Most mornings, Steven MacRae rolls out of the custom-designed house his dad built to accommodate Steven's special needs and the extra room required for his super-duper motorized wheelchair. It's an awesome Australian-built contraption that cost about $40,000, and it can do just about anything. It's perfectly suited for all kinds of terrain and it gets Steven to just about anywhere he wants to go. So, with his hands on the nifty controls, Steven heads out into the fields behind his home to visit his pet horse, a 10-year-old semi-retiree named Cambest Kisser. Described by just about everyone who has ever worked with him as an ornery and unfriendly horse who has never shown an ounce of affection for anyone, Cambest Kisser is usually the first horse to amble over enthusiastically to greet Steven. He lays his head in the young man's lap, and the two of them just rest there and bond on their patch of land that's set upon an enchanted island that the two of them call home.
Way high up, towards the northeast corner of the North American continent, there's a beautiful island that some folks call, "The Garden of the Gulf." It's a magical place -- shaped on a map like a bird in flight -- and covered from wingtip to wingtip with rolling hills of vivid yellows and extraordinary greens
It's truly a fantasy kingdom where ornamental grasses, wildflowers and speckled mosses carpet the earth for as far as the eye can see. Eventually, this lush and leafy blanket of fairy tale beauty arrives at the towering cliffs of the coastline. Colored in a curious shade of Martian red, these cliffs loom high above the red and white sand beaches that reach out cautiously into the chilly waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
The indigenous Mi'kmaq people who have lived on this mythical island for ages and ages called it Epekwitk, but when European explorers starting arriving in the early 16th century, and for nearly two centuries thereafter, the island was known by many different names. Finally. in 1798, in honor of their military hero Prince Edward Augustus, the Duke of Kent, Great Britain officially named the place, Prince Edward Island -- the Canadian Maritime Province we know today as PEI.
If your fondest wish in life is to find a unicorn, PEI is the magical place where you might want to start out on your quest. If, however, unicorns aren't your style, and you're simply seeking something magical on PEI, apart from the scenery, you just might find what you're looking for inside the heart of a young man named Steven MacRae who lives there with his family and their band of at least twenty horses in a small town called Vernon Bridge.
Diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was four years old, Steven, now twenty-four, has been confined to a wheelchair since he was thirteen. His two greatest passions in life are NASCAR Racing and Harness racing. Currently, his favorite horse has to be Do Over Hanover, a 4-year-old gelded son of Western Ideal that Steven owns in partnership with Allard Racing Inc and Red Isle Racing. Do Over Hanover became especially special when onJuly 15th he won the 49th edition of the prestigious Governor's Plate at Red Shores Summerside Raceway. His reception in the Winner's Circle was nothing short of a mob scene, and of course Steven was there, in his all-terrain motorized vehicle, for the trophy presentation.
Do Over Hanover followed up that victory with a fifth place finish in the exhalted Gold Cup and Saucer at nearby Red Shores Charlottetown Driving Park.
Perhaps to some, the $22,000 purse for the Governor's Plate and the $47,000 offered in the Gold Cup might not seem very prosperous, but for the most part, the money isn't what it's all about on PEI. Anyone who races horses on PEI or anywhere in Canada for that matter, will tell you that the Governor's Plate and the Gold Cup and Saucer, are the two races every owner, trainer and driver wants to win more than anything.
Charlottetown, the capital city of PEI, is small as far as capital cities go, but to the people who live thereabouts, it's as big as it needs to be. It doesn't really matter anyway because even if you multiplied the size of everything on PEI by ten, you still wouldn't have enough space to contain the enthusiasm the people there have for their beloved sport of harness racing. In fact, relative to their population sizes, if the folks in the New York Metropolitan area came out to the races in the same proportions as they do on PEI, there wouldn't be a grandstand big enough in the world to hold them.
Steven's dad, Don MacRae, a horse owner and breeder who owns and operates a construction and heavy equipment company on PEI, has been around harness racing for the greater part of his fifty-six years. He explained in detail what harness racing, and life in general, is really all about on PEI.
"There's a lot of history here on PEI. It's the birthplace of the Confederation. It's where they held the meetings to form Canada back in the 1800s -- 1864 to be exact. The Old Confederation building is still standing. The people here are very down to earth. They're nosy -- at least I know that I am. You know, we like to know who you are and where you're from and what you do, but the folks here always have lots of time to sit down and talk to you. Nobody is ever in a rush, that's for sure. It's all kind of very laid back.
"During what we call our Old Home Week, people come from all over to join in the festivities and to watch the races and to eat the greatest seafood in the world. It's definitely a destination spot for a lot of Canadians from all over and it's a tradition that's lasted for as long for as I can remember. Everything seems to revolve around the races...especially the Gold Cup and Saucer.
"Just to have a horse in either the Gold Cup or the Governor's Plate is a feather in your cap. I mean, where we come from, up here in PEI, the horse who wins the Saturdaynight feature race at Charlottetown or Summerside, well, that horse makes the front page of the local newspaper. It's big news here and everyone wants to read about it. You take for example the racing up here in Charlottetown. When Marcus Miller and the other drivers from around the world arrived here for the World Driving Championship, they couldn't believe the size of the crowds. It's like our version of the Little Brown Jug."
"The Gold Cup and Saucer is always at the top of everybody's list of races to win. Of course any one of us would love to win the Breeder's Crown or the North America Cup or any race like that, but the Gold Cup and Saucer is the racing event we grew up with. That's the race you've got to win if you race on PEI. There's been some of the biggest names in harness racing who have raced in it. Foiled Again tried it last year. He finished fifth, and Go Daddy Go, a horse I own in partnership with Rene Allard, Yves Sarrazin and Bruce Soulsby finished second. So, I guess you can say that my horse beat Foiled Again and that I had a major contender in the Gold Cup and Saucer. There are still a lot of folks who just want to have a horse qualify to be in that race...win or lose. Some guys have been trying for fifty years. One name that comes to mind is Walter Simmons. He's had all kinds of really good horses over the years, and now he's eighty-nine, but he's never won a Gold Cup."
Don MacRae and son Steven, hooked up with Rene Allard a few years back when Don went to the track one night to claim a horse from Rene. As it turned out, Don never submitted the claim but opted instead to strike up a friendship with Rene who has since steered him towards better and better horses. Thereafter, Steven, when he wasn't auto racing on the internet or going to the races with his dad, maintained contact with Rene Allard via Facebook. Soon after, father and son started collecting some quality horses along with the Allard Racing Team.
"Steven kept in touch with Rene on Facebook about a horse named Red Rock," said Don. Steven loves the internet and his favorite thing to do is participate in NASCAR racing online. He loves harness racing best, but NASCAR would have to be a very close second. He kept in communication with Rene and one thing led to another, Rene has been really kind to Steven. Rene has a good heart. I don't know what it is about him, but somehow he empathizes with Steven and, I don't know, maybe he knows what it's like to be different or to be bullied in school. Rene is basically just a big happy kid himself. Sometimes a kid for whatever reason doesn't fit in well when they're young and then, when they grow up, they develop a soft spot or something for other kids who are in one situation or another."
Apart from a horrifying tragedy last year when their horse Big Boy Dreams died suddenly, only one day before he was set to race in his elimination of the Gold Cup and Saucer, a race a lot of people figured he'd win, the future is looking pretty solid for Steven and his dad and their horses.
Somewhere out in those fields, among all those yearlings and two-year-olds on the family farm where Steven zips around on his super-hero wheelchair, there's yet another dream waiting to come true. One of those colts and fillies could be the next world champion -- or at the very least they'll win another Governor's Plate or maybe even the Gold Cup and Saucer.It's just got to be.
Later in the day, as Steven rolls around back towards the house to meet up with his online NASCAR buddies, the last horse to nicker his goodbyes is an old war horse named Blue Star Outlaw. The MacRae clan has had him for a long time. He won forty-five races for Steven and his dad and now he's enjoying his well-earned retirement. He's Steven's horse now. He's described by Don as a lovely horse who will be living with the MacRae family for the rest of his life.
That's the kind of love and dedication you feel when you pal around with guys like Steven MacRae and his truly devoted father Don. It's no wonder they all live in such a wonderful and magical place like PEI. It's the perfect spot for them.