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Trainers & horses: the magic touch.

The cantilevered stands of Assiniboia Downs face to the east like an ancient Egyptian pyramid.

For many people the world of thoroughbred racing is an unknown. They see high-spirited horses being loaded into the starting gate and the explosion when the bell propels the springloaded herd from their starting stalls.

Every year there are about 20,000 foals born in North America eligible to race but the majority of race horses are ordinary. But there are those which turn out to better than average and even great ones. One per cent of the 85,000 racehorses in North America will win but the rest still give us a thrill.

Thoroughbreds need to train like any athlete. Like human track stars, they too require the guiding hand of a trainer. Trainers form stables of many horses and train horses for owners at a daily fee including feeding.

Harry Kube and Emile Corbel are career trainers with their own stables. Kube runs a smaller operation, including Green Oak Stable, with about 13 horses. Corbel is a major player at the Downs with Fast Lane Stables. Corbel will train 26 horses this season for various owners.

Kube is vice-president of the Horse Benevolent and Protection Association which represents the horsemen at the Downs.

Kube says, "There are more than 56 trainers here and we have a pile of rules and regulations we follow in the treatment and training of race horses which are enforced by Agriculture Canada." That includes drugs testing all horses, jockeys and even barn staff.

Kube has his own philosophy about horses. He says he doesn't like to run two year olds preferring a three year old horse, though a sound two year olds mean more purse money. "There is a lot of purse money for testing two year olds. These purses are all over $27,000. But many aren't ready. They're legs have to be x-rayed to ensure the bones are properly developed."

Kube has made training horses a lifetimes' work, and at 55 has supported his family doing something he loves to do. You can tell the pride is there. The stalls in his stable area are immaculate.

"You won't get rich in this business and I wouldn't do it for a minute if I didn't enjoy what I was doing."

Corbel was the Downs leading trainer in 1995 and 1996, was second in 1997 dropping to sixth last year. He lost five horses in a tragic accident early in the US while bringing horses back to Canada.

"We were hit by a semi-trailer and are suing for it. I am lucky, very lucky to be alive but my season was ruined and I have a pelvic injury. But I'm doing okay and we'll have a major year this year. We have some very good horses coming."

His principle residence is in Laurier, Manitoba, near Riding Mountain Park. From March 1 until September he lives in a house trailer on the backstretch. Seven months. Three hundred races. You have to be sturdy.

Corbel says his talent is an ability to choose good horses.

"They must have kind eyes, good hair, a smooth walk and a well-rounded rump," he says. "Some people see a good horse and I see just a horse. I look for something special." In 1997 Corbel horses earned $93,000 for owners.

Trainers are the business of running stables and finding investors to own horses outright or through syndication. "Be clear," says Corbel, "you don't invest the money you need to live on in a race horse. Yes, you can make some money, but it's more of a pastime, an enjoyable one for many people."

An investor with Corbel or Kube can buy shares in several horses for a minimum $2,500 or up to $5,000. For the most part, easy entry into the sport is by doing research and knowing if it's for you.

Another part of the racing world in Manitoba, is breeding. Fred Doern is a scientist and business development officer with The Research Council of Canada.

He and his wife run Doe-Ridge Farm, a small breeding operation in Hazelridge. He is a former president of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society and is one of about 100 thoroughbred breeders in Manitoba whose ranks thinned when the Downs had its problems several years ago.

Doern says, "It is a sophisticated business and in the end you hope that you get something that will run fast. You have to wait two or three years to find out if what came about is a good horse. By then it belongs to someone. Breeding is as far as you go and sometimes it hard to sell the horse because it's easy to become attached."

Manitoba's yearling sale is in the fall. Last year 52 yearlings were offered and 23 were bought at an average price of $3,465. Doern says the numbers of breeders were higher several years ago and they're slowly coming back.

"The margins on profit are tight so you have to like the business as we do, but you have to make it work," he says. "With the Downs looking better as a business, there is some confidence coming back to breeders."
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Title Annotation:thoroughbred racing
Publication:Manitoba Business
Article Type:Cover Story
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Apr 1, 1999
Words:870
Previous Article:Assiniboia Downs.
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