BY DARREN LUPUL
Special to the Express
Sacramento Key, now an 18-year-old standardbred, started his career in Sacramento, California and raced as both a trotter and pacer in a short career at Cal Expo many years ago.
Although, when it looked like a career in racing wasn’t in his future and he thus needed a home, Kim Schneider, who was a horse-loving kid at the time, took the bay as her riding horse. The duo have been together ever since — Schneider even shipped her pal all the way up to Alberta where she is racing.
Fast forward to the morning of Aug. 3 at Alberta Downs, a couple of hours before the races were scheduled to start. Schneider was busy with the stable of horses that she trains along with her husband, Quentin. They were getting ready to race that afternoon when an urgent request came from track management.
“Our outrider is unavailable today, can you ride?” Kim was a little taken aback by the request and wondered whether she could take on the challenge. “On what horse?” she asked.
Alberta Downs is adjacent to the thoroughbred farm of track owner Bob Allen. Therefore, in regard to Kim’s question about which horse to use for outrider duty, there was a quick answer given. “You can take any of the thoroughbreds from up the hill.”
The idea of using an unfamiliar green horse that had never even seen a sulky — yet alone get up beside one — did not sit well with Kim. She then instantly thought of her own riding horse, Sacramento Key, nicknamed ‘Peter,’ who was happily grazing with some buddies in a field about a half-hour drive from the track. The Schneiders then dropped everything, got the truck and trailer and headed to the farm. They loaded Peter and trucked back to the track where they unloaded. With just minutes to spare, Quentin slapped some back shoes on Peter. Kim saddled him up, shined him up, and hopped on.
Kim was understandably nervous. She was uncertain how Peter would handle both the excitement of an unfamiliar job and seeing a starting gate again after many years. “He got a little excited in the paddock,” she said.
Peter then headed out to keep his eye on a qualifier. The outing went off without a hitch. Kim then rushed Peter back to the barn where Quentin finished shoeing the bay’s front feet. Peter had just a short break before he headed back to the paddock for the big races in front of the afternoon crowd.
When given the chance to prove his worth, Peter showed all that he was a pro.
Peter showed his excitement with a slight tremble of sweat in his coat, but performed like a seasoned vet, as he handled a few anxious moments, typical for an outrider’s day at the races. After a mare kicked over a hopple and broke a hopple hanger, driver John Chappell used Kim and Peter’s assistance to grab the mare for repairs – Peter even put up with an angry nip on the neck from the mare as he led her.
Kim and Peter went on to outride the entire weekend, which also included a double card of harness and thoroughbred racing. The duo went on to ‘pony’ a thoroughbred in post parade, and even helped collar a runaway thoroughbred that got a little out of control. “When I caught that thoroughbred, they were asking me what breed my horse was,” Kim laughed. “When I said an 18-year-old standardbred, they were amazed.”