by Bob Gates
"Long time horseman, Walter Brian Hutcheon, better known as “Hutch” at Assiniboia Downs, passed away peacefully in his sleep at his home in Winnipeg on September 2, 2001. He was 59."
~ George Williams, Manitoba Thoroughbred Magazine 2002
For those of you that knew Hutch, you're probably thinking it was one of the few things that he did "peacefully." There was a gathering of friends and family following the funeral. Libations flowed freely as did the stories of those that knew him so well.
There was no shortage of people who could be approached for thoughts and memories of Hutch. The challenge came in finding those which were appropriate to put into print. Then there are Hutch's colourful quotes, most of which can't be used, at least not the real good ones. Hutch’s story posed obstacles for the censors, but we'll do our best.
Brian…? Wait, hold everything! Karen Hendricks warned me about this. "If you refer to him as Brian, no one will know who you're talking about. You have to call him Hutch." He was an over-sized, cigar-chomping individual with a shall-we-say gruff demeanor. You didn't want to mess with Hutch!
Hutch was one of the local horse racing characters. He was cut from the same cloth as the likes of others who came before him: Kinky King, Stuttering Charlie Smith, Whittier Park Slim and Spud Murphy. He had different mannerisms than these men of old, but like them, he was a character.
Hutch came to the Downs in the late 1960s and was a part of the gate crew and grounds keeping staff. He found his niche when he became a jockey agent. As an agent, he booked mounts for riders that included Dale Wright, Tim Doocy, Joan Phipps, Jimmy Anderson, and Tommy Adkins.
In the late 1970s Hutch turned his attention to the training of thoroughbreds. According to Equibase stats he trained for 22 years, spending 17 seasons at Assiniboia Downs. His first year as a trainer at the Downs was 1978. It was fall of that year when he got the opportunity to train for June Sifton's Stoneacres Farm, where he conditioned stakes winners Liz's Pride and Victor's Pride among others.
Hutch was one of those trainers who, like a lot of his peers, strongly preferred to be left alone to look after his horses. In the 1979 Manitoba Derby Liz's Pride was beaten a length by Easter's Memory. Not one to shy away from offering his opinion, following the race Hutch spoke his mind, saying that Liz might have won if she had returned from Toronto a week earlier.
Stoneacres Farm Manager, Harry Kube took a somewhat more tactful approach saying, "the loss was disappointing, but we're proud of the way she ran." One week later, Stoneacres and Hutch parted company.
By all accounts, the big man was an accomplished trainer with some worthy success stories. Certainly there were the Stoneacres blue bloods Liz's Pride and Victor's Pride. In 1986 Brian had smoke-show speedball Centripital in his barn. The 5-year-old stallion was a mid-range claimer who rolled-off a trio of wins that summer. His best effort saw him come within 4/5 of a second of the Downs 6-furlong track record.
The pride and joy of Hutch's career however, had to be a $1,600 investment-mare he bought at the CTHS yearling sale in 1993. Slinkylady won the CTHS Sale Stakes, Chantilly, Oaks and R.C. Anderson on the way to career earnings of $102,995.
To say Hutch was a colorful character would be a dramatic understatement. His intensity level had a way of landing him on the Stewards’ "naughty" list: "physically attacking another individual in the Racing Secretary's office" and "showing disrespect to a security officer."
Hutch never sought the limelight, he just liked to go about his business tending to his runners. The best example of this came in 1972, when he groomed the outstanding breeding stallion and notable sire of sires, Mr. Prospector. This would cause most anyone to revel in stories about the famous stallion, but not Hutch. He never talked about it. As most know, Mr. Prospector's descendants have dominated the American Triple Crown for several decades and his impact on thoroughbred bloodlines has been felt worldwide. Yep, Hutch rubbed a great one!
While there is no disputing Hutch's training talents, the big man could be a pain. Generally well-respected amongst his peers, the same could not be said of racetrack management or racing officials. Hutch could and would complain about anything under the sun. He was constantly challenging management. The track was never right, there were always issues with the barns, and "they" never wrote races for his horses, his list of gripes was endless.
Irwin Driedger knew Hutch and offered:
"Hutch had a huge passion for the horse racing game. He trained for the late June Sifton of Stoneacres Farm and I rode for them in the late 70s. He was great to ride for as he could watch a race and know what happened. He always liked Victor's Pride and so did I."
Downs veteran owner/trainer Doug Smith from the ‘60s & ‘70s is out in Alberta these days living the good life, but he shared the following:
"Hutch was very strong and when I asked him his weight once, he told me 318. Two things regarding his strength come to mind. He drove van for a while and once hauled some horses for me to Saskatoon. We were having trouble getting a horse named Pridora to back into his stall. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Hutch just put a shoulder under the horse's neck, grabbed both forelegs and lifted his front-end right off the ground, backing him right in…”
“The other story was only hearsay. Racing in Blue Bonnets about 1970, Hutch and his friends were in a bar. Hutch was on crutches, with a broken leg. A fight broke out between the racetrackers and another table. Hutch was twirling his crutch like a windmill and soon cleared the floor!"
Most knew, you didn’t mess with Hutch!
The celebration of Hutch’s life that took place at Russell Maxwell's farm 20 years ago was the perfect send-off. The setting sun was an idyllic backdrop as the event wound down. Beverage consumption had slowed to a trickle and the stories had morphed into heartfelt memories. Even though he never sought attention, Hutch would have been humbled by the show of love and respect he received from his friends that day.
Hutch was a true racetrack character, and one that we should never forget. To the very end…
He did things his way.