The harness racing industry has many hardworking people that go above and beyond the call of duty for the love of harness racing, and for the love of the horse. We celebrated National Caretaker’s Day last week and I was lucky enough to catchup with Melissa MacRae, one of the many passionate caretakers that work on the CDP backstretch. Melissa works in the Kevin Gillis Stable as a caretaker on race nights. I got the chance to ask her a few questions about her experience as a caretaker and how she got involved in harness racing.
Q. What age did you get involved in harness racing?
A. I began being actively involved around the age of 22 or so. I remember being a kid and always going to visit my uncle Clifford Affleck’s horses, especially the babies, but I was more scared of them back then.
Q. Who inspired you to get involved?
A. If it wasn't for my father-in-law Donald MacRae getting back into the sport shortly after I met my husband Bryan, we probably wouldn't have much to do with it. I've gotten the chance to be a part of some pretty great moments because of him. If Jason Hughes didn't let me start learning to harness horses, it wouldn't be nearly as fun either. So a mixture of both of them. My uncles Clifford, Billy and my grandfather Wilfred were always into the sport as well, so it's in my blood so they say.
Q. What do you like most about caretaking?
A. The bonds you create with the horses. Every one of them is different and it's so fun to learn their quirks.
Q. What is your fondest memory as a caretaker?
A. Drivingthedragon N winning the 2016 Open Mares final in Summerside. She did it from the eight hole and still paced away. She is and always will be my Queen. It will be hard to top that day!
Q. Who is your favorite horse? Why?
A. Hands down, Blue Star Outlaw (Sorry Dragon). He has and I believe always will by my biggest horse love. He's the first one I fell hard for and it's a running joke that I have more wedding pictures with him than with my husband Bryan. Outlaw’s gentle, kind and so honest. He will live out the rest of his life here with us in Orwell.
Q. What are your future goals in harness racing?
A. Some day I would love to own my own horse, and probably some mares to keep the family tradition going with the breeding end of it. We've had some nice mares on the track and it's exciting to see what they can do in their next job as mothers. I'd love to keep that going in the MacRae family. Also, I want to be as involved as possible in keeping this sport as great for the next generation. Our two-year-old Denver loves horses as much as we do and I want it to be here for him to carry on as well.
Melissa does a fantastic job in caring for our horses and it shows on the racetrack as they always look like a million bucks on race night. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Melissa and all the caretakers in our industry. They put in long hours and do an incredible job of taking care of our horses. Stables can not function without great caretakers.