Day At The Track

Special retirement ceremony for Onyx VA

05:44 AM 22 Nov 2020 NZDT
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Onyx VA, harness racing Onyx VA, harness racing
Onyx VA with the Showman, driver Jocelyn Gendron, winning at H3R
Thephotodesk.ca photo
Owner, breeder Andre Laroque with driver Marie Claude Auger and Onyx VA
Thephotodesk.ca photo

Trois-Rivieres, QC - Over the years, the Quebec Jockey Club at the Hippodrome 3R has made a point of celebrating the retirement of certain harness racing horses who have reached the ripe old age of 14. This has always been done on closing day for the track, which is this Sunday, November 22.

All Standardbred race horses must retire on January 1 at age 15. They are still allowed to race but only in amateur and fair events.

But this year, the ceremony will take on a special significance for several reasons: Onyx VA, since it is about him that we are talking about, will have had during his life only one owner, André Larocque of Lourdes-De-Joliette.

This horse raced at H3R for nine of the twelve years of his long and prolific career. It was at H3R that this career began an it is at H3R that it will end this Sunday, November 22.

When we ask this charming gentleman, who is Andre Larocque, to share some of his memories with us, he becomes perplexed, not really knowing which elements, which races to choose:

"In my lasting memories, Larocque said. "There is this race at Rideau Carleton in 2014 with Kyle Forgie in the sulky and a victory in the best class in 1:54.3 from 7th position; better still, his mile at H3R, the same year, this time with Stephane Brosseau, a victory in 1.53.4, from one end to the other after having torn the fronts away from DGs Woodstock in :27 seconds.

"At 2 years old," Larocque explained. "He had a very fruitful year, successively winning three stakes (two Quebec Elite series, one Quebec Plus series) with Daniel Potvin on the guides. Daniel was my blacksmith at the time, and what a job he did with the colt. These were his three highest paying races in his career, twice for purses of $35,000, once for $25,000. The rest of his life he spent raising a thousand dollars here and there. Small grants in overnites. If you look at his record now, he took 293 starts and made just over $300,000, which works out to $1,000 per start. An iron horse, a clapper. "

It was at the turn of the 2000s that André decided to try his luck in breeding, by acquiring a mare, Better Than Good, by The Big Dog. A mare who had never raced but whose family was full of big names: Die Laughing, Dexter Nukes, Silent Majority. This mare, bred to Artist Sena, first gave her Mamzele Leopold ($40,000 and a record 1.56), but the filly was plagued with conformation issues.

The second breeding, this time with Electric Sena (Cam Fella), provided him with the colt that became Onyx VA. For the younger ones, know that Electric Sena in his day was quite a horse ($1.1M and a record of 1.48.3).

"Then the mare didn't give much," Larocque added. "A few raced, some didn't. But Onyx VA was going to make people forget all that, he was so handsome, efficient and very intelligent. My role, week after week, was to find him a class that would do him justice. After the Quebec race tracks closed, I had no choice but to have him race in Ontario and he excelled on all kinds of tracks, in all kinds of conditions: Rideau, Flamboro, Grand River, London, Woodbine . He had some health problems, but never to prevent him from coming back to the track. He made me very happy, to say the least.

"Sunday will be his last start, Larocque said. "I have no plans to go anywhere else next. This is where it all began and this is where it all ends. He will be entitled to a peaceful, deserved retirement. He has his stall, his paddock, his routine and he will now be at rest. For my part, I don't know what the future holds.

"I am 69 years old, Larocque said. "And have had my fair share of health issues over the past few months. My hips make it difficult for me to move around, and it is no whim that I asked Claude Beausoleil to take on the role of trainer for the last few weeks. If ever my health allows me, I will not say no to a possible return with another horse. For the moment, my concerns are elsewhere.

"I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank everyone who has helped me over the past twelve years with my horse," Larocque added. "There are stable neighbors, trainers, drivers, lots of people who made this 'trip' with Onyx VA possible. Thank you everyone from the heart."

Onyx VA will start on Sunday, in the 7th race. This will be his 294th start. He has recorded 47 career victories. At the end of his race, Claude Beausoleil will lead him to the winner's circle for a small ceremony during which he will be placed a cooler blanket which will officially mark the end of his racing career. And with the 2nd starting position shared, it doesn't say that Onyx VA will be beaten.

Track Notes: Racing fans can get a free race program for Sunday by visiting www.hippodrome3r.ca. First race post time Sunday is 1:00 pm. Simulcasting will continue seven days a week at H3R and all of its OTB outlets in Quebec. Also, on Sunday there are three Preferred events for the trotters and pacers. Francis Richard for the fourth straight year will take top honors as the leading trainer. The leading driver battle continues into Sunday with Pascal Berube (who is not driving Sunday) holds a four-win lead, 52 to 48, over Stephane Brosseau, who has eight drives on the program.

By Daniel Delisle, for the Quebec Jockey Club

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