By Greg Douglas – Dr. Sport
SCENE & HEARD: When Wayne Russell closes the door to the Steward’s Room late Monday afternoon on May 20 and takes the long trek down the walkway to the elevator at the top level of Hastings Racecourse, it will be with a heavy heart.
For the past 20 years, Wayne has proudly been an accredited steward, rising to the rank of senior steward for GPEB, the Gaming Policy & Enforcement Division of the Ministry of Finance.
Incredibly, Russell can accurately say: “I came directly to Hastings from Vancouver General Hospital the day I was born.”
That would have been 75 years ago come August. His parents – Jackie and Leona – lived in a trailer by the track’s far turn. Jackie was a Hall of Fame trainer at Hastings and had his son walking hots in the barns and galloping horses as a young boy.
Wayne was working at the starting gate when he and his Dad stood shoulder-to-shoulder fighting the infamous 1969 barn fire at Hastings.
Horses fled in terror in the heat and smoke. Wayne’s father suffered a heart attack and died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.
“He took his last breath at Commercial & Broadway,” Wayne says.
The Russell clan at Hastings spans five generations. Wayne’s grandad was a paddock judge, today son Corky is custodian of the jockey’s room and grandson Jack is a clocker while working his way through university at Simon Fraser.
Wayne is leaving Hastings but his career in the industry is far from over. He and wife Barb, daughter of former great Hastings’ trainer Lou Hammond, are heading to Grande Prairie for the May 29 start of the World Professional Chuckwagon Canadian circuit.
“I’ve been a part-time barrel judge for the past 10-12 years,” Wayne says. “Now I’m joining them full-time and looking forward to it.”
From Grande Prairie the summer-long stops include Medicine Hat, High River, Ponoka, Calgary, Strathmore, Dawson Creek, Rocky Mountain House before wrapping up in late August at Century Downs in Balzac, Alberta.
Last weekend Wayne was sitting around the jock’s room swapping stories with some of the regular found-ins. “I was telling Mike Heads and Greg Goulding about my new adventure and Greg paid me the nicest compliment that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my days,” Russell recalled rather emotionally. “He said: ‘Jesus, Wayne, you’ve been the voice of reason around here for the last 20 years … you can’t leave us now’”.
Wayne Russell’s colorful career cannot be summed up in a one-page feature. The man is a racing encyclopedia. He is a book waiting to be written.