Wendy MacRae, at 53 years of age, can look back at a country life with horses, and forward to the excitement of faster class city racing. Growing up on a tobacco farm in Roseberry, PEI allowed her to get a pony at age 5, and a bigger saddle horse at eleven. She greatly enjoyed helping neighbor Laurie Morrison race his mare Roseberry Girl at the Pinette Raceway while a young teen.
As she progressed to participating in equestrian events around the province, horse transportation became an issue. Wendy Larsen’s father did not have a trailer, but one of his part time workers did. Enter Roger MacRae, whose father Sandy MacRae was a dedicated standardbred horseman. It would be Sandy's trailer, which had transported old Buddy Kalmuck and Whisper Eureka among others, that was instrumental in cementing the partnership of Wendy and Roger.
First it would be Wendy's equestrian shows, then some cattle penning for them both, and finally on to a standardbred (Lewis Seelster) two years after their 1988 marriage. The Jade Prince gelding had paced to a respectable three year old record of 2:06.1 at the CDP in 1987, but had failed to progress. Owners Harris Johnston and Parnell Kelly gave up on him at age five, gifting him to their faithful groom Wendy MacRae. Roger became Lewis' new trainer, registering two wins in 17 CDP starts in 1990. Although not successful at earning purse cheques, Lewis Seelster would give the MacRae's valuable lessons in the standardbred sport through years of matinee racing at Pinette.
Wendy smiles when recalling the 1992 matinee season, driving Lewis while pregnant with their first child. Son Robert was born healthy in 1993, and about every three years thereafter would come another helper for the MacRae's. There are now four children from ages 28 to 19, and all have had active rolls over the years with horse care and training. For the past five years their youngest (Christopher) has been an assistant for well known Island trainer Robert Phillips at his Pinette Stable. Lisburn, second in the 2020 Gold Cup and Saucer, was one of their more famous colt projects.
For the first 20 years of marriage Wendy and Roger operated the MacRae Farm in Mount Buchanan along with holding down day jobs in Charlottetown, a half hour away. Wendy, a Truro Agricultural College trained Lab Tech, works with Bio Food Tech at their UPEI site. Roger was a longtime employee at the Atlantic Baptist Nursing Home until permanently sidelined by a Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis three years ago.
In 1994 the MacRae's got Woodmere Skippy from Ralph Annear. This Harrod's filly had sold at the 1991 Island Select Sale for $2,000. Mr Annear had debuted her at the CDP Baby Race Open House June 20, 1992 with a 2:08.4 victory, just a tad slower then Molzan's 2:08 score in another Division. She would beat Mozan in the first stake, the SRW Callbeck, with a 2:05 trip for Ralph. But there would be only one more win that year from 10 tries, as Molzan and RE's Cloud took over. The filly's 2:01.1 record trip came at Truro in an overnight event with Clare MacDonald on the lines.
Woodmere Skippy would make only three starts at three with her best a third in ATSS action at Sydney, before suspected injury shut her down. After a 24 race campaign at four for Ralph (0 wins and $1,066), she was passed over to the MacRae's. They would get one win from 4 CDP trips, more Pinette experience and then the breeding shed. She would produce five foals, but only one of note, and that was her first, a Hunterstown colt born in 1996.
Glasvin Road was named after a sideroad by the MacRae Farm, Glashvin Road. In Wendy's words "our registration paper was a bit rushed and I guess the H must have been missed". They were dividing Skippy's foals with Roger's father Sandy, and the first one was his.
The elder MacRae got Glasvin Road to the CDP races in October of 1999, pacing to a 2:07.4 maiden victory in his first start. Sandy was a farmer/fisher who had winter time on his hands. It was off to EPR that winter before back to CDP in the spring and then on to Marcel Barrieau at Montreal in late August. Over the next 10 months Glasvin Road put almost $24,000 on his card in 28 starts, before being lost in a $12,000 claimer June 2001. His 1:56 score at five for Marcel would be a lifetime best, but four more years of racing over Quebec and New York tracks would push career earnings past $83,000. A very nice animal indeed, and a story somewhat similar to Sandy MacRae's other speedster, the Cinderella horse Whisper Eureka.
In 2004 Roger MacRae purchased the grey gelding SOS Santo Domingo from Steve Morton in Truro. The son of Shipps Schnoops had brought $25,000 at the 2000 Quebec Yearling Sale. Dustin Jones won a $35,000 Hippodrome Montreal Stake in July of his two year old form, but did not have much success thereafter. He moved him on a year later, and after bottoming out in $4,000 Pompano claimers the big grey arrived in Truro at age four.
The MacRae's would campaign SOS Santo Domingo, better known as "Snoopy", for five seasons. He made CDP starts each of those years, but eventually raced more on the Matinee circuit, and became their overall most favorite horse. He was a tall handsome individual and as Wendy says, "everyone wanted to come and see Snoopy". A beautiful picture done by celebrated equine photographer Anne MacNeill hangs proudly in the MacRae living room on MacAuley's Wharf Road.
After Snoopy there was Cavallo Frosty, Dance With Me Molly, Auto Cruise, Muzzy's Driftwood and Bedtime Blues who raced for the MacRaes. Most enjoyed the blended formula of Pinette to prepare, and CDP if good enough later in the summer.
PEI Matinee Circuit
The summer of 2014 would be a special year for Wendy MacRae. Driving their horses on the Matinee tracks at Pinette, O'Leary, Kensington and Tyne Valley met with enough success to qualify her for the Championship final at Summerside Raceway that fall. And on that memorable evening she would record two victories, one with the sometimes problematic Muzzy's Driftwood and the other with Stable star Pictonian Walton. Those victories gave Wendy the 2014 Matinee Championship, and to top things off, the race calls that night were done by her 12 year old son Christopher. He has been the regular announcer at Pinette the past eight years.
As an aside it is most unfortunate that the PEI Matinee tracks have been dropping the number of race dates over the past few years. Pinette has a history of racing every Wednesday afternoon throughout the summer, but in 2021 they had just two early season dates and the "Kilted Pace" in August. Kensington offers only one card a year, O'Leary usually three, and this year Tyne Valley did not stage a matinee program. The track in Alberton, home of legendary Joe O'Brien, has not offered a race program in many years.
The PEI Harness Racing Industry Association, and their Executive Director Julie Jamieson, are supportive of the Program. They offer a hook-up fee for each participant, from $50 to $100 depending on distance travelled, and help the tracks with seeking government grant support for infrastructure projects. However, the brutal economics of present day racing make it difficult for owners to race for no purse money, and the lure of attractive "Amish" money for borderline horses is hard to resist. We are in danger of losing the training ground that launched harness drivers like Mark MacDonald, Cory MacPherson, Marc Campbell, Austin Sorrie and more recently Devon Wallace, Brady and Jacob Sweet into higher level parimutuel careers. This integral program probably needs fresh thinking and vigorous collaboration with local track leadership.
Jim Quinn, an Islander with many standardbred successes, haltered Pictonian Walton for $3,000 at the 2007 Island Select Sale at Gingerwood Farm in Stanhope. The son of Western Paradise would eventually appear in three qualifiers at three before making two lackluster starts, and greatly trying the patience of Mr Quinn. Jim, a high end tradesman was often away on work assignments, and depended on Roger MacRae to look after his horses. So it seemed fitting that he give Pictonian Walton to Roger once he had no more use for him.
As a four year old, now under Roger's tutelage, Walton was prepped at Pinette before qualifying at Charlottetown in September. In his first four starts he had three seconds and a third before registering a 2:05 maiden victory for Vaughn Doyle. He would race five years for the MacRaes, winning 18 times and over $22,000 in earnings. His best was a 1:57.1 CDP score for Walter Cheverie in 2014.
They had the nine year old gelding ready to qualify in July 2015 when he developed severe colic. He was taken to the Atlantic Vet College hospital, but treatment was unsuccessful. A sad loss for the family as he was certainly their stable standout, and the best they had campaigned to that point.
The MacRaes picked up another Western Paradise offspring in 2015, the three year old filly Pictonian Stardust. She had been a $11,000 Island Select Sale purchase by Dan Ross in 2013. Although winless at two Mike Stevenson reined her to a $9,600 bankroll in eight Stake starts. She made breaks in her final two outings and failed to get a clean line in four subsequent qualifying tries. Her three year old season did not go well, with only one win in 11 starts, and the old problem of breaks showing up in three. Mr Ross handed the filly off to the MacRaes, and with Wendy listed as trainer she raced another three years. In August 2017,Ryan DesRoches, a Matinee racing colleague of Wendy's, put a shiny tab of 1:59.3 on the five year old over a glib CDP surface.
Pictonian Stardust had six parimutuel starts at six without gaining any purse money, so it was off to a breeding date with Pang Shui the following spring. They named the resulting filly Outta My Shui, and she sold at this year's Select Sale for $9,500. She is presently undergoing her early lessons at Truro Raceway. Stardust produced a full sister this year who was recently weaned and appears headed for the 2022 Island Select Sale.
The Current Stable
When the MacRaes are looking to purchase a new horse for their Stable they have a few guidelines as outlined by Roger, "not too old, not too many races and not on Lasix". In 2018 they shelled out around $5,000 for Sports Royalty from Rideau Carleton in Ottawa. The son of Sportswriter had been a $10,000 Harrisburg yearling whose sophomore season, his first at the races, earned $13,356 from 20 starts for trainers Ron MacDonald and Jamie Copley. But at four he had regressed with only $1,500 in five tries. It wasn't long before he was resident in Mount Buchanan, and plying his trade at the CDP. Wendy became his listed trainer but success was not instant.
Sports Royalty's first Wendy win would not come until Oct 24, 2019 (his 20th Island start), a 1:59.1 trip with Walter Cheverie aboard. Things did steadily improve with $6,618 in 2019 and over $13,000 last year from 32 starts. Gilles Barrieau hung a nifty 1:55.3 record on the six year old Halloween afternoon last year. He has almost $7,000 made this season with wins a bit harder to come by, as he seems to specialize in thirds. Royalty does have three siblings who raced on and earned over $200,000 each. Nice family history.
The Summing Up
My recent visit to the 55 acre MacRae Farm on MacAuley's Wharf Road on a dull afternoon was very pleasant. They have a one third of a mile jogging track around a field that has an obvious hill at one end. When questioned about that Wendy chuckles and adds, "it's good for building muscle". The property is a scant five minutes away from Pinette Raceway which they use for training miles.
There is a nice three horse trailer resting outside of a low level five stall barn. Half of this building, built ten years ago, is reserved for storing hay and straw at ground level. Residents in the barn were their two race horses and broodmare Pictonian Stardust. Her weanling was quietly looking around in a neighboring stall. The fifth stall was (surprisingly) occupied by Starcastic, formerly of the Ron Matheson Stable and owned by his wife Bobby Jo and Billie MacKenzie of Stratford, PEI.
Starcastic was a $13,000 Forest City yearling in 2013. Ron qualified him once at two and did not race him until the next year. He made 10 CDP starts at three with six wins and three seconds. Ron drove him nine times but it was Gilles Barrieau who put the 1:55.3 tab on him that August. They tried the son of All American Native that fall and winter in Ontario with trainer Gordie Ford. Woodbine proved a little tough but seven starts at London and Flamboro put about $11,000 on his card. After a solid four year old summer of CDP racing he was once again given a handful of London starts in late fall. Never off the board and over $7,400 made before back to PEI for good.
Starcastic won 17 of 131 lifetime starts. However, at age eight he failed to win in 20 tries, with no money in his final two. On Oct 10, 2020 the gallant racer faced the CDP starter for a last time, career money just shy of $50,000.
Wendy MacRae agreed to take Starcastic, and in 2021 she contested the matinee circuit with the now nine year old. Perhaps that can be part of the solution for the future. Still sound racehorses who lose a step or two, and no longer fit the bigger track classes could, with partnering between caring owners and good country homes, continue to race the matinees and provide learning opportunities for our interested youth. There should be attractive equine candidates every fall for such an arrangement....just needs some good coordination!!!
Like many in the standardbred sport the MacRaes are wonderful people. While they have enjoyed numerous harness racing highs over the years, one suspects their proudest feelings involve the family. As one of their neighbors commented to me, "they have raised four very nice kids, the kind any family would be proud of". That is easy to understand as anyone I talked with at the CDP, before I met Wendy, was quick to say how nice a person Wendy MacRae was.
On top of lab work and horse care Wendy has found time to operate a small in home business. She states "I have always been crafty", and after starting with harness bags (Jenn Doyle Stable) she now makes saddle pad numbers. It started with an order from the CDP, then through word of mouth calls came from Truro, Inverness and Northside. This year there were further orders from Flamboro and Rideau Carleton, and currently she is still awaiting a final decision from Fraser Downs in British Columbia.
It's a full life for sure, and one made that much more enjoyable by working with horses and loving them. Hats off to the MacRaes, and others like them.
The MacRae's more recent acquisition may be their most exciting yet. Dave Ratchford of Sydney, perhaps this Region's best assessor of yearling potential, paid $30,000 at the London Select Sale in 2019 for Hip # 140, Keeper Floored. He is a son of Sportswriter out of the $712,000 earning mare Keeper Destiny. This Intrepid Seelster mare was bred and raced by Casie Coleman. Her first foal brought $50,000 at the London Sale in 2017 but has yet to win big.
Dave trained Keeper Floored in Cape Breton and tried one qualifier at two...unsuccessfully. The colt had three qualifiers this year at Northside before making four starts with driver Aam Lynk. They registered two thirds and a fourth with best charted time of 2:04.2. However, that seemed to be enough for Dave, and on the Sale Board he went.
Now that Roger MacRae is work disabled due to MS he is able to keep a close eye on the Standardbred Canada website when they are seeking another horse. And that is how he landed Keeper Floored for $5,500. The first day the gelding's name appeared on the Sale Board Roger was quick to respond.
The MacRae's made one significant change before starting Keeper Floored at the CDP in August...no hopples. In his first nine Island starts the free legged pacer won four plus one second and two thirds for $5,500 in purse money. Kenny Arsenault has driven him in all his CDP races, putting up a 1:56 record in start number eight. However, in the last two outings Keeper Floored has rolled off stride at the seven eighths each time...quite frustrating for all concerned. Kenny thought he may be tiring some and the MacRaes have decided to lay him up for this season. With what he has shown in just two months of PEI racing it is understandable that those involved may harbor a little excitement as they await his four year old campaign.