Just as ancient Romans once flocked to the Circus Maximus to view the dramatic spectacle of chariot racing, so do modern Prince Albert residents enjoy the same pleasure today by visiting the P.A. Exhibition Grandstand.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
Adam Sanderson commands his horses in the chariot races at this year’s PAEX Summer Fair.
The Prince Albert Professional Chuckwagon & Chariot Association (PAPCCA) is performing chariot and chuckwagon races at the Grandstand every day this week until Saturday as part of the 2012 PAEX Summer Fair. All guests are invited to watch skilled professional racers compete in a bravura display of horsemanship.
Chariot races start daily at 2 p.m. while chuckwagon races begin at 5 p.m.
“They’ve worked really hard on this track to make it an all-weather track and try to get it so we can run even if it does rain,” race announcer Dwight Shields said. “We would prefer to run a little later in the evening. Usually we run at about 4 (p.m.) with our chariot show and then 5, 6 or 7 (p.m.) with our wagons. But it depends.
“The thing is, most of our fans are older people and working people, and everybody’s at work this week. At this time of day they can’t come to our show and at 5 o’clock tonight they’re still going to be awfully rushed to see our chuckwagon show. But it’s all part of how they fit the events in the fair.”
Despite the potentially inconvenient start times, Shields had no complaints about attendance.
“We’re running earlier in the day, but we’ve had a pretty good turnout, actually,” he said. “P.A. always we have a good turnout.”
The primary difference between chariot racing and chuckwagon racing lies in the number of horses. Chariots use only two horses whereas chuckwagons involve four, along with bigger wheels on the wagon itself.
PAEX director Bernie Zintel is an enthusiastic fan of both sports and took a leading role in organizing the 2012 chariot and chuckwagon races.
“This year I’ve taken on the directorship because I didn’t want to lose the chuckwagon chair, and we’re short of directors,” he said. “So I’ve taken it on this year and I’m enjoying it.”
We’re running earlier in the day, but we’ve had a pretty good turnout, actually. P.A. always we have a good turnout. Dwight Shields
For the benefit of the audience and officials, chariot drivers at the event wear coloured shirts that match the colour of a designated barrel. At the start of each race, the drivers and horses must quickly circle their own barrels before beginning a lightning-fast lap around the track.
“It’s a fun thing to watch if you’ve never watched it,” Zintel said.
The horses in the races are all ¾ or 7/8ths pure thoroughbreds and some are completely pure. Each horse must measure below a bar of 58 ½ inches at the high point on their shoulders and typically attend a measuring day in the spring.
“If they go under the bar when they are five years old in our association, they’re freeze-branded on the body and that marks them for life,” Shields said. “When you watch the races here you’ll see a lot of the horses with a P and a bar under it. That’s our brand on the shoulder that says that horse is marked for life to race in our association.”
While horses in the chariot races are typically referred to as ponies, Shields insists the designation is a misnomer.
“The term ‘ponies’ is used, but none of them are ponies anymore,” he said. “There’s some pony in their background only to get the height … They’re bred that way to keep them under that bar.”
The PAPCCA is racing in Prince Albert for 12 days in total this year. After being rained out for their first three days in May, they have five days booked at the Summer Fair as well as additional shows lined up for the long weekend in September.