 10 councillors divided across four parties

B.C. Youtuber to seal himself ‘in a jar’ to demonstrate impacts of climate change

Kurtis Baute wants to see how long he can last in a 1,000 cubic foot, air-tight greenhouse

One of Taiwan’s fastest trains derails, killing at least 18

The train was carrying more than 360 people

Scheer marks one-year countdown to federal election with campaign-style speech

Conservative Leader insists that it will be Justin Trudeau who ‘makes it personal’

Canada Post union announces rotating strikes in four Canadian cities

Mail will still be delivered but it will be delayed

Vancouver drag queens receive royal treatment during Kootenay Pride

Vancouver drag queens discuss the importance of Pride and growing acceptance of LGBTQ community

B.C. VIEWS: Residents have had enough of catering to squatters

Media myth of homeless victims offends those who know better

Most Read