By Greg Douglas – Dr. Sport
SCENE & HEARD: Having a Degree in Animal Biology is the perfect fit for Athina Weiss, pony girl and exercise rider at Hastings Racecourse who knew from an early age that her future would involve horses.
Her late mom, Darlene Topouzis, was a successful trainer at Hastings in the late 1990’s through 2004 and when Athina was just seven years old she was doing odd jobs in the track kitchen.
“The first non-family member I worked for was Dino Condilenios,” Athina says. “I had my pony license at the age of 15 and two years later I was accepted at the University of Guelph.”
Upon graduating she worked at Woodbine Racetrack where she met now-husband Kris, an experienced groom. The young couple ventured off to Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg for two years prior to the west coast beckoning.
And this is where her ‘other’ boyfriend – Vinnie – comes into the picture. Vinnie, still a fine looking thoroughbred, retired from racing as a 4-year-old and has been with Athina for the past eight years. Together they provide absolute delight for Hastings patrons of all ages who rush to the rail after a race for a meet and greet with Vinnie and Athina.
“It might sound a little strange but he loves newborns,” the animal biology grad says. “He loves their smell. The people are excited when they’re allowed to reach out and pet him and have their picture taken with him. Vinnie looks forward to it as much as they do.”
Athina is in good company with her pony girl comrades Sarah Hall, Stephanie Fedora, Shannon McVeigh, Angie Smith and Cindy Barroby.
“I like to think of us as goodwill ambassadors,” Athina says. “We enjoy talking to the people and offering information that helps them understand the sport a little better. It’s a fun part of the job.”
Most mornings Athina can be found working out of Barn M in the Hastings backstretch outriding and exercising horses.
Vinnie, it is safe to assume, rarely allows her out of his sight. Their mutual admiration is obvious to fans during those post race moments at trackside.