October 6 was ‘graduation day’ for a quartet of young Ontario students, as they stepped up to the podium at Woodbine Mohawk Park to receive accolades and prizes for their literary accomplishments in the $2,000 Youth Literary Derby, sponsored by St. Catharines, Ont. horseman and construction magnate Tom Rankin.
The Youth Literary Derby – a province-wide, juried, horse-themed contest designed to encourage literacy skills – challenged students’ abilities to capture in prose, or verse, their impressions and perceptions of their up-close encounters with some of the 1,400 young Standardbred foals born in Ontario in 2018.
The program offered categories for both poems and essays, with prizes divided among the top three finishers in each category. The same amounts are donated to the entrant’s school, or library if the student is home schooled. The Youth Literary Derby attracted submissions from 46 Ontario communities.
Linda Rainey, pictured with the four 2018 Youth Literary Derby finalists
October 6 proved to be a day to remember for the enthusiastic and talented 12-year-old wordsmiths that were introduced to big time horse racing and the people who make it all happen at Woodbine Racetrack and Woodbine Mohawk Park.
Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame President Darryl Kaplan pictured addressing the 2018 Youth Literary Derby finalists
Following a tour of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame at Woodbine Racetrack, where they learned of the 250-year history of the sport and racing’s greats that are enthroned there, the students posed for photos with some of Canada’s outstanding female riders.
Jockeys pictured with the 2018 Youth Literary Derby finalists
One of the highlights of the afternoon included time with Hall of Famer Sandy Hawley, who gave each of the four winners – each of which are female – personal instructions on how to correctly ride a horse. This was done on an equicisor in the jockeys’ room. The quartet also spent meaningful time with the announcer, with the stewards, and viewed the horses up close and personal in Woodbine’s paddock.
The evening festivities for the students got underway in a private suite overlooking the track and paddock at Woodbine Mohawk Park, and the four students were introduced to key representatives of the University of Guelph, Standardbred Canada, Ontario Equestrian Federation and the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
The award presentations, by Rankin, then followed.
“The contest is great for education in terms of encouraging literacy and the arts,” Rankin stated. “Giving kids the chance to be creative – and, who knows, there might be a budding poet or writer.”
As for the harness racing industry, Rankin believes that the Youth Literary Derby is an ideal way for introducing the sport to a wider audience.
The derby award winners received a hefty bonus with free donated tuition for Horse Behaviour and Safety from the University of Guelph (for more information on the course, click here).
Tom Rankin, pictured with the winners of the 2018 Youth Literary Derby
Maria Achilleos, a 12-year-old student at St. John Catholic French Immersion School in London, Ont., carried off first prize in the Poetry Category. Twelve-year-old Kyla Civiero, a grade seven student at Our Lady of Mount Pleasant in Carlisle, Ont., earned second prize, and Marilyn Schmidt, a 12-year-old student at the Amish Parochial School in Elmwood, Ont., took home third prize.
First prize in the Essay Category went to Andrew Kuepfer, a 12-year-old student that attends the Amish Parochial School in Elmwood, Ont. Avery Kirkpatrick, an 11-year-old student at St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School in Bowmanville, Ont., took home second prize, while Allie Kucman, a student at the Peace Bridge Public School in Fort Erie, Ont., walked away with third prize. Both Andrew Kuepfer and Marilyn Schmidt, both award winners from the Amish community, did not attend the festivities.
The evening then followed with the fourth race named in their honour; interviews aired on the in-house television broadcast; visits to the announcer’s booth and judges’ stand, and cheering for their designated choices down close to the finish line. Unfortunately, the students could not visit the horses and drivers in the paddock itself, as youth under 16 years of age are not permitted in the paddock at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
Young Avery Kirkpatrick, who was the runner up in the Essay Category, summed up her thoughts on a day she will long remember. “I went to the races and met so many wonderful people who will inspire me for the rest of my life. Learning so much history of Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing was so much fun thanks to Ms. Rainey and the Hall of Fame.
“Spending time behind the scenes with female jockeys and Sandy Hawley, hanging out with Robert Geller and seeing the horses was absolutely phenomenal. Meeting people who love and care about this industry was special. This was an opportunity of a lifetime to share my passion of horses and writing with other kids of my age.”
“My favourite part of the day was watching the Standardbred racing at Mohawk and taking a picture with the winner,” said Kyla Civiero.