Mohawk season opens amidst lingering heartbreak

Community Apr 06, 2016 by Steve LeBlanc Milton Canadian Champion

As Chantal Mitchell and boyfriend/partner Kris DiCenzo head back to Classy Lane Stables after a night of racing at Woodbine, the couple runs down their lengthy to-do list for the following day.

As they draw near to the Puslinch facility — with smoke and flames engulfing Barn #1 — it becomes frightening evident that their immediate schedule has just been wiped clean.

And their world torn apart.

“We suddenly went from having a very busy day to not being busy at all,” trainer/owner Mitchell recalled of the January 4 fire that claimed 43 horses — including 14 of her own, 11 standardbreds and three miniature horses she and DiCenzo had as pets. Their one remaining horse — colt pacer Rakin It In — survived only because he was competing at Woodbine that night.

Three months have passed since the tragedy, and on the surface it’s business as usual at Mohawk, set to open its new season tomorrow (Thursday).

But for those hit heaviest by the horror at Classy Lane — the area’s worst horse-related fire since the fatal blaze at Mohawk in 1992 (60 horses killed), with the overall financial loss estimated between $4 and $6 million — an underlying emptiness remains.

“I can’t really say anything but the obvious… how devastating and heartbreaking it is,” said Mitchell, while offering Rakin It In a pet and smile following his pre-season qualifier Friday morning.

• • •

As Roger Mayotte prepares for the new season, he does so with a heavy heart.

Losing four horses will do that.

The veteran trainer and driver hasn’t been especially talkative about the Classy Lane tragedy — at least beyond his inner circle — but that’s certainly not for a lack of grief.

“It was the lowest point in my life. My heart’s going to be heavy for a long time,” he admits between qualifying races Friday — anguish all too apparent through soft-spoken words. “I’ve been busy the last few days. That’s helped keep my mind off it (loss). It’s been tough.”

Asked to speak of his perished horses, Mayotte politely declines to offer specifics, noting simply that, “They were all special. They all had a lot of potential.”

He and Mitchell’s heartbreak is shared by many, including those far beyond Classy Lane and the surrounding area.

“It made me sick to my stomach when I heard (of the fire). It’s terrible… a horse person’s worst nightmare,” said Stouffville trainer Carmen Auciello. “We’re a pretty close-knit community. Everybody knows everybody, and this could happen to everyone.”

Added Woodbine/Mohawk maintenance employee Gerry Marion, “Yes, I’d say there’s still a sense of loss here. I just hope the horses didn’t suffer much, that the smoke got them before the fire did.”

• • •

Mohawk’s 144-night season — its biggest in track history, which for the first time will extend into early November — opens on the heels of a remarkable show of support for Classy Lane’s victims.

Even Central Ontario Standardbred Association President Bill O’Donnell remains awestruck, having figured the GoFundMe page established immediately following the tragedy would net somewhere between $80,000 to $100,000.

“We got $100,000 in the first 12 hours. The support hasn’t just been local, but across North America and from as far as New Zealand. It’s been amazing,” he said of the roughly three quarters of a million dollars that’s been amassed from the main Classy Lane fundraiser and a few individual GoFundMe pages. The main page saw 1,409 groups and individuals donate $678,671, a GoFundMe Canadian high. O’Donnell has helped oversee the collection and distribution of the funds.

Added Woodbine Entertainment Group Executive VP of Racing Jamie Martin, “The campaign has been hugely successful. Of course this doesn’t replace the lost horses, but hopefully this will help people get back on their feet.”

While donations from horse associations across Canada and the US make up the bulk of the $750,000 raised, several hundred individuals were quick to contribute.

Among them, O’Donnell noted, was a young horse-loving girl who brought in the $100 she’d earned the previous summer.

“That was pretty touching. It was so heartening (support for victims).”

Mitchell and Mayotte echoed those sentiments.

“It’s heartwarming,” said Mitchell, referring to the overall outpouring of assistance and the $11,000 raised on a GoFundMe page set up by her brother specifically for her and DiCenzo. “Everyone says in our industry some people might not get along, but they always come together in tragedy. If there’s an opportunity for me to help out others like this, I will.”

Added Mayotte, “It (support) was just amazing… overwhelming. To think people would be touched by this is unbelievable.”

• • •

Most financially impacted by the Classy Lane fire, Milton’s Ben Wallace lost 17 horses he either owned or trained.

Among them was Apprentice Hanover, owned by fellow Miltonian Brad Grant and valued at more than $1 million.

But Wallace was quick to point out that this tragedy can’t be measured simply in dollars and cents.

That’s a prevalent belief among his industry colleagues.

“Absolutely,” stressed O’Donnell of the emotional toll left by the January fire. “Ben’s been in this business 45 years. It’s his whole life. He gets up every morning and goes to work training horses. I can’t imagine what he felt like the next day. And each and everyone (else) in that barn.”

But as even those most deeply impacted by the tragedy will note, life — and livelihood — must go on.

“I just have to work and hustle for to find more horses,” said Mitchell. “I have to keep doing what I know best.”

Mohawk’s 2016 campaign begins with four nights of racing a week and kicks up to five nights for the summer, with the season highlighted by the $1-million Pepsi North America Cup on June 18.

Mohawk season opens amidst lingering heartbreak

Trainers still reeling from Classy Lane Stables fire that claimed 43 horses

Community Apr 06, 2016 by Steve LeBlanc Milton Canadian Champion

As Chantal Mitchell and boyfriend/partner Kris DiCenzo head back to Classy Lane Stables after a night of racing at Woodbine, the couple runs down their lengthy to-do list for the following day.

As they draw near to the Puslinch facility — with smoke and flames engulfing Barn #1 — it becomes frightening evident that their immediate schedule has just been wiped clean.

And their world torn apart.

“We suddenly went from having a very busy day to not being busy at all,” trainer/owner Mitchell recalled of the January 4 fire that claimed 43 horses — including 14 of her own, 11 standardbreds and three miniature horses she and DiCenzo had as pets. Their one remaining horse — colt pacer Rakin It In — survived only because he was competing at Woodbine that night.

“It was the lowest point in my life. My heart’s going to be heavy for a long time.”

Trainer/driver Roger Mayotte
Lost 4 horses in Classy Lane fire

Three months have passed since the tragedy, and on the surface it’s business as usual at Mohawk, set to open its new season tomorrow (Thursday).

But for those hit heaviest by the horror at Classy Lane — the area’s worst horse-related fire since the fatal blaze at Mohawk in 1992 (60 horses killed), with the overall financial loss estimated between $4 and $6 million — an underlying emptiness remains.

“I can’t really say anything but the obvious… how devastating and heartbreaking it is,” said Mitchell, while offering Rakin It In a pet and smile following his pre-season qualifier Friday morning.

• • •

As Roger Mayotte prepares for the new season, he does so with a heavy heart.

Losing four horses will do that.

The veteran trainer and driver hasn’t been especially talkative about the Classy Lane tragedy — at least beyond his inner circle — but that’s certainly not for a lack of grief.

“It was the lowest point in my life. My heart’s going to be heavy for a long time,” he admits between qualifying races Friday — anguish all too apparent through soft-spoken words. “I’ve been busy the last few days. That’s helped keep my mind off it (loss). It’s been tough.”

Asked to speak of his perished horses, Mayotte politely declines to offer specifics, noting simply that, “They were all special. They all had a lot of potential.”

He and Mitchell’s heartbreak is shared by many, including those far beyond Classy Lane and the surrounding area.

“It made me sick to my stomach when I heard (of the fire). It’s terrible… a horse person’s worst nightmare,” said Stouffville trainer Carmen Auciello. “We’re a pretty close-knit community. Everybody knows everybody, and this could happen to everyone.”

Added Woodbine/Mohawk maintenance employee Gerry Marion, “Yes, I’d say there’s still a sense of loss here. I just hope the horses didn’t suffer much, that the smoke got them before the fire did.”

• • •

Mohawk’s 144-night season — its biggest in track history, which for the first time will extend into early November — opens on the heels of a remarkable show of support for Classy Lane’s victims.

Even Central Ontario Standardbred Association President Bill O’Donnell remains awestruck, having figured the GoFundMe page established immediately following the tragedy would net somewhere between $80,000 to $100,000.

“We got $100,000 in the first 12 hours. The support hasn’t just been local, but across North America and from as far as New Zealand. It’s been amazing,” he said of the roughly three quarters of a million dollars that’s been amassed from the main Classy Lane fundraiser and a few individual GoFundMe pages. The main page saw 1,409 groups and individuals donate $678,671, a GoFundMe Canadian high. O’Donnell has helped oversee the collection and distribution of the funds.

Added Woodbine Entertainment Group Executive VP of Racing Jamie Martin, “The campaign has been hugely successful. Of course this doesn’t replace the lost horses, but hopefully this will help people get back on their feet.”

While donations from horse associations across Canada and the US make up the bulk of the $750,000 raised, several hundred individuals were quick to contribute.

Among them, O’Donnell noted, was a young horse-loving girl who brought in the $100 she’d earned the previous summer.

“That was pretty touching. It was so heartening (support for victims).”

Mitchell and Mayotte echoed those sentiments.

“It’s heartwarming,” said Mitchell, referring to the overall outpouring of assistance and the $11,000 raised on a GoFundMe page set up by her brother specifically for her and DiCenzo. “Everyone says in our industry some people might not get along, but they always come together in tragedy. If there’s an opportunity for me to help out others like this, I will.”

Added Mayotte, “It (support) was just amazing… overwhelming. To think people would be touched by this is unbelievable.”

• • •

Most financially impacted by the Classy Lane fire, Milton’s Ben Wallace lost 17 horses he either owned or trained.

Among them was Apprentice Hanover, owned by fellow Miltonian Brad Grant and valued at more than $1 million.

But Wallace was quick to point out that this tragedy can’t be measured simply in dollars and cents.

That’s a prevalent belief among his industry colleagues.

“Absolutely,” stressed O’Donnell of the emotional toll left by the January fire. “Ben’s been in this business 45 years. It’s his whole life. He gets up every morning and goes to work training horses. I can’t imagine what he felt like the next day. And each and everyone (else) in that barn.”

But as even those most deeply impacted by the tragedy will note, life — and livelihood — must go on.

“I just have to work and hustle for to find more horses,” said Mitchell. “I have to keep doing what I know best.”

Mohawk’s 2016 campaign begins with four nights of racing a week and kicks up to five nights for the summer, with the season highlighted by the $1-million Pepsi North America Cup on June 18.

Mohawk season opens amidst lingering heartbreak

Trainers still reeling from Classy Lane Stables fire that claimed 43 horses

Community Apr 06, 2016 by Steve LeBlanc Milton Canadian Champion

As Chantal Mitchell and boyfriend/partner Kris DiCenzo head back to Classy Lane Stables after a night of racing at Woodbine, the couple runs down their lengthy to-do list for the following day.

As they draw near to the Puslinch facility — with smoke and flames engulfing Barn #1 — it becomes frightening evident that their immediate schedule has just been wiped clean.

And their world torn apart.

“We suddenly went from having a very busy day to not being busy at all,” trainer/owner Mitchell recalled of the January 4 fire that claimed 43 horses — including 14 of her own, 11 standardbreds and three miniature horses she and DiCenzo had as pets. Their one remaining horse — colt pacer Rakin It In — survived only because he was competing at Woodbine that night.

“It was the lowest point in my life. My heart’s going to be heavy for a long time.”

Trainer/driver Roger Mayotte
Lost 4 horses in Classy Lane fire

Three months have passed since the tragedy, and on the surface it’s business as usual at Mohawk, set to open its new season tomorrow (Thursday).

But for those hit heaviest by the horror at Classy Lane — the area’s worst horse-related fire since the fatal blaze at Mohawk in 1992 (60 horses killed), with the overall financial loss estimated between $4 and $6 million — an underlying emptiness remains.

“I can’t really say anything but the obvious… how devastating and heartbreaking it is,” said Mitchell, while offering Rakin It In a pet and smile following his pre-season qualifier Friday morning.

• • •

As Roger Mayotte prepares for the new season, he does so with a heavy heart.

Losing four horses will do that.

The veteran trainer and driver hasn’t been especially talkative about the Classy Lane tragedy — at least beyond his inner circle — but that’s certainly not for a lack of grief.

“It was the lowest point in my life. My heart’s going to be heavy for a long time,” he admits between qualifying races Friday — anguish all too apparent through soft-spoken words. “I’ve been busy the last few days. That’s helped keep my mind off it (loss). It’s been tough.”

Asked to speak of his perished horses, Mayotte politely declines to offer specifics, noting simply that, “They were all special. They all had a lot of potential.”

He and Mitchell’s heartbreak is shared by many, including those far beyond Classy Lane and the surrounding area.

“It made me sick to my stomach when I heard (of the fire). It’s terrible… a horse person’s worst nightmare,” said Stouffville trainer Carmen Auciello. “We’re a pretty close-knit community. Everybody knows everybody, and this could happen to everyone.”

Added Woodbine/Mohawk maintenance employee Gerry Marion, “Yes, I’d say there’s still a sense of loss here. I just hope the horses didn’t suffer much, that the smoke got them before the fire did.”

• • •

Mohawk’s 144-night season — its biggest in track history, which for the first time will extend into early November — opens on the heels of a remarkable show of support for Classy Lane’s victims.

Even Central Ontario Standardbred Association President Bill O’Donnell remains awestruck, having figured the GoFundMe page established immediately following the tragedy would net somewhere between $80,000 to $100,000.

“We got $100,000 in the first 12 hours. The support hasn’t just been local, but across North America and from as far as New Zealand. It’s been amazing,” he said of the roughly three quarters of a million dollars that’s been amassed from the main Classy Lane fundraiser and a few individual GoFundMe pages. The main page saw 1,409 groups and individuals donate $678,671, a GoFundMe Canadian high. O’Donnell has helped oversee the collection and distribution of the funds.

Added Woodbine Entertainment Group Executive VP of Racing Jamie Martin, “The campaign has been hugely successful. Of course this doesn’t replace the lost horses, but hopefully this will help people get back on their feet.”

While donations from horse associations across Canada and the US make up the bulk of the $750,000 raised, several hundred individuals were quick to contribute.

Among them, O’Donnell noted, was a young horse-loving girl who brought in the $100 she’d earned the previous summer.

“That was pretty touching. It was so heartening (support for victims).”

Mitchell and Mayotte echoed those sentiments.

“It’s heartwarming,” said Mitchell, referring to the overall outpouring of assistance and the $11,000 raised on a GoFundMe page set up by her brother specifically for her and DiCenzo. “Everyone says in our industry some people might not get along, but they always come together in tragedy. If there’s an opportunity for me to help out others like this, I will.”

Added Mayotte, “It (support) was just amazing… overwhelming. To think people would be touched by this is unbelievable.”

• • •

Most financially impacted by the Classy Lane fire, Milton’s Ben Wallace lost 17 horses he either owned or trained.

Among them was Apprentice Hanover, owned by fellow Miltonian Brad Grant and valued at more than $1 million.

But Wallace was quick to point out that this tragedy can’t be measured simply in dollars and cents.

That’s a prevalent belief among his industry colleagues.

“Absolutely,” stressed O’Donnell of the emotional toll left by the January fire. “Ben’s been in this business 45 years. It’s his whole life. He gets up every morning and goes to work training horses. I can’t imagine what he felt like the next day. And each and everyone (else) in that barn.”

But as even those most deeply impacted by the tragedy will note, life — and livelihood — must go on.

“I just have to work and hustle for to find more horses,” said Mitchell. “I have to keep doing what I know best.”

Mohawk’s 2016 campaign begins with four nights of racing a week and kicks up to five nights for the summer, with the season highlighted by the $1-million Pepsi North America Cup on June 18.