Competitive fires still burning in local living legend
Who knew? Downs’ legendary graded stakes-placed and multiple stakes winner Smoky Cinder, a grandson of the mighty Northern Dancer, is alive and well at 20!
One night at the track I approached the man who used to own Smoky Cinder, Ed Pawluk, to see what I could find out about the grey-roan. I told him I was doing research for a history piece on Smoky and wanted to know if he had any pictures. I also explained that I was curious to know what happened to Smoky.
Boy was I surprised to find out that Smoky was alive and well at Ed’s home in Woodlands! Ed said that the old boy has his good days and bad and that he has some trouble with arthritis. He went on to say that he bought Smoky as a weanling in Kentucky and owned him in partnership with his son Jim. He spoke so very proudly of the horse that did everything that was ever asked of him and took his owners to glorious new heights!
One of the many things that I have learned about writing about horses from days gone by is that all too often the horses have passed on, been sold or claimed, and sometimes people have just lost track of them. Now I’m not one to pass up an opportunity to meet with an actual “living” legend, so I made arrangements to visit Smoky. In preparation for my visit I packed up a bag of carrots for the big guy and made my way out to Woodlands.
I walked up to the pasture where Smoky and some others were grazing and he sauntered over to the fence, I think more out of curiosity than anything else. Or maybe it was the carrots. All things considered, he looked good, but old age has left its mark on the 19-year-old champion. He is now pure white!
Smoky walked right up to me, took a few carrots, and looked me in the eye. “Are you the history guy who wrote that story about Kalfaari a couple of weeks ago?”
“Yes,” I answered sheepishly.
Smoky took a few more carrots.
“Well, it’s about time you got around to me!”
I took my hand and gave him a good nose rub and agreed.
“You’re right Smoky, you’re absolutely right! After all you pretty much did it all, didn’t you?”
“You bet!” he said with authority.
“I don’t want to brag but as long as you’re asking. At Assiniboia Downs I won the Halter, the Derby Trial, the Speers twice, the Free Press twice and the Wheat City twice. I also had a couple of good races at Northlands Park where I won the Westerner and the prestigious Canadian Derby. My lifetime stats aren’t too shabby either! I had 18 wins, 10 seconds and 11 thirds from 57 starts and I earned $389,472 in a career that spanned 7 years from 1996 to 2002.”
“Smoky,” I asked. “I’ve always wanted to know more about the story of you and Kalfaari after the 2001 Speers. You beat him and the story goes that you two ran into each other just minutes after the race at the test barn and Kalfaari got very aggressive and went after you. Do you recall the incident?”
He paused thoughtfully before answering.
“In your dreams son, in your dreams. That was little more than pure fancy on the part of an overzealous and imaginative writer, but then you would know all about that, wouldn’t you? A race is a race and the kid and I had some good ones! Remember he was three years younger than me. Granted, it always bugged me that he was named Best Older Horse in 2001."
“The way I see it, he may have won a couple of more races than I did that year, but I won two stakes and an open allowance. Kalfaari on the other hand, won just one stakes. His other wins included two allowance races and a Maiden Special Weight. You do the math, I like my record better. Actually, I miss him, we always had fun out there and yeah, we some dandy races!”
“You know,” Smoky continued. “I won Sprinter of the Year in 1999, 2000 and 2001, but don’t forget I also won the Speers twice going 1 1/16-miles, the Wheat City twice going a mile. And the Canadian Derby I won was a grueling 1 3/8-miles. Does that sound like I was just a sprinter? I don’t think so!”
“I have to tell you though, as happy as I am with my retirement and with life in general here in my pasture, every now and again I miss the track, the competition. I’d love to have another go at it. But as the years go by I have to admit that for the most part I’m content to just remember the good old days.
“Say, do you plan on taking those carrots home with you, or would you like to share a few more?”
There was a pause in our conversation as he took more carrots.
“Well,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed our little chat, but I have to run, get it? Do me a favour? If you ever see my regular rider, Tommy Adkins, please say hi to him for me. We were a great team! Same goes for the “Worm,” Timmy Gardner, who rode me in 2001 and 2002 after Tom retired. Tell my old trainers, John Keegan and Gary Danelson, that I still try to stay in shape, you know, in case they ever need me. Heck, say hi to all my friends at the Downs and tell them I miss the old place.”
He nabbed a few more of my crunchy orange treats and sprinted off to the middle of the pasture. And looked darn good doing it!
And that my friends, was my 15 minutes with Smoky Cinder, two time winner of the Speers, Free Press and Wheat City Stakes and winner of the Canadian Derby!
I will always remember the moment when our eyes met and I saw something in his gaze that is difficult to describe. You could tell that deep down there were still competitive juices flowing through his aging veins.
Although he turns 20 this January, Smoky Cinder still carries himself with that certain majesty that only the great ones possess. A champion of yesteryear and a living legend today.
Thanks Smoky. That was a blast!
Next Post Time for Live Racing: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 24, 2013