by Bob Gates
Marge and Victor Clare ran one of those typical "Mom & Pop" stables. Their story is a good one, except for the part that it took me seven years to get it done. Marge and I "met" via Facebook in 2012, traded emails and lost touch.
Fast forward to this past February, when their daughter Doreen contacted the Downs to see who had spoken with her parents, expressing interest in their racing exploits.
Rather sheepishly, I acknowledged that I had reached out to the Clares, but things sort of fell by the wayside. Doreen and I exchanged contact information, agreeing that I would call her father.
In the interim, I learned that Irwin Driedger did a lot of riding for Vic and Marge. Seeing as I had Irwin's contact information, it seemed like a good idea to reconnect them. Irwin remembered the Clares and referred to theirs as a real family affair. In particular, he recalled their horse Bolero Jet. He liked the name and said he was a neat horse, always tried hard. My call to Vic could wait until after he had spoken with Irwin.
Sadly, Marge passed before Irwin spoke with Vic. Driedger said that he and Vic had a great chat about old times and how impressed he was with the 93-year-old's memory.
My first contact with Vic came in a telephone conversation in the latter part of April. It was amazing! I knew that the Clares had raced thoroughbreds at the Downs in the 1970s. Theirs was a name I heard over the public address system on a regular basis when a race winner was announced, and the Clare horse was led into the winner's circle.
From my discussions with Clare, I learned that as a young boy with a love of horses he galloped thoroughbreds at old Whittier Park and Polo Park. Further, he had pleasant memories of Bob and Dick Carey and the "coal and ice man," David Swail.
These names were familiar to me, but only from reading old newspaper articles. To actually speak with someone who knew these men was a humbling experience. Vic's memories of the tracks that paved the way for Assiniboia Downs were incredible. He spoke like he was there yesterday, not 80 years ago!
Clare said he met a young Marjorie Fairbairn at a stable where both boarded their horses, and they married in 1948. He explained that racing wasn't a business, for them it was a hobby, one that they were both passionate about.
Before he got around to racing horses at the Downs, Vic was an outrider in the 1960s with John Ragen. You name it, Vic tried his hand at all things racing. As an outrider, his bright red jacket and black hat was in stark contrast to his albino pony horse, Whitey.
The Clares got into the business of racing thoroughbreds at the Downs in 1970. For more than 30 years the loving couple were residents of the west side of "A" barn. Vic said that he and Marge mostly kept to themselves. They were a private couple who preferred to mind their own business.
Vic and Marge were a team. They trained and galloped their own horses and were into the breeding end of it as well. Vic also did the blacksmith duties. Theirs was a modest stable of three or four horses at most.
Their first win at the Downs came on August 3, 1970 with Lizanno Ann and for the next 30 years they worked together sharing their passion for thoroughbreds. They got their final trip to the winner's circle with Judy's Cutie on August 24, 2001. Judy may not have been memorable, but there were many spanning the 70s, 80s and 90s whose names may be familiar.
How about Icy Rain (1978-80), Cognitive Unit (1980-84), Fame and Success (1981-82), Major Ross (1980-82), Icy Crystal (1984-86), Doonhill Duke (1984-85) or Rhythm Rise (1985-88)? Most of these were lower level platers, but worth a $2 wager. Bet on a Clare horse and you got an honest effort.
Vic spoke of their love for horses and said that racing had been a good life for them. Vic Clare had a rule: love your horse and treat it well, but don’t fall in love with it. Sound confusing? Perhaps, but it meant something to Vic.
They say that every horseman has that one horse they will never forget. For Vic that horse was Bolero Jet!
The Clares claimed Jet in the latter part of 1975 and would race him till 1981, when he was 11. In that six-year period Bolero Jet won 14 races, 12 for the Clares. Others tried their hand with Jet but could never unlock the secret to making him a happy camper. Only the Clares knew how to get the star of their stable to perform at his best.
The Clares loved their charges and doted on them, but Jet was special. They treated him like he was human and catered to him. Jet was a simple claimer and a few times the Clares lost him via the claim box, but they always made sure they got him back, even if it cost them. Jet always seemed to know when he was "home."
Jet loved to be pampered, it made him feel good. When he was happy, he ran well and saved his best for the Clares. Jet was a thoroughbred who liked to play and hated the walker. Put him on a walker and he'd pout. He was a boy who knew what he liked and the Clares did their best to keep him happy. Jet was everything to Marge and Vic.
Even at 11, Jet was competitive. On September 7, 1981 he went down in a race but seemed all right. There were no obvious signs of trauma, so Vic entered him in a race on September 22, but Jet just wasn’t his old self.
Following the race, Clare spent time with the star of his stable. Vic could tell his old friend was hurting, but he wasn't sure what was wrong. Clare tried everything to ease Jet's suffering. Vic gave him some water and sat with his friend that night. Jet laid beside his master, put his head in Vic's lap and drifted off to that peaceful place where thoroughbreds go when their time is done.
Victor Clare had broken his cardinal rule, he had fallen in love with his horse. He said hardest part of owning Jet was the good-bye.
One of the Clares more memorable wins came compliments of a nice filly, Second Debut, who won the 1992 Filly Division of the CTHS Sale Stakes with its $25,000 purse. It was their only stakes victory. The Clares raced horses until 2001, but there was no one to take Bolero Jet's place, not even close.
After Marge's passing this past spring, Vic's health started to slide. I met with Vic just recently. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit with a man who did things and went places that I’d only heard and read about. The list of people who can tell you firsthand about Whittier and Polo Park gets shorter every year.
That day at the Rockwood Motor Hotel in Stonewall, Victor Clare was a portal to another time when Jimmy Speers' racetracks were Winnipeg's home to the old Prairie Racing Circuit.
A couple of times in our discussion Vic wished that Marge could have joined in the conversation. The Clares were a class act who celebrated 70 years of marriage! Four days later, Victor Clare went postward for the final time. After all, beyond the hill of life…
Marge and Jet were waiting.
The Clares' children, Bob and Doreen were a tremendous help in the preparation of this story and I thank them. The Clare family will long be remembered for their contributions to racing at Assiniboia Downs!