12/05/2012 2:21PM

Woodbine: Velden retiring after 39 years at the track

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Michael Burns
Marty Velden, a former trainer, is retiring as Woodbine's manager of backstretch operations when the meet ends next week.

ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Marty Velden has seen racetrack life from both sides, coming to the Woodbine backstretch as a groom in 1973 and signing on with management as the assistant stallman 30 years later.

Now Velden, who turned 65 last month, will be retiring from his position of manager of backstretch operations and riding off into the sunset shortly after the meeting here winds up Dec. 16.

“When the last horse leaves, I’m done,” Velden said in his office here the other morning.

Velden was born in Holland, but his parents relocated to Canada when he was less than a year old.

His move to the racetrack was not ordained by any family background, and Velden came to the game as a racing fan.

“I had a BA in English from the University of Western Ontario,” Velden said. “When I graduated I’d work for a while, at various jobs, and then I would travel.

“I did that for a couple of years, but the only thing that interested me at the time was racing. I thought I’d see if I enjoyed working here. I did, and I stayed here the rest of my life.”

Velden, 25 years old at the time, obtained his first job here through a government-sponsored racing program for grooms and worked with trainer Larry Grant for a year before moving to the barn of Fred Brisske.

“I worked with Fred Brisske for five years,” said Velden, who had graduated from groom to assistant trainer by 1978.

In 1979, Velden set out on his own and registered his first win here that May 9 with the $3,000 claimer Beechcraft.

“I came back in 1980 as assistant with Sam-Son Farm,” Velden said. “I was with them for one year; I had 25 horses for them at Fort Erie.

“The next year, I was an assistant with Laurie Anderson. When he moved to California, he talked some of his owners into staying with me.”

Velden had his best years at the beginning of his second go-round as a trainer, compiling a record of 13-6-7 from 57 starters in 1982 and a mark of 12-7-2 from 72 entrants in 1983.

His charges during that span included Creigneish, who gave Velden his first and only stakes win in Greenwood’s 1983 Valedictory.

Later runners for Velden in that decade included Trooper John and Stormy Appeal, each of whom placed in four stakes. Trooper John, second in the 1986 Marine, contested that year’s Queen’s Plate but finished 12th of 13 at odds of 18-1.

“The most horses I ever had was eight, and I usually didn’t have that many,” said Velden, whose output was declining when opportunity knocked in the form of Mike Wasilkowsky, a friend of Velden’s who was retiring from the stallman’s position.

“He suggested I might want the job,” Velden said. “It sort of went in one ear and out the other.

“Trainers are almost all optimistic at the beginning of the year. I only had a couple of horses, but I was going to kill the country with them. They quickly fell by the wayside.”

Velden decided it was time for the relative security of the racing department position and has had no cause for regrets.

“I’ve enjoyed the job”,” said Velden, whose duties have included informing trainers that they have to shift horses around or move them offtrack due to upcoming sales or declining numbers in their shed rows.

“It can be stressful, on occasion – there’s no doubt about that. But there are a lot of good people I’ve been working with who helped take a lot of the burden off me and make it less stressful.

“And the horsemen, by and large, have been pretty cooperative.”

Velden has no road map for his retirement, but definitely will not be staying put.

“I love just getting in my car and driving,” he said.”Because of my schedule here, I’ve been much pretty limited to the winter months. I’ve been to Florida most years and a few times to California.

“I want to do a little summertime traveling. I’ve been to every province in Canada, except Prince Edward Island, and I’ve been to every state in the U.S. – most of them a few times – except Alaska and Hawaii.”

Being an avid reader, Velden will never be lacking company during his travels.

And, he acknowledges, the road undoubtedly will wind back through Woodbine.

“I may come back and walk the odd horse; I love walking horses,” Velden said.

“I don’t think I’ll be a stranger here. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years. This business does get in your blood. It’s hard to walk away from here.”

◗ Several races will be added during the final week of the meeting, with nine set for both Wednesday and Thursday, 10 for Friday, and 11 for Saturday.

Wednesday’s card will begin at 6:45 p.m., with the last race set for 10:40 p.m.

Thursday’s program will begin at 2 p.m. and is to conclude at 5:54 p.m.

The Friday and Saturday cards start at 1:05 p.m., with Friday’s finale set for 5:25 p.m. and Saturday’s for 5:56 p.m.

The schedule for closing day, Sunday, Dec. 16, has not been announced.