07/08/2011 12:45PM

Fort Erie racing secretary moving on

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FORT ERIE, Ontario – One of the key posts in the racing operation at Fort Erie will undergo a change this coming week as racing secretary John Whitson will leave to move on to other endeavors.

Whitson, who took over the role under the direction of the Fort Erie Consortium in 2010, brought along a wealth of experience from his many years in management roles at Woodbine Racetrack. Whitson came out of retirement for the challenging task of racing secretary, saying at the time that he “missed the racing world and the action.”

Whitson, who has commuted back and forth from the Toronto area for the past two seasons, was most appreciated by Fort Erie’s chief operations officer, Rick Cowan.

“He worked extremely well with the horsemen, and from Day 1 gave us good-sized and competitive fields and a solid framework of races in his condition books,” said Cowan. “I worked with him for many years at Woodbine and was very gratified in early 2010 to hear that he was going to join the Fort Erie team. He has always been a professional in every aspect of his life. We will miss his expertise and his friendship.”

Whitson will make his final tip of the hat at the Prince of Wales on July 17 and then hand over the reins of the racing secretary’s office to Eric Johnston.

Johnston worked alongside Whitson at the end of last season as the Quarter Horse racing secretary and did so again last week for the Fort’s Festival of Racing.

Three close finishes

Three stakes races headed the card last Monday as the Festival of Racing came to an end and all three turned out to have exciting finishes.

The Thoroughbred highlight was the $125,000 Rainbow Connection Stakes where the Michael Doyle-trained Sans Souci, under Luis Contreras, bided her time, sprinted clear then was full out to stave off a late-charging Bent Attorney.

Found a Candy Tree, in her stakes debut and off at 8-1, won the $54,000 Can Am Cup, a challenge race between the Canadian and American Quarter Horses. Trained by Clinton Crawford, who won seven races during the Festival, Found a Candy Tree battled from her wide post in the gate-to-wire win under Tony Bennett.

Jockey Helen Vanek, who has won more than 140 Thoroughbred races at the Fort, won two races in the Quarter Horse division on Monday, including the $100,000 Bank of America Challenge with the Helen Rettele-trained Fearles Fred. The 4-year-old gelding went gate to wire while fending off two challengers at the wire.

◗ The draw for post positions for the Prince of Wales Stakes will take place here on Wednesday afternoon in the Prince of Wales dining room., The festivities will begin at 1 p.m. with the draw scheduled for 2 p.m. Daniel Girardi, of the New York Rangers, will be the guest drawmaster.

Post time for the first race on Prince of Wales Day, July 17, is 2 p.m.