Down The Drain Dan (Humour)

The misadventures of Danforth Dan

Thumbnail for Down The Drain Dan (Humour)

By: Vicki Pappas |

During the course of many years of employment on the racetrack, I was fortunate enough to visit several small but picturesque tracks in the United States: Green Mountain, Scarboro Downs, Lincoln, Narragansett, all of which are now closed. A similar racetrack, although the term “picturesque” was hardly applicable, was Raceway Park in Toledo, Ohio. A winter spent at Raceway Park was all anyone needed to heighten their appreciation of the facilities we enjoy when racing on the Ontario thoroughbred circuit.

Oh, not that there weren’t perks to winter racing in Toledo: the people were wonderfully friendly, the track kitchen served possibly the best meals ever prepared on any backstretch as well as a form of blackberry brandy to warm up even the coldest of grooms, and the ancient apartment/hotel where I stayed provided me with a bed that pulled out of the wall. But generally speaking, it was cold and miserable and we were just a bunch of “gypsies” with cheap, sore horses trying to get through until spring.

I was running horses for a Canadian-based trainer in order to support my first racehorse, a $1,500 claimer named Riding High who did as little as possible to support himself. Possibly the most intelligent horse I have ever run across, “The Rider” was totally sound in his day-to-day training but had obviously learned how to read during the course of his career. As soon as his name appeared on the overnight, he would present himself as dead sore. His mysterious ailment would invariably disappear minutes after scratch time so I can only conclude he had learned that when his name appeared in the entries, “Riding High” actually spelled “trouble”.

Fortunately, his appetite was never affected adversely. One day, while preparing to hang his feed tub, I was distracted by several people scurrying past our barn to the “back forty” behind the barn area. When I asked where they were hurrying off to, one replied, “A horse went down the drain”. My first assumption was that someone had used too free a hand in pouring the kitchen’s famous blackberry brandy but curiosity got the best of me and I followed them on their quest.

It was the middle of February and the track conditions were appalling. We had had a quick thaw which left the track a sea of slop but hadn’t given the ice underneath a chance to melt and the horses had little chance to get a grip. Only the day before, the riders had asked management to improve conditions. Management suggested they go out with sponges and that if any refused to ride, there would be repercussions.

Apparently, during the course of the afternoon, the track worsened and horses were losing their footing simply warming up on post parade. An old Canadian campaigner called Danforth Dan was floundering his way through the mud in the second race when he slid and flipped over the infield railing. The infield stream was now swollen to epic proportions by the thaw and was rushing into a huge culvert, yes, a drain. This drain ran underneath the backstretch and the barn area, surfacing about half a mile behind the track in an open field.

So poor Dan, obviously distracted by his spill, stumbled through the infield into the fast running water and was swept down the drain. Who would ever believe that any horse, in particular a fragile thoroughbred, could survive such trauma?

We ran through the field behind the track, along the stream bank, frantically searching for signs of Dan. We came to the highway that bordered the field and peeked under a bridge and there he was, up to his belly in ice water and desperately trying to keep his footing. But no amount of coaxing could get him to budge.

One enterprising soul stripped a branch from a nearby tree and attempted to snag Dan’s reins but he proved to be no more equipped to keep his footing and he soon ended up with Dan for an impromptu swim. After much thrashing and confusion, the group of us dragged them both out.

Imagine our delight when, after a careful examination, we found Danforth Dan had emerged from his mishap totally unscathed. He didn’t even have to be cooled out. Dan was back in the entries two weeks later and finished third.

As for our human hero? He was out three weeks with pneumonia.