cover photo by Michael Burns, WEG
While at the Little Brown Jug we were able to catch up with some of our friends from Hambletonian Day! The owners of Harper Blue Chip, Debbie Szumlanski, Barb Coupland and Tom Sizer took a few minutes to share their thoughts on Harper, harness racing and The Little Brown Jug.
What did it mean for Harper to get 3rd in the Hambletonian?
Debbie: It was like a dream come true. It was really, really special. We started with a bad post and ended up third so we couldn’t have been happier.
Did you think that Harper Blue Chip was something special from the beginning?
Debbie: Absolutely. Yeah he was special.
What’s Harper like, does he have any personality quirks?
Debbie: I’ll tell you he likes to stick his tongue out all the time, hahaha. He’s a really nice horse to be around, he’s just very gentle.
Obviously Harper is very special to you, is there a horse from your past that was special too?
Debbie: Tamarind. He races at The Meadows, Aaron Merriman drives him. Bill and Renee Bercury own him now and they’re really special people but Tamarind will always be my special horse.
Aaron just said this morning that he was one of his favorite horses too.
Debbie: I know, I know! We owned him and then we sold him and they bought him but, yeah, I know Aaron really loves him.
How did you get involved in owning horses?
Debbie: Well I started when I was about 19 and then I got out of it because the track closed in Canada, and then a really special deal came along and we were able to join Landmark Racing. It gives everybody an opportunity to own a horse that can afford to own a horse.
Have you been involved with horses other than owning them?
Debbie: We’ve just owned but we go down to visit them all the time. We like to groom them and brush them.
Do you bring friends that aren’t involved in harness racing with you to the track?
Debbie: Absolutely. It’s a great experience. A lot of the people that came down on our bus [to the Little Brown Jug], they never go to the horse races, but they always come down here.
What do you think we need more of for the fans in harness racing?
Tom: We need the general public to see more so of what goes on in the paddock area where the people really do the hard work. These guys out here (the drivers) they’re professionals, no doubt about it, but there’s a lot of professionals that groom the horses, they train them, bath them, wash them, all that stuff. They don’t get the coverage.
All the racetracks want to show you is odds, odds, odds, what the public can bet, but they have no idea what goes on, how they get a horse ready to actually race. I own racehorses and I have four brothers that drove racehorses, so I know quite a bit about racing horses. Well you’d never know that by the way I’m losing money today (laughs), but it’s true!
The fans, the public, they really understand nothing about horse races other than the toteboard and what happens when they go around the racetrack. Even in Canada or the US, I’ve been to every racetrack between the US and Canada, they do not show the pubic enough of what goes on. The public won’t get interested if they don’t know what’s going on. If you don’t go to a ball game, and you don’t watch ball, you don’t know anything about ball. If they don’t show it, well that’s what I’m trying to say, they’ll never understand it.
It’s true, the people in the grandstand have no idea what’s going on back there, where a lot of the hard work is involved. For those people back there, when these horses go around this circle, you know David Miller and my brother Kevin Sizer, they wouldn’t have a job without them because most of the work is done on the backside, in the paddock. They train and jog horses, they risk their lives training young horses on racetracks so again, they don’t get the attention.
Debbie: But you know that’s the good thing about the Little Brown Jug, it allows you to go into the barns and see the trainers, talk to the owners, see the horses. We don’t get that in Canada, unless you’re an owner. But just your regular folk can’t do that in Canada. That’s really special here.
What’s your favorite part of coming to the Little Brown Jug?
Tom: Betting on the horses! I think this racetrack is the only one in the world that will let the general public on the backstretch where they can see what goes on, which is good. But there’s no other track, you go to the Meadowlands or Mohawk you don’t get to the backstretch. That’s why you see so many people here today and tomorrow, you don’t see them at the other racetracks.
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