Everyone - fans, owners, trainers and riders at the Rocky Mountain Turf Club - hope the 2011 horse racing season is a much drier edition than the 2010 program.
"We have a whole rash of top trainers, horses and riders anxious to begin the Spring season May 7-8," says RMTC CEO Max Gibb. "We've had a fairly descent April for the horsemen to get in some serious training, and believe it or not we've actually had horsemen using the track during the winter months.
"Right now the track is in pretty fair condition for opening day Saturday, with the horses and the riders working their way into top shape.
I've always said the toughest job in sports is being a jockey. I have nothing but admiration for these men and women who lay it all on the line every time they climb aboard a race horse."
Along that line Gibb points out there are dozens of sports, and even professions, out there for a young person to aim at, yes even for those too small for football, baseball and maybe even soccer.
If you crave excitement and want to be among the top athletes in the world, have you ever considered becoming a jockey, Gibb asks?
"Jockeys are among the bravest athletes in a world jammed full of excitement and rewards. I have nothing but the greatest respect for jockeys," says Gibb, who rode himself back in the 1950s.
"Jockeys have to be in the finest conditioned athletes, able to control a race horse going at top speed for as many as eight or nine races a day. There are usually one or two short Quarter horse sprints a race card and the rest are filled out with distance Thoroughbred races, an both styles are thrilling on the back of a horse.
"A rider needs arm strength, upper body strength, leg strength and nerves of steel. I truly believe being a jockey is one of the most extreme and exciting sports in the world, right up there with bull riding."
Riding race horses is a trade you can learn at Olds College, as Omar Moreno recently did. Omar followed up his training at Whoop-Up Downs in Lethbridge and then went east to ride on the "big" tracks, becoming the winningest apprentice jockey in North America.
The racing season with the RMTC runs each weekend in May and June and the September through much of October. In the summer the horses, trainers and riders head north to Grande Prairie for July and August weekends.
The great thing about deciding to become a jockey is the field is open to either male of female riders. Roughly speaking, about 50 per cent of the riders with the RMTC are female, and some of them - usually three or more - are always ranked in the top five.
"Riding is as exciting as any sport you can name," says Gibb. "I would suggest any young person in the 105 to 112-pound range, contact Olds College and look into becoming a professional jockey. "As well, Olds offers courses for grooms and morning gallopers, or you can come just out to the track and pick up work yourself right at the track with any of the trainers on hand."
Through the Spring season the RMTC will race each weekend May 7-8 through July 2-3 at Whoop-Up Downs, then comes a two month break. The horses return to Lethbridge Sept. 2-5 to kick off the Fall meet, which winds up Oct. 14-16. As in past years RMTC will be featuring the exciting Quarter horse sprints as well as the majestic Thoroughbreds.
"Being this early in the season the Thoroughbreds will be sticking to five to five and a half furlongs, with the seven furlongs run not coming until later in the spring," says Gibb.
Dot Stein will be back as the manager of racing and Jim Ralph will return as the RMTC gate man. Purse money will be set at a $3,000 minimum, ut many of the featured races will be for higher purses, particularly for the Quarter horses this early in the spring.
Look for veteran trainers like Pete Dubois, Stan Marks, Phil Weist, Jim Depew and many others to be back in the paddock providing mounts for familiar riders likeNate Smith, Scott Sterr, Brooke Mellish and others. Barb Depew, wife of trainer Jim Depew - both with a racing pedigree going back many generations - are looking forward to a great Spring. Barb says Jim has six or seven horses in the barn, all ready to run. And like all horsemen, they look forward to a great season.
As usual admission is free at the RMTC, with post times at 6 p.m. on Fridays and 1:05 Saturday, Sunday and Mondays.