Jun 23, 2011


Word has been received of the death of Duncan MacTavish in Ontario. Duncan was a longtime friend who helped launch my bloodstock career in the l970s at Hastings Park (nee Exhibition Park) in Vancouver.

Duncan was a character of the first order, dividing his time on the backstretch with a second calling, that of professional wrestler who managed to combine each pursuit because the track and the Pacific Coliseum were adjacent. It was not unusal to see Duncan race into the paddock still in his wrestling garb to saddle a runner.

Duncan mostly scuffled in each vocation and he had naught but a handful of cheap horses when we first met. He asked me to be on the lookout when I headed to Fair Grounds in New Orleans for the winter. His budget, he said, was $2,000. I was not about to complain because, to that point I had never actually closed a horse deal, relying on income from the Daily Racing Form. But I was just itching to get started and two grand was as good a place as any to start.

Down at Fair Grounds I noticed a 3-year-old filly named Sutter's Dream who won a straight maiden race by eight lengths. Next time out she bled profusely and did it again in her third start. The rules then dictated that she not race in Louisiana for six months.

Sutter's Dream was trained by a wily Cajun named Pete Leblanc and I came calling to his satellite barn at old Jefferson Downs. Two seasons in Vancouver convinced me that horses had rarely bled from the nostrils, given the more benign Canadian climate.

With Sutter's Dream in "jail" for six months maybe Leblanc would part with her for my $2000. When I told him my price he practically grabbed the money out of my hand while pronouncing me "the dumbest Yankee I ever met".

Duncan and I were in business. He left the filly in New Orleans until the probation was up and actually won a race for $1500 claiming at Jefferson Downs, rightly figuring that everyone would dismiss her as a known bleeder.

The win provided shipping money to Canada where Sutter's Dream reeled off victory after victory, marching up the claiming ladder. When Duncan nominated her to a local stakes the racing office bureaucrats refused her entry. She shipped to Alberta instead where she won a $50,000 stakes sponsored by a tobacco company. By year's end she was voted champion mare in Western Canada. If memory serves, I think Duncan began to beat up on guys in the ring, too.

Duncan packed her up and headed East to try his luck. We lost touch for a few years but he showed up whenever I worked a broadcast for Canadian television from Woodbine.

My association with such an unusual champion did not go unnoticed and others began to support my opinions that led to a most rewarding life as a bloodstock agent who also did journalism rather than other way round. Thanks Duncan. I will never forget you.

And Pete Leblanc? He swore that I was running a ringer.