Page 21 - April 2008 The Game
P. 21

Canada’s Thoroughbred Racing Newspaper
The Game, April 2008 21
AWalk Down Memory Lane With Tony Gedak by Jackie Humber farm was immaculate and it was right
A Dangerous Profession
atching the races as a young- beside Lansdowne. I had to work all ster usually begins with a trip day there and I even had to mow his
considered one of the
to the track with your parents. But for longtime Hastings’ horseman, Tony Gedak his  rst encounter began in his crib.
lawn,” said Gedak.
In ‘61 Gedak was working with
The moment my horse saw the gap, she went for it. I knew instantly my dilemma hadn’t been solved. Now we were bolting to the outside rail. My right leg was completely useless and I was about to tip over sideways and land beneath her thrashing hooves.
“My family lived right next door to Lansdowne Park and
my crib faced out the
window at the track.
Lou Hammond. They would train at Lansdowne and race at Hastings. The following year the Hammond out t
One hot day in Boston, I
was riding a little dark bay
 lly in the second half of the daily double. The  lly had bolted in her last race but I had worked her in the morning and the stewards had okayed her to run. Though she navigated the turn successfully, I sensed she was reserving the right to head for the outside fence. We drew an inside post position and I would stay close to the rail and let the outside horses guide us around. That, at least, was the plan.
most dangerous sports. But
in the day-to-day business of racing, there are more near- disasters than actual fatalities. I can personally attest to that.
orse racing is
A Head at the Wire
A Series of Real Life Stories by Paddy Head
You could hear Jack Short announcing the races clear as a bell,” recalled Gedak.
remained at Hastings
and never returned to Lansdowne. They won the Derby that year and the owner of the horse was
so thrilled that he gave Gedak a horse. “It was my  rst horse and his name was Free Glory and I was so pleased, “ recalled Gedak. Free Glory went on to race  ve more times  nishing second on four occasions before being claimed. This was truly Gedak’s free glory.
learning from advice given by some of his training idols. “There was Jimmy Halkett, McDougall, Ed Simminelli, they all encouraged me,” said Gedak.
With the adrenalin that comes only in times of near death, I forced my ex- hausted body to heave upwards with a great thrust and freed my left foot from the stirrup. My entire weight plunked down into the saddle in bareback fash- ion and I grabbed a handful of mane. The reins  apped loosely against the  lly’s neck. My left hand reached for the inside rein but I caught myself in the nick of time. If I yanked her head in, she wouldn’t see the outside rail and we would  ip over it. I wanted her to see exactly where it was. I hoped she wanted to live as much as I did.
He is one of
9 children born
to Romanian
parents. During the war
the Gedaks and their
three children left their
home country to the
safety of Canada. They
settled in the rural town
of Richmond, B.C.
and soon the family grew to include eight more children, however two of the youngest did not survive.
The  lly was agitated in the gate
and the handler had a dif cult time with her. When the latches opened,
he swung her head violently to
get her into position. The  lly lost
her balance and hit the side of the gate as she launched. It was all I could do to keep her on her feet and stay in the saddle as I tipped sharply to the outside. At this point, I realized that I had lost my right stirrup coming out of the gate. There was no time to focus on that as I hustled my horse into stride and got into contention.
Tony was born in 1936 and is the third youngest of the family and the only one to get the racing bug.
His pioneering spirit soon emerged as he purchased some land in Langley Prairie. “In those days you had to do everything yourself. I had to build all the barns to house the horses. We had only outdoor plumbing so I even had to pump the water for the horses,” he said.
Inches away from the rail, the  lly’s survival instinct cut in. She switched to her left lead and launched forward. I exhaled in relief, but it was only tem- porary. We were now on the turn lead- ing into the homestretch. Before we reached the stretch, we would pass an open gap. The  lly knew the gap was the way back to the stable area. That was exactly where she wanted to go.
“As a kid all I ever did was draw horses and watch the races through
an opening in the fence. It was a great time and a wonderful atmosphere to be around,” he said.
I sent her forward and angled toward the inside rail. A couple of horses took a position on the outside and I was satis ed that I was in perfect position. Now, to pick up my stirrup.
Now at 71 Gedak looks like a lifelong racetracker. His hands are weathered and worn like an aged piece of leather from years as a blacksmith. His constant pleasant smile beams underneath his feathered ballcap,
a familiar site on the Hastings backstretch.
It was during this time that Gedak would learn the art of being a black- smith, a job he still perfects today. “I really just watched other blacksmiths and taught myself. I had to in order to get the job done, “ he said.
I reached down to grab the stirrup leather and hold it steady so I could slip my foot in. I fumbled for several seconds and  nally looked down. To my horror, I realized there was no stirrup. It had obviously been ripped off when she hit the side of the gate.
Once again, I had a strong desire
to grab the inside rein but that wasn’t going to convince her to stay on the track. My whip would have to do that. I waved the whip beside her head as we continued around the turn. The  lly bumped the outside rail, telegraphing her intentions. Stronger motivation was called for. As the gap loomed,
I aimed the whip and slapped her sharply on the nose. Startled by the sudden sting of the whip, she forgot about the gap. I kept up a staccato rhythm of slapping her nose and we  ew by the open gap and into the stretch. I waved the whip to discourage her from scraping the outside rail.
He still recalls the good old days
of winning Derbys and being at the races. “In ‘47 Ab Junior won the B.C. Derby. It was a hot summer day and me and my sister were at the races selling cherries for 10 cents a bag. We made quit a bit of money that day, yes indeed,” he said with a grin.
Gedak still remembers his  rst attempt at shoeing. “I went to Buck- er elds and bought some nails and some shoes. I had to shoe my old mare. She had very bad feet as I recall. After a very arduous ordeal the shoes were on,” he said shaking his head in wonderment.
Panic welled up from deep inside. How could I stay on through the entire race with only one stirrup?
At 13 years-old, 85 pound Gedak received his  rst license. “I remem- ber galloping and I was frightened
as hell,” he said. Young Gedak spent most of his teen years walking hots at Lansdowne Park. Some of his siblings followed him to the track but after a short time it was only Tony from the Gedak clan that remained.
During his life, Gedak married and divorced three time, because as he says, “the horses always came  rst.”
My leg felt strong as I clamped it against the saddle. Maybe, just maybe, I could do it. I swallowed my fear and focused on riding. In spite of a slow start, we were in the middle of the pack and the  lly was running strong. So far, so good.
In the  nal eighth of a mile, every last ounce of energy evaporated from my exhausted body. I loosened the grip with my legs and just moved with her stride. At the corner of my eye I saw the punters in the grandstand hurling tickets and insults at me. The Boston crowd is a tough one. No excuse is good enough if you’ve lost their daily double.
In 1953 Gedak was spending more and more time at the track and less time in high school. He soon decided to drop out and spend all his time at the track. “Well I was dating Jack Short’s daughter Carole at that time. I was getting paid to work at the track so I though why not drop out. Jack was a very very classy guy. I knew him all his life and he really liked me,” said Gedak. He scratches his head as if to remember as he lists off some of the trainers that employed him through
Action Thriller was entered in four races in 2007 and  nished just off the board. As Gedak strokes his horse’s mane he explains. “I guess it took him till the fourth race to  gure it all out and then the season ended. I’m looking forward to what he will do this year,” he said optimistically.
“Let me out!” I hollered. The startled jockeys glared over at me. “Take back!” one of them yelled.
I passed under the wire still in the saddle. While the other horses moved out from the inside rail to pull up, my  lly actually moved in. She knew the race was over and  nally relaxed. The outrider picked me up.
the years. “There was Petey Gordon, he had all grey horses I remember. His
As this season is about to begin, Gedak travels back down memory lane. “How time  ies. Everything seems like it was just yesterday. I guess I’ll just keep on training and keep on shoeing. It’s what I love.”
They both looked down at my badly sagging leg and realized the crisis. We were nearing the turn and my  lly wanted out even more than I did. She was starting to bolt and if she had to, she’d take the other horses with her.
“God damn, you actually beat two horses,” Henry said as we turned around to head back. “I sure as hell wouldn’t want to be feeding those nags!”
Tony Gedak and Action Thriller at Hastings
In ‘64 Gedak got his trainers license. He continued
Proving optimism never fades, in 2007 Gedak returned to the training game and purchased another racehorse. “I liked the look of this horse when I  rst saw him, so I thought why not,” said Gedak.
Everything went well for the  rst quarter of a mile. Then my leg began to tire, badly. I tried hard to grip but my right leg was slipping down the side. I wasn’t going to make it any- where near the wire.
“No stirrup!” I screamed.
The two jockeys both took a hold of their horses and gave me clearance.
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