by Bob Gates
Let's be truthful, do any of us know how long Manitoba Jockey Club (MJC) President Harvey Warner has been involved in horse racing? This past January 23, The Jockey Club of Canada announced that Harvey was to be presented with the Special Sovereign Award in recognition of his outstanding commitment to the thoroughbred industry in Canada.
The Jockey Club of Canada news release said it all:
"Selected by the Jockey Club of Canada's Stewards, the Special Sovereign Award recognizes significant contribution to the Canadian Thoroughbred Industry. Harvey Warner has been actively involved in the thoroughbred industry in Canada since 1971. Throughout this time, he has served as the President of the Winnipeg Horseman's Club, spent time as a member of the Manitoba Horse Council Board and sat on the Board of the HBPA of Manitoba. In 1994 Mr. Warner was a driving force behind the formation of the Manitoba Jockey Club which assumed ownership and operations of Assiniboia Downs. Currently, Mr. Warner is the President of the Manitoba Jockey Club and a Steward for The Jockey Club of Canada."
It's not everyday that The Jockey Club of Canada recognizes the efforts of an individual who resides west of the Manitoba/Ontario border. There are no words that would adequately describe the magnitude of the honour bestowed on Assiniboia Downs' Harvey Warner.
On December 10, 1993 the MJC officially took possession of Assiniboia Downs. At that time, the Board included Chairman Harvey Warner, Barry McQueen, Dr. Norm Elder, Barry Anderson. Dr. Ross McKague and Ken Lee.
This racing season marks Harvey's 27th year as the voice and face of the MJC. Dr. Ross McKague provided the following description of Harvey:
"Harvey is a self-made, successful businessman, and a long-time owner of thoroughbred racehorses. Harvey is articulate, knowledgeable and virtually can not be intimidated. The task ahead was daunting and the barriers and setbacks were, and are, unending to this day. There were many times that the only easy way out was to give up. Harvey does not give up. He is a man of conviction.
Harvey's self-taught philosophy of not spending more than you make was ingrained in the MJC. Whenever something was suggested to be included in the budget, Harvey would speak out: 'And where is the money coming from?'
He sacrificed his own enjoyment of racing thoroughbred horses and much of his personal time in order that Manitobans could continue to enjoy thoroughbred horse racing."
Year after year, Harvey and his fellow Board members have faced challenges that would have caused a lesser group of individuals to throw in the towel. Generally speaking, the horse racing gods have been brutal to the Downs.
The MJC has faced unthinkable obstacles and for almost three decades Harvey has led the charge on behalf of the Board. At times it may have seemed like it, but our Mr. Warner is no superhero. The MJC relies on its senior management team to handle the day-to-day running of the Downs with the Board acting in an oversight capacity, assessing the overall direction and strategy of the organization.
The current senior management team is made up of Chief Executive Officer, Darren Dunn and Vice-President of Finance and Gaming, Sharon Gulyas. Together they bring more than 80 years of Downs' experience to the plate. Talk about corporate memory!
A few years back, I met with Harvey and talked about all things racing. I cannot recall the exact subject of my question. Heaven knows it could have been any one of a hundred different issues, but I prefaced it with the phrase, "Do you ever worry about…?"
I wish I could repeat his answer word for word, but I cannot for the life of me remember it. The nature of his response, however, was clear. He didn't "worry" about such things. Not that he didn't care, his point was worrying about something gets you nowhere. After so many years in the business he couldn’t afford the luxury of "worrying." You need to be aware of issues and take the precautions necessary to have a system in place to deal with such matters, if and when they arise.
Read any bio of Harvey and you'll see the line, "Harvey is accessible and available should anyone have any questions of concerns." This is so true. On any given race night, except during this year's "no fans in the stands" season, you'll find him sitting at one of the high-top tables on the main floor of the grandstand with the Crocketts and the Andersons. I seriously doubt there is another Board Director in North America that is more accessible to the public, but that's the way he rolls and how he does business.
Downs Chief Executive Officer, Darren Dunn put it this way, "The recent Sovereign Award Harvey Warner received is a true testament to his dedication and support of the industry. That it was a national award, recognized across Canada, is even more fitting."
You have to like Harvey! Over the years at its season opening press conferences, the Downs has played host to a variety of politicians who are full of praise for the "jewel" that is called Assiniboia Downs, but when it comes time to pony-up with a financial agreement that would secure the long-term viability of the Downs, it is widely accepted that the Broadway fair-weather types have yet to fully deliver.
However, whenever Harvey took his turn at the microphone at these functions, he was always a polite and the gracious host. He never used the opportunity to take a shot at his political guests, even when they deserved it.
After 27 years in the trenches, Harvey continues to be up-beat about each new season and what lies ahead. This is proof of his unfailing determination to do the best for horse racing in Manitoba, whether he is dealing with politicians or Downs business partner, Peguis First Nations.
Did you know, Harvey Warner and his Board are volunteers? Who really knows how much time and effort he has given to the grand old lady they call Assiniboia Downs?
Well, the Jockey Club of Canada has a pretty good idea and has rewarded Harvey Warner with a prestigious Sovereign Award. It goes without saying that Harvey's wife, Edie is also deserving of our thanks. After all, they too are a team and Harvey's sacrifices are hers as well.
The horse racing community is a huge family, where all members want the best for the sport. Sure, there are times when we forget we're all on the same side, like any family, we can be dysfunctional, but a family nonetheless.
This week let's take a step back and even if it's just for a short time, set aside any petty differences or opposing views and give thanks to Harvey for his 27 years of Board service, and counting.
Congratulations on your Special Sovereign Award Harvey! You make us proud!