Trainer Doug Mustard and his wife Judy could be set for a fun year with their three-horse stable, which looked beautifully dappled and healthy at their barn on Thursday morning.

The 80-year-old trainer from Gladstone has been coming to Assiniboia Downs since the track opened in 1958, and this might be his best group of horses ever.

“I’ve been around horses all my life,” said the retired Manitoba Hydro worker, who has had a trainer’s license for 45 years. “I was born on the farm in Gladstone, and we always had horses. My dad trained horses before me. And we always had a horse to ride.”

Mustard still has horses to ride, but he doesn’t do that anymore. He prefers to stay on the ground now, but still immensely enjoys spending time in his barn, which has been the “cookie” hangout in the Downs backstretch for decades. Judy makes the cookies, and they come with coffee.

“The price is right,” said Mustard. “Free.” And everybody in the backstretch knows it. Need to hide out for a few minutes between exercising horses? The Mustard’s have just the place. And they love Manitoba.

“You can go to the racetrack, you can boat, you can play baseball in the summertime, and you can play anything in the wintertime,” said Mustard. “Maybe it’s cold, but you can skidoo, you can skate, you can curl, go tobogganing. There’s just so many things to do in Manitoba.”

Mustard prefers to spend his time in the barn with his horses. This year he’s got two claimers named Himelstein and Miss Z, and a two-year-old by Speculating. All three will benefit from spending the winter in the snow on the Mustard farm in Gladstone.

Among the horses Mustard has owned and trained, Dorothy’s Delight was his favourite. “She won eight races for me and made over $35,000,” he said. “And that was a lot of money back then. She beat every good horse on the grounds, but she never could beat them all at once.”

Mustard also mentioned Farm Hand as a favourite horse he had bred, owned, and trained. Farm Hand finished second in both the J. W. Sifton Stakes and the Gold Strike Mile and earned over $45,000. But it was never about the money, and you can tell.

Mustard reminisced about the old days when there were more small stables. “We walked hots,” he said. “Everybody had to walk. All the horses walked by hand. We had more trainers back then, and everybody helped each other out. Everyone has a lot of horses now, there are not many small stables like ours anymore.

“I still enjoy it. What else am I going to do? I like it here. And the horses give you a reason to get up in the morning. They’re just good to be around.”

Mustard has seen a lot at Assiniboia Downs — almost everything. His favourite memory is Manitoba-bred Merry’s Jay coming down the stretch in the 1976 Manitoba Derby to defeat eastern shippers.

“The grandstand went crazy,” said Mustard. “It was probably the biggest crowd ever. When they turned for home and he was in front it was the loudest cheer we’d ever heard. And I’m a homer, so it was a big deal for me.”

Married for 57 years, the Mustards have spent much of that time at the track. They’ve made numerous lifelong friends including Steve Thompson, Dr. Norm Elder and the late Ardell Sayler.

~ edited for clarity and length