As harness racing community fights to survive, attention on little boy and his struggle

With news this week that the province will not change its mind in ending the slots-at-racetracks program, the industry is facing a bleak future.

But this weekend, the harness racing community will put aside its fears and focus on helping Evan Wellwood, who is turning four in September.

Evan has an inoperable brain tumour. He recently finished 72 weeks of chemotherapy and his mother Nicole said he is a little fighter.  “He faces his cancer diagnosis head on and with a smile and this sincere love of life. Even on his worst days he can light up a room.”

Evan receives treatment at the London Health Sciences Centre Children’s Hospital where Nicole said the doctors and nurses adore him.

On Sept. 2, Clinton Raceway is holding a fundraiser for Childcan, a charity that helps families dealing with childhood cancer.

A driver’s challenge will be held, featuring the reigning (for a harness racing driver could we use reining!) Canadian driver of the year, Jody Jamieson.

There’s a barbecue and corn roast, kids’ activities, draws, bake sale, bottle drive and more.

Nicole will be a host that day to families dealing with childhood cancer. They will be doing artwork for winners and the kids will get a chance to go out with a driver and horse between the competitive races.

Post time is 1:30 p.m.

“It’s really coming together and gearing up to be a fun day,” Nicole said.

September is also Child Cancer Awareness Month.

When Nicole heard Evan’s diagnosis, she turned to the industry for support. It wasn’t the first time the community helped out.

Her father, Harold “Buddy” Wellwood died unexpectedly in 2000 and the community rallied around her then as now.

“It was the horse racing community that held me up after my dad’s passing.”

The Wellwoods are harness racing royalty and Buddy lived up to the name.

I interviewed Buddy many times about his world champion horse Odie’s Fame. She set all kinds of records, including a track record at Western Fair.

Odie’s Fame had many honours including the 1998 Canadian Horse of the Year and the U.S. three-year-old filly pacer of the year in 1999 even though she never raced in the U.S.

In ’99 she won the Breeders Crown, Canada’s richest night of racing ever at that point. As Buddy came trackside at Campbellville after Odie won her race, he had tears in his eyes. He smiled at me and walked to the winner’s circle with a look that combined both pride and humility. Every moment of his training career combined to bring Buddy to that circle.

It was a moment, in the darkness that night, that is framed in my mind.

Some argue Odie is the greatest Canadian-sired filly pacer.

Unfortunately she died this past spring at age eight.

Odie’s Fame was purchased in London by Buddy and his business partner Norm Amos for a mere $7,500.

With yearling sales coming up in September and October, many fear prices will hit rock bottom with the looming cancellation of the slots-at-racetracks program.

But people won’t be thinking about that on Sept. 2. Little Evan and other children with cancer will be front and centre.

As Nicole said: “Evan won’t ever be in remission and there is no cure or possibility for surgery so we are enjoying life and fitting in a life time of memories.”

You can contribute to Childcan by “liking” Clinton Raceway on Facebook. 2000 likes translates into $1,000 for Childcan.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clinton-Raceway-Inc/106363870010

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