Robert ‘Pinky’ MacDonald didn’t have a clue how to train thoroughbred horses when he and his uncle Lee Haynes decided — on a far-fetched whim — to buy a couple of race horses some 60 years ago. “I had no idea he was even buying them,” recalled MacDonald, who is off to a very hot start at Edmonton’s Century Mile with three wins from just seven starts.
“I had never seen a thoroughbred before. It was 1969. I was only about 19 years old at the time,” said MacDonald, now 79. “Lee knew horses; he was a cowboy that rodeoed. I tried high school rodeo – calf roping and I tried – and the operative word is ‘tried’ to ride bucking horses. And a few years later I became a jockey. But I couldn’t make the weight. But at that time I’d never seen a horse race. Never seen a starting gate. We were farmers in Taber.”
Also an accomplished play-making hockey player – a centre he played senior A hockey in Medicine Hat for three years including one year when both of his Tigers’ wingers had played in the NHL – MacDonald said “I always felt I was too small to be a hockey player and too big to be a jockey.”
But here he was with a couple of thoroughbreds Lee had bought out of Lethbridge. So Lee, whose son Rod became a solid jockey, and Pinky started training them. Sixty years later, MacDonald has 540 career wins including a plethora of stakes winners, mostly owned by the late Cam Richardson.
“I remember going up to Marcel Crowe, who would become a top trainer in Alberta, and asking him to teach me how to put bandages on a horse’s legs. I didn’t have any idea what to do. Lee and I both could ride but that was about all.”
A year later MacDonald went to Toronto to try and buy some better horses than the two cheap claimers that Lee had purchased. “I picked Lou Cavalaris’ brain all the time. He was the head trainer for Gardiner Farms. Gardiner Farms were the leading owners in Canada; Cavalaris was the nation’s top trainer. “Ask from the best — isn’t that the way to go?”
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