Feb 10, 2009


Birds colliding with aircraft happens maybe more than you might think. A British pilot for Cathay Pacific once told me that he was flying a 747 from Hong Kong to Saigon when a large goose flew into the windshield at 30,000 feet, killing the co-pilot instantly. He had to bring in the de-pressurized aircraft to land in wartime Saigon.

Years ago I managed the Daily Racing Form office in Vancouver. In the fall, the thoroughbred caravan in Western Canada shifted to tiny Sandown Park on the east shore of Vancouver Island.
Racing was conducted on Friday and Saturday afternoons. My job was to make sure that the Saturday edition arrived at the track well before the close of racing, so that punters could buy it on the way out To accomplish this I booked a seaplane and hitched a ride along with the papers to spend the weekend on the island.

We departed from a dock directly behind the plush Bayshore Hotel (Howard Hughes was holed up on the top floor at the time). The plane gunned its way through ocean-going traffic in Burrard Inlet, climbed over the majestic Lions' Gate Bridge and took us on a magic carpet ride above the numerous Gulf and San Juan Islands that formed borders between Canada and the State of Washington. It was a great time to be alive!

The racing wasn't much on class but long on laughs. Alberta horsemen quit punching cows long enough to show up for the 15-day meet, as did Klondike sourdoughs, and hustlers of every stripe. One city slicker from Vancouver even felt brave enough to run a ringer one day (she ran second) and berated us on the ferry boat home that we were all so dumb we never knew he had run one under an assumed name. Unsurprisingly, the Mounties were waiting for him when we docked and hauled him off to the hoosegow.

Next time the horse ran the handicapper for the Vancouver Sun deadpanned that the horse in question "wasn't herself last time out". If memory serves, the miscreant dodged the rap. Back then what happened at Sandown stayed at Sandown, I guess.

One Friday afternoon I picked seven straight winners on a tip sheet that I published. I doubled the order at the print shop for the Saturday card, sure that the fans would be lined up waiting for me. As luck would have it, six inches of snow fell overnight, a rare November sight for an island warmed by the Japanese Current. Maybe 50 people showed up at the races.

Cowardly Lion didn't care about snow. The gelding won six straight races during the abbreviated stand, a rare burst of success for his owner-trainer Jock Iaci. Jock's family owned a popular eatery in downtown Vancouver which permitted him to dabble in the horse game. There was a strip club across the street and what passed for hoods in those days congregated there when they weren't chowing down with Mama Iaci and her family.. The idea of winning six races in a row would never occur to these boys--they would never have turned him loose that many times.

The season had ended when I picked up the paper one day and read of a fatal crash by a float plane while flying salmon fishermen up to Campbell River on the Island. Our young pilot from Sandown had been killed when an eagle with a six-foot wingspan took down the aircraft.