08/16/2013 1:44PM

Bruce Walker inducted into Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame as communicator

Terence Dulay/Horse-Races.net
Bruce Walker (left) receives his Hall of Fame ring from jockey Ron Turcotte.

MISSISSAUGA, Ontario – The Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame introduced a new communicator category this year to facilitate the induction of writers, broadcasters, announcers, or photographers who otherwise might not have been recognized.

Appropriately, the first communicator inductee was Bruce Walker, who headed the publicity department of the Ontario Jockey Club from 1967 until his retirement in 1997 after starting out with the company in 1960.

Walker and six other Thoroughbred racing inductees were among those honored Thursday night at the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame’s annual ceremony and fundraising dinner at the Mississauga Convention Centre.

The others feted by a sellout crowd of 275 were: Sealy Hill, female horse; Soaring Free, male horse; trainers Phil England and Sid Attard; the late John Sikura, in the builder category; and Secretariat, veteran horse.

Those inductees were elected through the vote of 20 members of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame’s Thoroughbred selection committee, who chose from three names submitted by the nominations committee. A minimum of eight votes is required for induction.

The late Jack Hood and Hidden Treasure were this year’s Thoroughbred Legends inductees, chosen by committee.

Those in attendance Thursday included Deb Stark, deputy minister of Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs; Hazel McCallion, longtime mayor of Mississauga; and John Snobelen, a former cabinet minister who sits on the three-man Ontario Horse Racing Industry Transition Panel.

Walker, the first inductee of the evening, was presented with his ring by Ron Turcotte, himself a Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee in 1980.

The 73-year-old Walker recalled being hired as an assistant to Jim Coleman, who was inducted into the builder category in 1984.

“Jim Coleman told me I had a job for life,” said Walker, who also was one of the founders of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, served as the president of the Turf Publicists of America, and can count a record four Sovereign Awards in the feature story category among his numerous honors. “It turned out to be the job of a lifetime.”

Sealy Hill was Canada’s Horse of the Year, champion 3-year-old filly, and champion turf female in 2007 for trainer Mark Casse.

Phil Hronec, farm manager for Sealy Hill’s owner and breeder, Eugene Melnyk, was on hand for the ceremony.

“Sealy Hill has always been special to me,” Hronec said. “I was there when she was born, broke her, and trained her for Mark Casse.”

Soaring Free, a homebred who raced for Sam-Son Farm and was trained by Mark Frostad, had his best campaign in 2004 when he was Canada’s Horse of the Year and champion turf horse.

Frostad and Rick Balaz, who succeeded his late wife, Tammy-Samuel Balaz, as the head of Sam-Son Farm, both spoke to the occasion.

“Soaring Free has a special place in my heart,” said Frostad, who was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2011. “He was certainly a barn favorite, and he was a definitely a favorite of Tammy’s.”

England trained Horses of the Year Afleet, Benburb, and Thornfield during his years with Knob Hill Stable.

“I’m sure glad to be here, and I’ve certainly been lucky,” the 69-year-old England said in his usual understated fashion. “I’ve had so many good horses, and I’ve just fell into them.’

Attard, perennially among the top trainers at Woodbine, has career highlights including Sovereign Awards with Woodbine Mile winner Numerous Times as champion turf horse; Ginger Gold, 2-year-old filly; and three-time champion older female One for Rose.

Larry Attard, one of Sid’s brothers and an inductee himself as a jockey in 2001, made the presentation.

“I want to thank all my family, all my owners, and all my help – I have good help,” said the 62-year-old Sid Attard, who had numerous family members and several of his owners in attendance.

John Sikura, who died in 1994 at age 60, was the founder of Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm, which went on to become a major player in the racing, breeding, and sales businesses.

His sons, Glenn Sikura and John G. Sikura, have carried on the Hill ‘n’ Dale brand in Kentucky and Ontario.

“He led us to believe we could accomplish anything and everything we wanted to,” said John G. Sikura, who referred to his father’s humble beginnings in Canada as a teenager after his family fled Europe in the post-World War II years.

The criteria for veteran horse were broadened this year to include any horse who had made a significant contribution to Canadian racing, regardless of origin.

Secretariat, who had put Woodbine on the world stage when winning the 1973 Canadian International in his final career appearance, adds a Canadian Thoroughbred Hall of Fame berth to his host of accomplishments.

Turcotte, who was Secretariat’s regular rider through his Triple Crown sweep but was serving a suspension and was replaced by Eddie Maple in the Canadian International, returned to the podium for the final presentation of the evening.

Chris Tweedy, son of Secretarit’s owner Penny Chenery, accepted the honor from Sandy Hawley, a Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee in 1986.

“I would like to note the contributions of Ron Turcotte and Lucien Laurin,” Tweedy said. “Without them, I don’t think Secretariat’s career would have turned out the way it did.”

◗ Six Standardbred inductees who went through the same nomination and voting process also were honored – Eternal Camnation, female horse; Admiral’s Express, male horse; Niatross, veteran horse; Doug Harkness, communicator; Carl Jamieson, trainer; and William Rowe, builder.

Celias Counsel and Samuel Johnston were the Standardbred Legends inductees.