The “Bill” in question is Bill Bochinski, who’s as well known for his acute memory as he is for his industriousness.
Born in 1939, he was a young man at the 1958 opening of Assiniboia Downs and has never looked back. Bill’s father Ernest worked for trainer Clayton Gray in the backstretch for three or four years during Assiniboia Downs’ early days and Bochinski enjoyed following his father to the track to see the horses and talk to people in the barn area. Though he had a long career as a teacher at St. John’s High School in the city’s North end, he never broke his connection with the racetrack.
Around 1974, friend Lorne Spearman (now a jockey’s agent at Woodbine) put together a partnership that included Bochinski and some of his fellow teachers. The horse they invested in was Miss Winnipeg, trained by John Cizik. “Sometimes, there would be a knock on my classroom door and it would be Lorne, collecting training fees for John,” recalled Bochinski.
Later on, Gray purchased the horse Our Sonnet for the St. John’s group. She would run eight times, with two wins, a second and four thirds. At the end of the year, Bochinski decided to buy her as a broodmare prospect because “she’d shown a lot of heart during her races”. She produced some solid runners, one being Gala Serenade (by Gala Double), a winner of 15 races, including the 1984 Agassiz Stakes, with earnings of over $127,000. Gala Serenade’s full brother Gala Illusion and half-brother Endless Shadow (by Lend Lease) were also stakes-placed.
Although Bochinski was the first in his own family to be involved with racing, they would soon follow in his tracks and eventually become even more immersed in the sport than he. His wife Hazel trained horses for 15 years with much success, then went on to become Secretary of the HPBA for several years before serving as a Steward. Their son Brian started as an apprentice jockey in 1986 at the local oval and became leading rider in 1990, 1992 and 1994 before moving on to the larger Ontario circuit; he retired from riding in 2007 at Fort Erie Race Track. For a short while at Assiniboia Downs, Bill and Hazel’s older son Randy worked as Brian’s agent.
While his family were wholly involved, Bochinski also played a strong role. When Hazel was training, Bochinski would be at the barn by 4:00 a.m. to do stalls before he went off to teach. When Our Sonnet’s first foal, Mr. In Between, was born in 1977, Bochinski became eligible to join the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society and has been a dedicated member of the Board of Directors since 1979. In 1998, Bochinski retired from teaching and now has more time to spend at the racetrack.
During the racing season he still arrives before daylight to help a trainer or two with stalls before heading to the kitchen for coffee and to catch up on what’s happening – all before the obligatory card game starts. In the winter, he’s part of a regular group who meet once a week to play “racetrack rummy” in the track kitchen. He is always ready to lend a hand where needed, be it painting the CTHS office or the track fencing. Before a bobcat was used to bed stalls for the annual yearling sale, he could be seen hauling wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of shavings to do the same job. For many years he delivered the Daily Racing Form and programs to off-track betting locations. He helps direct parking during busy local functions such as the Red River Exhibition (adjacent to the racetrack grounds) – often a dusty and hot, or wet and windy job – along with many other tasks. Among all that, he’s still an owner, a constant in that unpredictable pursuit that’s defeated many before him.
Bochinski recently commented on his long and diverse participation with horse racing, “You meet the most interesting people (in this game). As for the horses, if they have some breeding hopefully it will come back to show itself.” With his own interesting background at the track, Bochinski has proven that he has the pedigree to be a “stayer” in the game. His is one name that won’t be hard to recall when thinking of people who helped build, and still strengthen, the industry.