Belcourt horse trainer wins honor
Trainer of the Year at Assiniboia Downs
WINNIPEG, Man. – His horses were the best and he has the title to prove it.
Jerry Gourneau, Belcourt, was named Trainer of the Year this past Sunday at Assiniboia Downs. By posting 36 wins over 50 days of racing, Gourneau became the first North Dakotan and first member of the First Nation people to win the prestigious award.
“It’s an honor to get it. I can tell you that,” said Gourneau. “Especially with the history of people that have run here from North Dakota.”
The Trainer of the Year title is on the line each year during the annual race meet at Assiniboia Downs. Gourneau-trained horses ran in about 160 of the 350 races staged at the meet. Sometimes he ran more than one horse in a race, giving him 250 starts.
“Thirty-six wins was a difficult thing to do,” said Gourneau. “The next best had 25. It’s been good in terms of money earned and everything.”
Gourneau has been training horses full-time for about 10 years. He gave up his job as administrator of Turtle Mountain Community High School to pursue his passion.
“My dad started it. He bought his first horse in 1977,” said Gourneau. “Later my brother bought L.D. Ribot, the first successful horse that really got us involved in running horses.”
Today brothers William, David and Jerry comprise Gourneau Brothers Racing. They usually have a stable of 10 to 12 horses. However, Jerry trains for a number of other horse racing enthusiasts throughout the country. One of his clients, Henry Witt Jr., of Waco, Texas, normally has 15-20 horses guided by Gourneau.
“My best horse in the past few years was Witt Fix. He won a total of nine stakes races,” said Gourneau. “He was second in both the Manitoba and the Canadian derby. He probably won a total of $270,000. That’s not bad for one individual horse.”
Gourneau-trained horses have run at racetracks throughout the country. The list includes Delta Downs in Louisiana, Retama Park in San Antonio, Texas, Connor Park in Grand Island, Nebraska and Canterbury Park near Minneapolis. Up next for Gourneau is an early October visit to Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Ariz.
“We transport our own horses with trucks and trailers. It’ll take about three days to get to Arizona,” explained Gourneau. “Every state has horse hotels. They’ll all get their own stalls every night.”
Horse racing has been part of the culture in the Turtle Mountain region for many, many years so it is not surprising that Gourneau has become so involved in the sport. Each year a series of races is held at Chippewa Downs in Belcourt where enthusiastic horseracing fans gather to watch the spirited competition.
“The bottom line for a trainer is what to do to make a horse better than when you got him,” remarked Gourneau. “I’ve had a good supply of workers. My barn people are really, really good. We’ve had good jockeys. My owners buy a variety of horses and keep them coming all the time.”
Among the mounts he’s trained, said Gourneau, are some “good ones, bad ones and mediocre ones.” As his reputation as a trainer continues to grow, he’ll likely have more and more horses at the front of the race, which will add to an already impressive resume.
“I’ve had some really good adventures, that’s for sure,” said Gourneau.