Horses in Top Trainer's Blood

By Williams, George | Winnipeg Free Press, August 29, 2014 | Go to article overview

Horses in Top Trainer's Blood


Williams, George, Winnipeg Free Press


Assiniboia Downs is Danelson's favourite place to race

What were you doing 55 years ago today, Aug. 29, 1959?

Remember, when a loaf of bread was 20 cents, a gallon of gas was 25 cents, T-bone steak was $1.09 a pound, Bonanza made its television debut and Bobby Darin sang Mack the Knife on the radio? Oh, and the average yearly wage was $5,010.

Assiniboia Downs' all-time leading trainer Gary Danelson knows exactly what he was doing that day -- saddling a winner named Coherence in the paddock at the Downs.

The fourth race tonight is named after the 77-year-old Danelson, who is not just the all-time leading trainer by number of wins at Assiniboia Downs, but also one of the sharpest horsemen ever seen here. He currently has 1,157 wins at ASD.

Born in Yuba City, Calif., Danelson grew up on a wheat farm. His father was a horse trainer and his mother grew up riding horses on a ranch in Montana. In other words, he had horses in his blood from the beginning. He began riding for his father in the bushes and lost the first race he ever rode for him before winning six in a row, but he soon grew too heavy to be a jockey.

Danelson took out his first trainer's licence in 1956 and won his first race on Aug. 29, 1959 at Assiniboia Downs with a horse named Coherence he purchased from Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg.

"He had an ankle the size of small dog," said Danelson. "But it didn't bother him. And it scared everyone away. He won 24 races for me."

Danelson had taken a year off from college around the time and was expecting to return of school, but Coherence just kept winning and changed his mind. It was as good an education as you could get in the horse racing business -- travelling with a bad-legged claiming horse and living in a tack room -- but Danelson's success as a trainer probably best stemmed from a lesson he got from a trainer named Cass Nicholson.

Nicholson claimed a horse for $1,000, trained it for 30 days without a rider on its back, and set a track record with it in its first start back, going 11/2-miles and winning by the length of the stretch. Danelson tried the same thing with another horse and flopped. Nicholson explained to him every horse was different. His was a light horse that didn't eat much and didn't require heavy training. The horse Danelson claimed was heavier and a big eater. He needed more training.

Danelson learned every horse is different and requires a different type of training, a lesson most horse trainers never learn. …

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