by Bob Gates
Yet another fair lass from Saskatoon who called Assiniboia Downs home. Sound familiar?
It should, as Karen Hendricks, nee Chysyk, started her journey with Joan Phipps, whose story was told here in August 2019.
Karen grew up a stone's throw away from Marquis Downs in Saskatoon and had horses in her blood. She and Joan went to the same school for eight years. They both rode and loved horses and Karen considered Joan a sister.
The young Saskatoon miss started off galloping thoroughbreds for the Fiors at Marquis Downs. Karen said they were a lovely couple with three runners and no one to exercise them in the spring. They knew Karen rode, so she was asked to give it a try, having no idea where the adventure would take her.
In 1971 Karen and her besties, Joan and Pat Hosie, took off to Winnipeg. According to Karen, all three were "running away from something or other." Winnipeg had the races, so it was as good a place as any to point their vehicle. Karen worked for Bill Houliston Sr., her first mentor, and freelance galloped for Terry Alderson, Clayton Gray and others. She also learned a great deal from trainer Andy Smithers.
July 2, 1971 was a special day for Ms. Chysyk. The fifth race on the Friday night card was the exhibition race, "The Powder Puff Derby." The event featured Karen, Joan, and four other female entrants, with Karen winning on a classic "last to first" move on her mount Polly Note over her friend Joan, who was aboard Channing. Her assessment of the ride?
"I was a better exercise rider than jockey."
Karen wed Ken Hendricks on December 11, 1973 and the couple married for six years. She and Ken remain great friends and still care for each other. After they split, she continued to ride “Hank” on her horses. "I still realized his talent," said Karen.
Karen trained from 1978 to 1993 with career earnings of over $500,000. We will limit our interest in her career to her time at the Downs, which ran from 1978 to 1982. Some may be surprised that she only spent five years here. She described training as the greatest job in the world and considers herself fortunate to have had some awesome owners willing to take a chance on her.
She recalls fondly that Harvey Lockshin was the first man to give her a shot at training. Now there was a character! Harvey was the proud owner of HLL Racing Stables. So it comes to no one's surprise that Karen got her first win with Lockshin's horse, A Lot of Ability, on September 1,1978.
Who knew? In 1980 Karen had 33 wins at Assiniboia Downs, more winners at that time than any female trainer in the history of the Downs.
Hendricks trained for the "house" in 1981 and 1982, but her training career got "scrambled" when Michael Gobuty "lost" the track. Her departure from the Downs was very much tied to Gobuty’s financial woes. Looking back, she realizes she probably should have stayed, but at the time things got a bit weird around the Downs. Her association with the Gobutys wasn't helpful to her and she thought it was in her and the Gobuty’s horses’ best interests to leave. Karen shipped out to Calder where she would spend the next 10 years.
Do you remember any of the following runners that Karen conditioned at the Downs? Mr. Mar J Mar, Will Scoot A Way, Sir Double, Frosty Fairy, Bill's Express, Susans Turn and Grosswin.
Karen decided to leave the horse business in 1993. She had one child at the time and in the years that followed added two more. She's been in the insurance business for the last 20 years and has a part-time gig as manager of a country store just outside Philly in a nice little place called Langhorne where she resides.
Regrets? Yes, and a big one. She never rode her best friend and great rider, Joan Phipps. It was a different time. Joan was fighting for acceptance as a rider and "I was trying to become a woman trainer. I was afraid if I was training and she was riding and things didn't go according to plan, it wouldn't have helped either of our causes."
When Joan was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame in September 2017, Karen found her way "back home" to share it with someone who dared to chase their dreams together. The women had not seen each other in almost 40 years.
"Good friends are like stars. You don't always see them, but you know they're always there." ~ Christy Evans
Final words from friends and fellow racetrackers:
Brenda Smith: "Karen always smiled… she had such a great smile when we were all together."
Tommy Dodds: "I just always liked her… she has a great smile."
Doug Smith: "She was a hardworking, perennially happy member of the racing community."
Ken Hendricks: "Karen is a very good person. She was as good as any gallop girl I’ve ever seen. When she was training, her horses showcased her ability to care for them. She was better than most."
They say beauty is skin deep, but ask anyone who knows Karen Louise Hendricks and they'll tell you…
Her beauty goes all the way to her soul.