By: Chris Lomon
Photos: John Watkins
It’s a scene that Bob Broadstock has seen countless times over his years in Quarter Horse Racing, one that he never tires of and one that speaks to the importance of a relationship between the sport and its fans.
On any given day throughout the Ajax Downs racing season, it’s not uncommon to see Broadstock walking along the apron, keeping an ear open for what has become an increasing request from a certain demographic of race fans.
“Many, many times, I’ll walk by and hear a kid say, ‘I wish I could touch that horse,’” he said. “I’ll go over to the pony crew or one of the outriders and have them go over to let that child touch and see the horse, to make that moment an exceptional one.
“As a group and as an industry, we try our best to make the fans’ experience the best it can be. Any interaction between the fans and horses and horsepeople is important in making a day at the races a memorable one.”
Having been involved in the Quarter Horse sport since 1987, Broadstock has, like the vast majority of people who work in the industry, experienced the highs and lows of horse racing in Ontario.
While tough challenges remain, both in the short and long term, the man who started his association with racing working for long-time Quarter Horse trainer Joe Tavares, is buoyed by the opportunities he believes can make horse racing thrive.
“I have to put my Quarter Horse spin on this a little bit,” said Broadstock, an owner, trainer, breeder and business owner who also runs Quarter Racing Owners of Ontario Inc. (QROOI). “As an Ontario Racing board member and a representative of the Quarter Horse industry, we have to secure our site, our racetrack, as a long-term venue for racing.
“Once we get through that, then we’ve secured all three breeds. The biggest challenge Ontario Racing has is to grow revenues for the sport, develop new wagering customers and develop new business partners – new trainers, new owners – to keep our industry vibrant and going forward.”
Broadstock is happy to have a seat at the table, so to speak.
“It’s a wonderful thing to get us all in the same room,” said Broadstock, who has grown his training operation to an average of 15 horses in training per season. “The board needs to act with the ‘Three Breeds and One Vision’ thought in mind, to work together to make sure everyone has a strong future. That is the intention of Ontario Racing. For the Quarter Horse sector, it’s very, very important. We might be a smaller piece of the pie, but we’re just as important as the thoroughbreds and standardbreds.”
It’s something Broadstock reminds himself of whenever he’s at Ajax Downs.
With an increasing fan base, he knows it’s more important than ever to deliver a memorable experience on live race days.
“That’s one thing that Quarter Horse racing does really well,” noted Broadstock. “We have a young, enthusiastic crowd. It’s not an unusual scene on a day of racing to see lots of kids running around and playing. We have a great fan base and the fans really support it. We have community events, Family Fun Day being a great example, which supports our local hospital. We’ll get 5,000 people out in afternoon to be part of our special event and enjoy the racetrack, see what racing is all about, and how amazing the horses are. It’s great to see – and we’re seeing a lot more of it – families coming out to the races.
“We have one thing that’s very unique as well, where we pull the starting gate right up to about 50 yards from the finish line. We run races all morning where the kids line up in the gate and run down the track. We call the races and put it up on the Jumbotron. It’s a lot of fun and it makes lifelong fans. That type of thing is important to all of horse racing, to have a connection and bond with your fans.”
It also doesn’t hurt business when you have a standout star on the racetrack.
Country Boy 123, a lifetime winner of 16 races from 24 starts, and Ajax’s reigning Horse of the Year, has built up a loyal fan following that’s as impressive as his record.
Recently, the five-year-old gelding, owned by Ruth Barbour, won his fifth consecutive race and broke an eight-year track record when he covered 400 yards in :19.640.
“Country Boy 123 is one of the greatest racing Quarter Horses of all time,” said Broadstock. “It’s very hard to build those stars that attract crowds of their own. But that is happening with him. A lot of tracks do the jockey or driver autograph cards, but for our Family Day event this year, we produced some pony horse cards, which highlights them. It’s another way to develop a relationship between the fans and racing.
“We receive a lot of positive feedback about our events and the racing. Over the years, you can see our crowds growing even on non-event days. You see people returning to the races. Wagering is the longer-term goal. Right now, getting them to come out and be a fan of the sport will allow for them to be a wagering customer down the road. The demand for the racing and our events is constantly increasing. Having those events and them being complementary of our racing is the key, I believe, to our ongoing success.”
So, too, is keeping an ear out for a question that Broadstock always has a perfect answer for.