Turn to Rule's Jockey Club registration papers described his distinctive blaze as "a large irregular star and connected stripe," but what really differentiated the multiple stakes winner from so many of his rivals at Assiniboia Downs were his size and his nine-year career as a racehorse.
Physically, Turn to Rule was a small, gorgeous chestnut. He was barely 15 hands, but his confident presence on the track defied his size. He always acted like he was the biggest and best when he stepped onto the racetrack, where somehow he appeared to grow taller.
Turn to Rule found his way to the Downs after being purchased by trainer Clayton Gray and his partner Wayne Jacobson for $7,200 at the 1972 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. Few horsemen are more gifted than Gray when it comes to picking out horses, and Gray and Jacobson campaigned "Ruler" from 1973 to 1975, compiling a record of 8-5-2 from 21 starts.
In 1974, as a 3-year-old, Turn to Rule won the Minnesota Derby and then faced older horses as a longshot in the Assiniboia Downs Gold Cup. He prevailed in the Gold Cup and paid a handsome $24.50 to win. At the HBPA Awards dinner in May 1975, Turn to Rule was named Manitoba's Horse of the Year.
Turn to Rule's 4-year-old season was disappointing, while at the same time Gray and Jacobson were looking for land to develop. Les and Iris Wedge had land near the Downs that they were looking to sell and a deal was struck. The land was sold for an undisclosed sum, with the Wedge's receiving the 5-year-old Turn to Rule and a 2-year-old named Mighty Mike as a down payment.
Les Wedge said it was best deal he ever made. Turn to Rule flourished in Wedge's barn, where he was treated like a member of the family. He won numerous allowance races and accented those wins with victories in the 1976 R. James Speers Memorial Handicap and the 1978 Canada Day Handicap.
Jockey Larry Bird rode Turn to Rule for the Wedge family, and rated "Big Red," as he affectionately referred to him, as one of the best horses he ever rode. Speaking about Turn to Rule's size one day, Larry's wife Sandra told him if there wasn't room to go around a horse he could always go underneath it.
In the mid 1970s Turn to Rule battled and defeated some of the best horses ever seen at the Downs, including Victor's Pride, Lexico, Macale, Federal Ruler, Mood E Me, Island Fling, Icy Welcome and Merry's Jay. In June 1977 he was named the Manitoba HBPA Best Older Horse.
Veteran horseman Gary Danelson once claimed a horse out of one of Turn to Rule's races for $14,000. After the race, he said he knew he didn't get the best horse, but he also knew he just couldn't pay $14,000 for a 10-year-old -- high praise from the Downs' all-time leading trainer.
Turn to Rule's final appearance in a race came on October 3, 1981, when he took a bad step and injured himself. He was retired to Wedge's family farm in Rosser just off Highway 6, but the easy life wasn't for him. He hated not being able to compete. He just wasn't himself on the farm. He wanted to race again.
In the spring of 1982, Wedge tested him to see if a comeback was possible. Bird mounted his old friend and took him for one last ride. He could still move like the wind, but Bird could tell he just wasn't right. He'd still run his heart out for you, but at the age of 11, the risk of injuring himself again was just too high.
Les Wedge passed away in 2005, but I had the pleasure of meeting with Iris Wedge and her daughter Darlene. They spoke so proudly of "Ruler," just the way you would expect loved ones to talk about a member of the family who was gone. They told me how Turn to Rule was such a proud horse, and that he loved to have his picture taken in the Winner's Circle after his races. For him, it was just another part of the race. Iris and Les's daughter Linda cared for Turn to Rule, and Iris took great care to explain how Linda and Ruler loved each other.
Whether you knew him as Turn to Rule, the Ruler or Big Red, he was always the little chestnut with the big heart, that defied the odds to become a champion even at the age of 10, when he won five of 10 starts.
Turn to Rule is buried at Wedge's farm in Rosser, and he is fondly remembered as one of the greatest horses ever to race at Assiniboia Downs, by both family and fans. He truly was, the "little blazed-faced chestnut."