05/18/2012 11:12AM

Hastings: Head clocker Goss calls time on nearly 60 years of racetrack work


VANCOUVER, British Columbia – After 57 years of working various jobs in horse racing, Junior Goss, the head clocker at Hastings, has decided to retire. Goss, who will turn 73 on July 4, was to clock his final horse before the track closes for training at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“I think it’s time,” Goss said. “I’ve been kind of looking for an excuse, and when management cut our hours last week, I figured it was time to go. It will be a bit odd not coming to work on Sunday. I’m sure I’ll be up at my usual time of 4 a.m.”

Goss was 15 when he went to work as a hotwalker at Long Branch Race Track in Ontario.

He was running away from his home in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Quebec, when he was picked up hitchhiking by a prominent horse owner at Long Branch.

“Rene Cardinal was his name,” Goss recalled. “I wasn’t thinking about going to work at the track, but when he picked me up he said he could give me a place to stay and a job. A place to sleep sounded pretty good, so I jumped at the chance and I’ve been working at the track ever since.”

Goss graduated from being a hotwalker to galloping horses in a short span.

“I got on my first horse at Long Branch,” Goss said. “Then I started getting on horses at the farm, but I didn’t know anything and wasn’t very good at it.”

Goss has a keen eye for a horse, which has certainly helped in his role as a clocker. He said he gained most of his knowledge from Emile Allain, a trainer he went to New England with to race at the fairs about a year after he started working at Long Branch. The fair circuit no longer exists, but back then it was big business. It included tracks like Berkshire Downs, Brockton, and Weymouth.

“The fairs lasted about seven weeks, and each track ran one or two weeks,” Goss said. “Allain was probably one of the best horsemen I’ve ever been around. He taught me how to gallop a horse properly and how to really look at a horse. He said that if you want to know what’s going on with a horse, watch him eat. He’ll tell you more about what’s bothering him when he is eating than any other time.”

In 1963, Goss moved to Vancouver, where he worked as an agent and also tried his hand at training. Goss has always been a straight shooter and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. His lack of diplomatic skills may have had something to do with his short-lived career as a trainer.

“I was pretty good with the horses,” Goss said. “But I found out training horses was a lot easier than training owners. I told the last guy I worked for his horses were crap. A week later, he sold them all and I was out of a job.”

In 1969, Goss moved to the front side as the track photographer. He continued as either the photographer or working in the lab until 1995.

He began clocking horses in 1975 and became the head clocker in 1981. When he became the Equibase chart caller in 1991, he had to give up one of his jobs and stepped back from clocking. He returned as a clocker in 1996 and once again became the lead clocker in 2006.

“I have so many great memories, but it’s hard to put your finger on the ones that stand out,” he said. “Certainly winning my first race as a trainer with a horse called Basket Carrier is something I’ll never forget. He was the four horse in the fourth race and he paid $32.70. One year when I was an agent for Lee Walls, we won three stakes in eight days.”

Not going to the track every day is going to be hard on Goss. The only time he took time off during the racing season was when he had a heart attack in 1999.

“I’ve been doing it for so long, I’m not sure how I’ll adjust,” he said. “I’ll certainly miss kibitzing around in the jocks’ room after the races. I’ll also miss working with the guy at the gap.”

He was referring to former jockey Gerry Brownell who has been identifying horses as they come out to work since 1985.

Goss has no real plans other than to quit smoking.

“I want to be around for a while, so I can watch my 17-month old grandson Sloan grow up,” he said.

Goss is affectionately referred to as “Chief,” by the Hastings clocking crew. Alison Goulding, who will take over as the head clocker Sunday said she will miss him.

“He might have a rough exterior, but he has a heart of gold,” Goulding said. “He gave my late husband Larry his first job and he took me in when Larry died in 2006. My family owes him a lot.”