He came to Calgary via Barbados at the age of 17, not quite certain how he’d fare as a jockey. Nearly 20 years later, Quincy Welch has stamped himself as one of the country’s most consistent and capable riders.
A lifetime winner of nearly 1,900 races, Quincy Welch, who has won the Northlands Park riding title on multiple occasions, was recently named the winner of the 2015 Avelino Gomez Award, one of Canadian Thoroughbred racing’s most cherished trophies. The award honours the late jockey, who died after a spill in the 1980 Canadian Oaks.
Welch, who won a career-best 173 races in 2004, spoke with Canadian Thoroughbred about his career, the Gomez Award and what it was like coming to Canada for the first time as a teenager.
What was it like to leave Barbados and start your riding career at Stampede Park in Calgary?
“When I found out I had the opportunity to ride in Canada, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to do it. But, my father didn’t give me a choice. He told me I was going, that it would be a great chance to make a career of being a rider. So, I flew into Toronto and stayed with some fellow Bajans. There is a big Barbados community in the city, so that made me feel comfortable. Soon after, four of us flew to Calgary. When we got off the plane, it was minus-30 degrees. We looked like the guys from that Cool Runnings movie (the 1993 film based on the true story of the Jamaica national team’s debut in the bobsleigh competition of the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary). We certainly weren’t dressed for the weather.”
You’ve competed at racetracks all over Canada, including Woodbine. What was it like to ride at the track known as Canada’s Showplace of Racing?
“I’ve been very lucky to ride a lot of very good horses over the years. It was very special to have the chance to ride at Woodbine. I was able to get on horses for trainers like Roger Attfield and Mark Casse, two of the most successful men in the sport. I just feel fortunate to have ridden at so many places and to have had success over the years. The one thing you strive for is to be consistent over time.”
You met up with a jockey legend when you were at Woodbine. What was that experience like?
“I had heard so many people talk of Sandy Hawley, not only that he was one of the greatest riders of all time, but that he was a great person. He’s known as the Gentleman Jockey, and I can tell you that is definitely true. I remember I was sitting in the jockeys’ room and he walked up, introduced himself and started talking to me. I couldn’t believe it. He asked me questions, gave me a lot of encouragement and wished me well. He was exactly what people told me he was.”
What does it mean to you to win the Avelino Gomez Award?
“When I first found out, obviously I was very thrilled. But, I wanted to learn more about the award and Avelino, too. I went online and did a lot of reading about the past jockeys who have won this. You start reading the names and it really sunk in just how lucky I was to see my names alongside these riders. But, it was equally impressive to see just how distinguished a career Mr. Gomez had. The more I read, the more I had an appreciation for what he did for the sport. To be given this honour is something I will cherish for my whole life. It’s hard to put into words how fortunate I feel to have won it.”
You’re not the only Welch to be involved in racing these days.
“My wife (April) is now the chart caller for Northlands Park. Obviously, she knew the sport through me being in it over the years, but now she has become part of it herself. I guess you can say most of our horse racing conversations were usually pillow talk-type chats, but she’s much more involved right now. I’ve had great support from April and our two children, Keira and Kyrie, over the years. It’s nice when you have success to share it with those closest to you.”