07/27/2012 2:29PM

Fort Erie: Though retired, MacDonald still loves the game


FORT ERIE, Ontario – Former trainer Chris MacDonald, 71, remains a strong fan of Thoroughbred horse racing.

And, even though he currently rests in a hospital bed, MacDonald’s advocacy for the sport has no end.

“I cannot understand what the premier of Ontario was thinking about when he announced the end of the revenue-sharing program between the government and racetracks,” MacDonald said.

“There is no question that it is a very successful program and it has been copied by a number of other jurisdictions outside of Ontario.”

MacDonald also took issue with the suggestion that up to 60,000 jobs, direct and indirect, would be lost because of the premier’s actions.

“Job losses will be much more than the 60,000 figure,” said MacDonald, “and anyone who understands the business of racing and the related agricultural activity, realizes that the losses will be nearer to 100,000 jobs gone.”

MacDonald is wracked with a very severe case of rheumatoid arthritis, and he no longer has the use of his hands.

“I had to give up working with horses a few years ago,” MacDonald said, as he nodded toward his twisted fingers.

“I really miss it, but I had many good years and will never regret taking out my trainer’s license and then working with the likes of trainer Frank Passero and owner John Brnjas.”

MacDonald does not get out to see the races as often as he would like these days. But as his friends and associates will tell you, he never fails to speak his mind.

“I grew up on a farm near Cornwall, Ontario,” said MacDonald, “and our assortment of animals included horses. Through my teenage years I was often involved with the care of our horses – not Thoroughbreds, of course – but surprisingly, the knowledge gained at that time became very useful when I finally took up training some 20 years later.”

After leaving the farm, MacDonald took on an assortment of jobs, including working in “high steel,” on girders many stories above the ground.

“It just came natural,” said the gray-haired MacDonald, “but I eventually ended up at the track, bought a couple of horses and ran a little business of my own ponying Thoroughbreds.”

MacDonald decided to acquire his trainer’s license, and finally found the role he had been searching for over the years.

“I soon hooked up with my friend, the late Frank Passero and then John Brnjas of Colebrook Farms,” said MacDonald, “and year after year one success followed another. Frank would send horses to the Fort and when he was in Florida, shippers came north for me to handle at Greenwood and Woodbine.

“In the summer he would send runners to the Fort. I can recall times, in Frank’s absence, of taking care of 30 horses and managing schedules, the grooms and gallop staff. I loved it and I treasured my time working with Frank Passero.”

MacDonald believes that his mentor was one of the smartest horsemen around.

“Frank kept to himself but was never afraid to speak his mind,” MacDonald said. “He was a winner in many aspects of life and I feel honored to have known and worked with him for so many years. Others may differ with me, but my opinion stands.”