Mar 24, 2009


Wally Wood died recently in Toronto after a lengthy illness. A correspondent for many years at Daily Racing Form, Wally was a loyal friend for almost 40 years. He loved his work and it showed. He was one of the old breed of reporters who wore out their boots patrolling the barn areas of the world in search of a human interest story. His writings were always original and focused on the subject at hand.

You might see Wally backstage at Woodbine or Warren Hill or Chantilly or a Breeders’ Cup doggedly assembling the pertinent details of his next story.

We first met when I was sent to Toronto for some training at the Canadian headquarters of DRF. A year later I was sent from Vancouver by DRF to cover a veterinary convention in Montreal in the dead of winter. It was minus l5 degrees when I deplaned and I was shocked to see the presence of armed troops deployed throughout the city.

It was an eventful time when French-speaking separatists had murdered Labor minister Pierre Laporte, sparking a manhunt for his killers. The nation was stunned when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act which suspended a number of civil rights while the government dealt with the situation.

Wally was the epitome of cool while events swirled around Montreal. He was determined to show me a good time in Quebec. We dined nightly in some out-of-the-way bistros that Wally knew and the occasional haute cuisine meal, all on Wally’s expense account. Then we would repair to the bar at our plush Queen Elizabeth Hotel where the AAEP vets congregated. Wally would scribble some notes for his reportage and I did the same.

Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau put on a gastronomic shindig for the conventioneers at an old castle turned restaurant on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. There I was confronted by high life that I had never before encountered in my callow youth. As I recall, there were four wine glasses of different size and shape and silverware galore at our place setting. I could hardly even figure out which knife to eat the peas with.

Wally discreetly showed me the ropes and I managed not to give away my bumpkin resume.

We stayed in touch over the years and met up again at the inaugural Breeders’ Cup at Hollywood Park. Wally was kind enough to write a glowing review of my various television ventures.

He invited me to join him on his annual tour to the Arc de Triomphe every October at Longchamp. My job of was to pick winners for the tour goers, many of whom were regular customers of Wally’s.

Canterbury was our first stop and we took in racing at Lingfield where I recommended an l8-to-l shot trained by Clive Brittain. That horse walked his beat and provided the ammunition we needed to back Cash Asmussen and Suave Dancer in the big race in Paris.

Wally had arranged a tour of the Criquette Head yard in Chantilly where we walked the forest path with a set of 45 horses. Criquette touted us on Hatoof who missed by a nose in a Group One race by a nose . Her father Alec, considered by many as the greatest owner-breeder-trainer of his time, rode out with the set and we conversed all the way out and back. It was learning at the feet of the master and I cherish the memory.

Wally lived an active live yet still found time to raise three lovely and talented daughters as a single parent.