Assiniboia Downs kicks off its stakes schedule this weekend with the 5th running of the Hazel Wright Sire Stakes for Manitoba-bred 3-year-old fillies on Saturday, June 2. At this point there isn’t a lot of “history” to the race itself. The winner of the inaugural running of the race in 2008 was Blueberry Blonde, followed by Premier Star in 2009, Artois in 2010 and Kommando Kate last year.
The Hazel Wright Sire Stakes is named after Hazel Jean (Schollar) Wright. Hazel Schollar married Jim Wright in 1941 and together they shared a life-long passion for the “Sport of Kings” and Assiniboia Downs in particular. The Wrights owned and operated the Downs from 1974 to 1992 with only a brief respite in 1981-82 when the track was sold to Michael Gobuty.
Horses and horse racing were a huge part of Hazel’s life and gave her the opportunity to work closely with husband Jim and son Bob. Her “grandmotherly” appearance could fool you, but she had a keen business sense. Hazel was Vice-President and Corporate Secretary of the Downs for many years and was the driving force behind El Mingo Stables. Hazel bred and raced many stakes winning horses for more than 40 years.
There are so many stories to share about horses owned by the Wrights, but my favourite comes from July 1986. The horses I’m referring to here were your basic garden-variety claimers, Who You Gonna Call and We’re Not Sure.
On a sunny summer afternoon at the Downs, Who You Gonna Call and We’re Not Sure ran as an entry. When they turned for home they were locked in a head-to-head battle. The result was a dream come true for race caller Ken Miller. I think you get the picture.
It went something like this:
It’s Who You Gonna Call, We’re Not Sure, Who You Gonna Call, We’re Not Sure and at the wire it’s… We’re Not Sure!
The stretch drive made all of the highlight reels and blooper tapes, and was featured on George Michael’s Sports Machine and I’m told, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Known and respected by many as “Mrs. Wright”, Hazel passed in 1999, but her legacy continues in the name of the Hazel Wright Sire Stakes. Perhaps George Williams summed up best when he wrote in the Daily Racing Form:
“If there’s a racetrack in heaven, Hazel’s probably running it. If there isn’t, there soon will be.”