09/28/2012 1:43PM

Fort Erie: Todd has seen it all in his 44 years of service

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FORT ERIE, Ontario – Wayne Todd began watching the Thoroughbreds at Fort Erie in the mid-1950’s when his father took him to a roadside by this border oval and the two of them watched the racing action free of charge.

Todd, now 64, recalls how he found his love of horse racing and then built that relationship into a 44-year career at the track, mostly spent in the mutuels department.

“Beginning in 1968, while working on my systems analysis degree, I spent five years working part-time at the Fort,” said Todd.

“Then I took on a full-time role and over the next decade or so, I seasonally rotated through the three [Ontario] Jockey Club tracks, the Fort, Greenwood, and Woodbine.”

Todd had contracted polio in 1949, and has been confined to a wheelchair ever since his first birthday. During his childhood years he adapted and adjusted to his confinement.

“It is quite different when you begin life in this manner,” Todd said. “It is a natural transition and learning stage. I’ve never known anything else.”

“On the other hand,” continued Todd, “I feel for those individuals that have an accident as an adult, become confined, and are forced into a completely new lifestyle, one that shackles their dreams and possibilities.”

Always in a pleasant mood, Todd has made many friends over the years and credits his mother, who also worked at the track, for his numerous relationships.

“Mom was always assigned to care for many celebrities over the years, “ said Todd, “including the Queen, E.P. Taylor and his wife, Winnie; Toronto Maple Leaf owner Connie Smythe; and many more.”

Today, Todd relates many of the stories that his mother passed on, such as how Winnie Taylor always put her mutuel tickets under the sugar bowl to sweeten up her chances of winning.

Over the years, he recalls the regular arrival of Ontario Jockey Club bigwigs from Toronto.

“They would arrive in a big red float plane,” said Todd, “and then put in an official work day while wagering on the races. As you can well imagine, a very tough life.”

Times were a challenge in the 1990s following the Jockey Club sale of the Fort,” added Todd, “and we struggled to stay open year after year.

“When our provincial government brought about the arrangement of slots at the track a dozen years ago, things brightened up considerably. Sadly, the present government is withdrawing from that arrangement for both harness and Thoroughbred tracks and most of them will close.”

Todd received his layoff notice this month; his final day will be Breeders’ Cup Day, Nov. 3.

“There is so much history here,” said Todd, “and now so many people will lose their jobs and their way of life. I guess I am one of the few lucky souls with my career behind me. My retirement will be taken in stride.”

◗ Sandy Hawley led the “Circle the Course for Cancer” day last week and it was an outstanding success as hundreds joined the famous jockey, himself a cancer survivor, in the hike around the Fort oval.

“It was extremely uplifting to see the support,” said the track’s chief operating officer, Rick Cowan, “and it will be a day to be remembered for years to come.”

◗ Quarter Horse racing returns to the Fort this Wednesday, with post time at 1.15 p.m., and also is scheduled for two other Wednesdays, Oct. 10, and Oct. 17, and Saturdays Oct. 6 and Oct. 13.