by Bob Gates
R. C. Anderson, Frank Arnason, Jack Hardy, Phil Kives, R. J. Speers, J. W. Sifton and Hazel Wright make up the collective of builders that are remembered through memorial stake races in 2020 at Assiniboia Downs.
There have been others over the years including Ivan Dowler, Sydney Halter, Hugh Jackson, Harry Jeffrey and Muriel Smith. Generally, the honor of having a stakes race named for a person is reserved for someone who has made a significant contribution to the local racing scene. With the exception of Muriel Smith, these too were memorial races.
Muriel Smith was a special case. She was honored for her political role in the 1982 reopening of the Downs following the financial difficulties and eventual closing of the track that occurred under Michael Gobuty. Smith, I'm told, is still living, but has long since retired from politics.
The honorees of these 12 special stakes races should be familiar to most. Few would argue about the worthiness of the 10 men and two women, many of whom have been the subject of history articles that appear on the Downs website (under the heading "blog"). Let's take a look at one builder to remind ourselves of the type of credentials needed to merit the honor of having a stakes race.
It's getting close to the end August and there's less than a month left of live racing. I'm not sure why, but for me Hugh Jackson stands out from the above honorees. Perhaps it's because the Hugh Jackson Memorial was usually run around this time of year.
The Jackson was run annually from 1987 to 1995 and was previously known as the CTHS Matchmaker Stakes. “Hughey,” as he was known to his friends, was one of the good guys. So it should come as no surprise that he was well-known for wearing a signature white Stetson. Jackson was "a real country gentleman," "a very reputable man in the livestock industry," "the master of patience," and "a true gentleman who loved his homebreds."
Jackson got into racing in the late 1960s. He was in his mid-60s at that point and admitted to one regret, "I should have started into the industry earlier in life."
Some of the horses that ran under the colors of the Jackson family include Ten Beaver, Frosty Friday, Major Pick, Merry's Hi Note, Merry's Jay, Picabit, Picatune, Pick Sure and Touchy Treasure. Stakes races won by these charges make up a formidable resume:
- Buffalo Stakes - 1969, 1987
- J. W. Sifton - 1970, 1990
- Fleur De Lis - 1975, 1981, 1989
- Harry Jeffrey - 1976, 1990
- Manitoba Derby - 1976
- Gold Cup - 1978
- Canada Day Handicap - 1980
- Sears Distaff - 1980
- Hugh Jackson Memorial - 1980, 1986, 1987
- (CTHS Matchmaker)
- Manitoba Stakes - 1982, 1988, 1990
- Agassiz - 1983
- Countess of Dufferin - 1985
- Duchess - 1985, 1986
- Manitoba Maturity - 1986
- Manitoba Matron - 1987
- Winnipeg Futurity - 1989, 1990
- Golden Boy - 1990
Impressive list, isn't it? Its even better when you consider Jackson only purchased two horses, the others were all products of his Avondale Stock Farm in Souris.
Hughey didn't do it alone though. His spouse, Ruth was his lifelong partner, who, following his death in 1987, together with daughter Lorraine and grandson Jay, carried on the family business. Ruth passed in 2015 at the age of 100. Grandson Jay is still involved in racing at the Downs.
Jackson's greatest thrill came in 1976 when his Merry's Jay (named for grandson Jay) won the Manitoba Derby - the first Manitoba bred to win the Derby at Assiniboia Downs.
In 1984 Hugh was given a special award by the CTHS for his contribution to thoroughbred breeding.
In 1987 the Downs CTHS Matchmaker stakes race was renamed the Hugh Jackson Memorial Handicap in honor of the Souris horseman.
Ruth and Hugh were both honored in 1990 by the Manitoba Horse Racing Commission for their outstanding contribution to the sport and industry of racing in Manitoba. In addition, Avondale Stock Farm received a Sovereign Award nomination for 1990 Owner of the Year.
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Like the other builders, Hugh demonstrated an incredible level of commitment. A final word on Hugh Jackson comes from grandson Jay:
"As a young lad I probably didn't realize how much of a team my grandparents were. Thinking back, my grandmother played an equal yet less visible role. I have wonderful memories of traveling from our farm near Souris to the big city to watch our mostly homebred horses run at the Downs.
“I can remember always looking forward to the conversations and anticipation of the upcoming races with my grandfather and on many occasions with my grandmother. It was during these times that the foundation for my interest in the sport of horse racing was formed.
“Although it seemed at the time to be 'just what we did' I know now that I was very fortunate to have these meaningful and formative experiences."
The next time one of the special memorial stakes races goes to post, please take a moment to remember the individual being honored. Like Hughey Jackson, all the honorees had a symbolic white "good-guy" Stetson…
Hanging by the front door.