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About Ontario Racing
Tony Elliott: Horse Racing's 20-Year-Old Difference Maker
February 25, 2020
It’s about to get busy for the 20-year-old behind Twitter account
. Phone fully charged, program in hand, it’s almost post time.
For the next three and a half or so hours, Tony Elliott will be watching, with great interest, each of The Raceway at Western Fair District’s 10 races, beginning with the first Standardbred tilt, a trot for non-winners of $5,000 lifetime.
After a handful of retweets, Elliott posts his first tweet:
The temperature is freezing, but the action on track is heating up @TheRacewayWFD…Late Pick 4 wager guaranteed at $5000 beginning shortly!...Good luck!
It’s a typical tweet from the University of Western Ontario business student to the horse racing world, a heads-up for horseplayers looking to take their shot at cashing a winning ticket.
There’s a lot for him to cover over the 10 dashes at the London, ON oval, six races featuring pacers with the other four putting trotters in the spotlight.
But Elliott is ready.
“I love horse racing. I could watch 500 horse races a day and not get bored. Anything to do with racing, I can’t get enough of it.”
That’s the way it’s been for as long as Elliott can remember, back to the days he’d accompany his father to many of the 11 Standardbred racetracks operating in Ontario.
He comes by his affinity for the sport naturally.
His father, Glenn, once worked for harness legend Bud Fritz. His uncle, Steve, was groom of Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame pacing star Silver Reign, a 42-time winner who dominated the Ontario racing circuit in the late 1980s.
Silver Reign - Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame
As Elliott recalls, he was immediately captivated by all things horse racing, eager to accompany his father and uncle on road trips, short or long, to watch some of the sport’s highest profile horses and horsepeople compete in marquee events.
“My dad and I would go all the time, pretty much to every big race. We’d go to the track every weekend. I have a box at home that’s filled up with programs – it’s probably a four-foot high box that’s filled with all of them – from those days. That was our thing. If we knew someone who was racing, we’d go and watch.”
When he turned 13, Elliott’s association with Standardbred racing lessened. Not by choice, but rather by necessity.
“I got big into track & field, and I ended up receiving a scholarship to an NCAA school for hammer throw. When I was down there I ended up rupturing a disc in my back. So, I decided to come home because there was no use in trying to compete and being injured. That wasn’t good to have at 20, so I came home to go to school at Western.”
Track & field’s loss has been Ontario racetracks’ gain.
This past summer, Elliott, who lives in downtown London, just a short walk from the Western campus, began rekindling his passion for the sport.
There was no big moment or epiphany that prompted him to reconnect with the Standardbred world.
He didn’t open the box of programs, take out pictures, or have a conversation with his dad about those good old days.
Something just clicked in his mind one night.
“I still followed horse racing when I did track & field, but I got away from it a little bit. And then I got hurt. But I got the bug for it again this past summer. It never really leaves you, but it came back just as strong as it was before. You feel like watching the races again, and then that interest comes back even more. Horse racing is just one of those sports… coming back to it after being not as involved, I realized I missed so much. But then that connection came.”
And it’s stronger than ever.
So much so, in fact, that Elliott has figured out what he wants to do after earning his Business degree.
“I’ve always thought about what I want to do for a career. When I first started university, I thought about kinesiology. I wanted to be chiropractor and then I said to myself, ‘No, I don’t want to do that.’ I switched to business, and then I considered law, being a lawyer. The more I thought about that, I said, ‘No, I don’t want to do that either.’
“And then it came to me… ‘What is the one thing I’ve loved almost my whole life?’ Horse racing. Since I have a business background and I love the numbers aspect of racing, I realized that’s the industry I want to be part of.”
Elliott is indeed a numbers man.
In between studying for exams, he’ll often scan racing websites, seeking out wagering data for racetracks across Canada.
The data he mines isn’t for anything other than his own fascination.
“I love the wagering aspect of horse racing. I look at that almost every night. I see if the wagering is up in Canada, different things like that. I’ll make Excel sheets of per race averages, overall total wagers at certain tracks, and compare that to similar dates to the year before. I just love the numbers part of it.”
Elliott's favourite spot to watch the races at Western Fair
His love of horse racing prompted him to reach out to Greg Gangle, Western Fair’s racing manager, this past December.
“We had a great talk. I asked Greg what I could do to help the support the industry. That’s why I started going on Twitter and started promoting any way I could. It could be a pool, other information or live streaming – depending on the night, I’ll do different things. That’s where I started picking up momentum and getting my name out to the industry. It’s generated a lot of positive feedback, which made me even more committed to doing it. I’m gaining more of a following from the racing community. (Western Fair race announcer) Sugar Doyle had me on the pre-game show (
WFD - Tony Elliott
) at Western Fair. Ryan Clements (the man behind Off and Pacing, a multiplayer harness racing stable management game) introduced me to (award-winning writer) Melissa Keith, and she asked me to do a review article of Western Fair for the Canadian chapter of USHWA (United States Harness Writers Association).”
“What impresses me the most about Tony is his maturity, positive mindset and the right mentality – always focusing on the positive in the industry,” says Gangle. “Sometimes it’s easy to dwell on the negative, but that’s not Tony. It’s rare to see at such a young age. Tony is very mature for his young age and is a great example of the younger generation to follow. He’s very keen to learn and has a bright future within the industry. It’s crucial to have younger people like Tony in the industry. They are our future leaders and we need to all work collectively to assist them with the tools and foundation to be successful in the industry. I was very fortunate to have that in my development and that is something I feel should always be passed along to the next generation.”
Elliott’s hoping the payoff winds up being a role in horse racing management.
That goal was further bolstered after watching recent live stream panel discussions focusing on key industry issues.
“Racing management would be my dream job… to be in the middle of it and help make a big difference. I want to be part of the change that is going to evolve the industry into being sustainable. I watch (Woodbine CEO) Jim Lawson in the ‘Stronger Together’ chats and what he and others speak about really resonates with me. Eventually, I want to be a big player in this industry.”
Until then, Elliott will continue to immerse himself in horse racing, gathering more followers along the way, and increasing his knowledge of the numbers game.
He’ll also be keeping close tabs on Shark Idea, a three-year-old daughter of Western Ideal that he co-owns with his aunt, Dorien De Jong, and John Lougheed.
John Lougheed and Shark Idea
“(Trainer and owner) Blake McIntosh had her. They brought her out last year around the normal time they do for two-year-olds. She qualified a few times and then they raced her at Grand River. She was distanced by over 30 lengths, and then they stopped with her. Two-year-olds can sometimes be immature and need some more time. They put her away, and then they qualified her in (1):58.4.
“We saw her on the Winbak website, on the horses for sale page. She doesn’t wow you after her first two starts – she had a fourth and a fifth after the qualifier – but it’s all about working through stuff. We ended up picking her up. It’s very exciting. John trains her part-time. He’s an electrical inspector around the area here. He’s phenomenal with the horses, very particular with them, and in making sure all the bases are covered. I’ve been at the barn every day since I got back.”
On their way at Western Fair
With that, Elliott is on his way. It’s another busy night ahead at Western Fair, and he’s got some preparation to do.
But before he does, he offers up one final thought.
“I don’t know if there’s anybody around my age that wants to get into racing management as their career. You don’t want to be a person that complains about something, and then doesn’t do anything to change it. I want to be that someone who makes a difference.”
NOTE: On February 24, Elliott and Clements announced they have launched the Western Fair Horseplayers Club. The duo created a platform on Discord for people to discuss handicapping and all things racing at Western Fair.
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