by Bob Gates
Manhattan was home to the Morgans and the Vanderbilts, Winnipeg the Aspers and Richardsons. Since the early days of Assiniboia Downs, the Richardson name was well-known throughout the backstretch community.
No, not the Wellington Crescent Richardsons. We're talking about Don, Betty and their children Debbie, Allen and Carren. They are gone now, but their footprints are all over Assiniboia Downs and will be as long as horses return to the barns every spring.
Betty, the family matriarch, suffered the unimaginable heartbreak of witnessing the passing of her husband and her three children. Here is a snapshot of the lives of her loved ones.
Allen worked with and galloped horses alongside his sisters. He was a good all-round athlete with a special talent for hockey. In time, Debbie and Carren would become the horse whisperers of the family, while Al pursued other interests.
Tragically, Allen passed suddenly on November 8, 1995.
Don was known by many as "Papa Rich." His local racetrack experience started in the 1960s. Don was in more winner's circle photos than you'd realize. He'd be the guy at the head trying to coral the spirited steed so a decent win photo could be taken. Don owned and trained horses for himself and a small public stable. In the 1970s he was a jockeys' agent, he tattooed horses, and in his later years a feed salesman.
Don was at his best as a jockeys' agent. He always took good care of his boys and opened his home and heart to many a young rider. Don considered them "family."
Darlene Wedge tells a great "Papa Rich" story. It involved a horse that blew the final turn and as the horse was going over the rail, the rider bailed. After the race the perturbed owner complained, "I paid your rider to ride that horse, not jump off." Don was quick to reply. "You paid him to ride the horse on the track, not over the fence and through the ditch." Don always spoke up for his guys.
On October 14, 2008, Betty lost her life-partner. Don passed at the age of 73.
Carren was the baby of the Richardson family. It's no exaggeration to say that Carren took to horses like a bee to honey. As a youth she competed in horse shows, and it wasn't long before she was galloping racehorses at the family farm and at the Downs. She was still in high school when she started to pony horses to the gate. This led to her meeting the love of her life and future husband, Terry Wedge. The Richardsons and Wedges had been friends for years, but the union of Carren and Terry in 1981 solidified the close-knit families.
Carren was licensed as an exercise rider, pony person, groom, barn foreman and assistant trainer. She received her trainer's license in 2007 and conditioned a small stable, while continuing to work as a freelance pony rider.
Carren and Terry had a son, Darren, who also shares his parents’ love for horses and racing at Assiniboia Downs.
Sadly, a long and healthy life was not to be for Carren. She passed at the age of 49, on September 22, 2012.
Debra Ann was the eldest of Don and Betty's children. Debbie was one of the youngest people to get a trainer's licence and spent most of her life training and grooming thoroughbreds at tracks in Canada and the United States. She worked for premier Alberta trainer Marcel Crowe in Alberta and here at home for John Gray, Tom Dodds, Aaron Sayler and Bert Blake.
Of Debbie, Tommy D explained:
"With Debbie nothing was ever too much, time meant nothing. She would spend hours rubbing the horses, icing them and just loving them. If your horse is happy and feeling loved, he will run his heart out for you. In P.C.'s Bluff's (winner of the 1994 Manitoba Derby) case, he ran great as a two and three-year-old with Deb as his groom.
“We sent him to Santa Anita, new trainer, new groom, different style, but it didn't work out. Next, we sent him to Oklahoma here he ended up running for an $8,000 tag, but it didn't work out. When we got him back home he just stood in the back of his stall, looking very unhappy and scared.
“Deb took him back and within a couple of weeks he was his old self, happy and beating the best on the track. Debbie loved the track and the horses and they knew it. Not every horse responds this way but in the case of the ones that do, it makes a huge, huge difference."
Like her sister Carren, Debbie's life was done too soon. She was only 59 when she passed on March 13, 2017.
The family matriarch, Elizabeth "Betty" Richardson married Don in 1957. Together they worked and lived in several places before settling in Charleswood. While the registration of her birth reads March 1st, I'll bet you didn't know that she was a leap-year baby, she was actually born on February 29th.
Betty endured the unthinkable, she lost her entire family. This is a special pain that no parent should have to experience. We cannot begin to imagine!
Betty Richardson passed on August 31, 2019. She was 83.
Ken Hendricks, the winningest jockey in Downs history, knew the Richardsons and offered:
"The Richardsons were a good family. Papa Rich was a very good friend of mine. I rode for him when he trained, he was my agent for a couple of years, and we played a million games of racetrack rummy together. His girls were very hard working and as good as any grooms you could find. Carren was a very good hand on a pony. Betty was always a very nice lady and put up with a lot. We were even allowed to play rummy at home with Richie. I can’t say enough good things about the family.
“Betty liked to come to the track and whack me with her program. The losses that she went through were as tough as it gets and yet she was always very nice through it all. It never soured her."
Yes, there was a great deal of sadness in the lives of the Richardsons, but there was also much joy and fond memories. The good times and the Richardson legacy will live on through Carren's loving husband Terry, their son Darren and his young family, along with the rest of the Wedges.
Don, Betty and family may not have lived on Wellington Crescent like the people who shared their name, but amid all of the challenges life threw their way, the family always found ways to celebrate and enjoy life.
Betty wouldn’t have had it any other way!
I wish to thank Debbie and Carren's sister-in-law, Darlene Wedge, for her assistance with my story on the Richardsons. Darlene has been a huge help in my ongoing efforts to preserve the history of the Downs and I am extremely grateful to her.