Area crowds flocked to the Prince Albert Exhibition Grandstand over the Labour Day weekend to enjoy one of the city’s trademark summer spectacles.
© Herald photo by Matt Gardner
A chuckwagon driver and his horses race down the P.A. Exhibition Grandstand track on Saturday at the Prince Albert Exhibition Fall Chuckwagon and Chariot Finals.
Attracting top competitors from across Saskatchewan and beyond, the P.A. Exhibition Fall Chuckwagon and Chariot Finals ran from Friday through Monday, offering local audiences the chance to see some of the best of the best show off their racing skills.
“We have a wagon and chariots in all the way in from Wainwright, Alta.,” P.A. Ex director Bernie Zintel noted of the event, which is organized by the Prince Albert Professional Chuckwagon and Chariot Association.
“There’s one there from Manitoba,” he added. “We’ve got a lot of different teams in.”
The number of competitors at this year’s finals was fairly standard for the event, with Zintel pointing to 21 chuckwagons and 33 chariots running.
Audience numbers steadily increased after the start of the races on Friday, with a healthy turnout in the stands on Saturday afternoon despite wet conditions that turned some of the track to mud.
“If we would have had another shower of rain this afternoon, we would have had to shut it down, because then the track would have been too muddy for the horses,” Zintel said on Saturday.
“But as you can see right now, they’re running great. The horses actually love the mud better than we do, because it’s not as dusty and the track is a little softer for them.”
The mere fact that the chariots and chuckwagons were running at all, he added, was a testament to one significant improvement at the Grandstand over the years.
“They’ve improved this track to where it’s almost an all-weather track,” Zintel said. “Most tracks today would not be running. But the way this one is based, it can take it.”
This pony chuckwagon thing is a lot bigger than most people realize it is. Bernie Zintel
Zintel’s own interest in chuckwagon racing stemmed from his previous involvement with the P.A. Ex heavy horse show.
Evolving into an avid spectator of chuckwagon racing, he became involved in organizing the chariot and chuckwagon race in Prince Albert 15 years ago and has co-ordinated the event for the last four years.
“Basically it’s a great sport,” Zintel said. “This pony chuckwagon thing is a lot bigger than most people realize it is … They have them down in the U.S. in Texas as well.”
One of the longtime officials at the P.A. chariot and chuckwagon races is Roy McDougall, who throughout the event could be seen judging competitors moving around the barrels that mark the start of each race.
Each judge carefully monitors the drivers and horses to make sure they clear the barrels properly, awarding penalties if they do not.
“That’s why we’ve got a judge on each barrel,” McDougall noted.
McDougall’s own experience in the sport is extensive. He has raced ponies for 28 years and judged competitions for more than 10 years, with his father and brother also avid racers.
Asked what he believed to be the secret to successful chariot and chuckwagon racing, McDougall’s answer was straightforward.
“If you can do those barrels and go around the track and stay up in the air, you’re doing alright.”
Trophies for the winners in each event were scheduled to be awarded on Monday.