by Bob Gates
This week we look back at the unlikely beginnings of one of the most consistent and capable platers to ever run at Assiniboia Downs - brothers, Elery and Marlow Scherbenske's grey gelding, My Game.
What attributes make a horse, great?
Try as I might I could not find an authoritative source that could spell it out. So we're left to hunt and peck our way to come up with characteristics that you would expect to see in an exceptional thoroughbred.
- -- At it's very core a unique balance of "skill and will" is a must. A horse should have the ability to run fast and the heart to run when the body is says it has had enough. Does it really matter how fast a horse is, if they don't want to run?
- -- A good pedigree certainly doesn't hurt.
- -- A horse that is capable of setting a track record is a nice touch.
- -- Lastly, what do the win and "in the money" percentages look like?
Are there others? Of course, but we have to start somewhere. My Game had all of the above, but he was no stakes horse. So was he "great?" I guess he really didn't fit that mold, but he was exceptional!
The Scherbenskes from Ashley, North Dakota purchased the imported gelded son of Djebe in November 1962 for $800.
The grey gelding spent all of his 3-year-old season nursing a broken sesamoid bone in this left front leg. Following surgery to correct the issue, he still wasn't sound enough to race, so he spent 1964 in dry dock waiting for his leg to come around. One of the toughest decisions facing a trainer is deciding how long to lay-up a horse.
Rushing a horse back to the races is common, when all too often more time off is the answer, but a horse doesn't make any money when he's in his stall. So where is the balance? Well, the Scherbenske brothers seemed to have all the right answers.
Jockey Ray Correa was his regular rider and said that My Game was the speediest horse he ever rode. Elery was the big grey's trainer and described him as awkward and clumsy when they bought him. People told them that they would never make a racehorse out of the grey, but Elery was confident that My Game would work out just fine, in time.
The main reason the brothers bought My Game was because of his breeding. His father, Djebe was the leading sire in England at the time and Elery knew it was worth taking the time to bring My Game around slowly.
And so it was that My Game started his career as a 5-year-old maiden. With no starts under his belt, his first race was a 4 1/2-furlong sprint for $1,500 maidens. It was a race in which he demolished the field by 14 lengths!
It wasn't long before My Game established himself as a money horse who was as consistent as they came. On June 5, 1968 My Game shattered the 9-year-old track record for five furlongs at Assiniboia Downs. His time would stand for two years before Rangatira would clip 2/5 of a second off My Game's :58-second record.
Despite his domination of the claiming scene at the Downs, he was never claimed. Horsemen were leery of his leg issues and feared they would raise up at some point, ending the gelding's career, but it never happened!
My Game ran all but one of his races at the entry level claiming ranks. He raced locally until 1972 when he reached the age of 12, which was the mandatory retirement age for racehorses. At the time of his retirement My Game had won half of his lifetime starts and he threw in three seconds and four third-place finishes for good measure.
You can spend a lot of time looking up racing stats and you won't find many horses with those kind of numbers and probably none if you look at lower level claimers.
The Downs celebrated the 12-year-old's racing career in a rare tribute. My Game made his final appearance at the Downs on August 2, 1972 following the 4th race when he was paraded in front of the grandstand. He was led onto the track to the tune of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" and some kind words by track announcer, Frank Roberts.
The big grey was taken to the winner's circle one final time where he was adorned with a special cooler blanket which read:
From Your Winnipeg Fans
When trainer Elery Scherbenske escorted My Game from the winner's circle the fans broke into spontaneous applause and a rousing cheer. As the big grey walked off the track they played "Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye." Then My Game inexplicably stopped dead in his tracks and gazed at the his crowd of admirers, it was as if he understood what all the fuss was about!
It was an emotional time for Elery as well. The only trainer that My Game ever knew acknowledged that the tribute was the highlight of his racing career and proudly said that the big grey was the gamest horse he ever owned.
If this was a movie, the screen would fade to black and the credits would roll, but it wasn't and My Game's life wasn't over.
The big grey was one of those horses who didn’t take well to a life of leisure in a pasture. He loved to train and was born to run and Elery quickly learned that retirement wasn't for My Game.
Scherbenske sold the gelding to Ray Goehring in 1973 who raced him where racing horses his age was permitted. At 13, My Game's record was three wins and a third from five starts. In 1974, at 14 he registered a win, a second and two thirds again, from five starts. Only now, Father Time was softly whispering My Game's name.
The big grey didn't last long after being retired again and for the last time. My Game passed away at his new trainer's home in South Dakota just weeks later - he never made it to 15. As for his original owners, Elery, the older of the two brothers passed on July 25, 2013 and Marlow a few months later on December 31, 2013.
My Game may not have been a "great" horse, but he was exceptional and dominated his rivals, much to the delight of his legions of fans at the Downs. Tributes like the one the big grey gelding from North Dakota received are rare, but it speaks to the popularity…
of the old grey campaigner, My Game.
Historian Note: My thanks to Elery's son, Percy and my "go to guy" in Minnesota, Trevor Monroe for their assistance on background information on My Game.