Photo: Jamie Laboucane by Shellie Scott
By Laurence Heinen
A bit of tinkering with his lineup of horses paid off big time for Jamie Laboucane on Sunday in Medicine Hat.
The 36-year-old reinsman from St. Walburg, Sask., outraced Mark Sutherland to cross the finish line in first to win the championship heat of the Medicine Hat Exhibition and Stampede.
“It was awesome,” said Laboucane of winning his first World Professional Chuckwagon Association Pro Tour show title. “We were just going into that show hoping to get some of the new (horses) working with the old boys and I like the way it went obviously. It kind of woke up some of the old boys and got things cracking and running a little younger than we were before.”
After the first three nights of racing in Medicine Hat, Laboucane compiled the second-best combined time of 3:08.43, which was 85/100ths of a second behind Sutherland, who finished atop the aggregate standings.
While Sutherland drew the cherished No. 1 spot for the final dash, Laboucane had to settle for lining up next to his competitor off the second barrel.
“The horn went, we had a really good start, a decent turn and he had me ahead by a nose just going into the first turn and I hung in there,” described Laboucane of the intense race out of the infield and around the track. “Down the backstretch I caught up to him and then started edging him out right around the third and the fourth (turns). Then they really picked up a gear coming home and we outran him down the lane.”
After more than 15 years of racing on the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association circuit, Laboucane and his wife Dana made the decision this season to join the WPCA Tour as a permit driver.
“We’ve been talking about it for a number of years, me and my wife,” said Laboucane, who noted that many of his sponsors supported his move to the WPCA. “Some sponsors were willing to make the switch over and my wife’s business was willing to let her work from the camper on the road. We just had all the backing and everything kind of lined up, so we went all in.”
One of those sponsors – Davco Industrial Construction Services – made the decision to buy his tarp for the Medicine Hat show.
“They’ve been with me for close to a decade and longer than that for my dad (Brian). They came over here with me as well and have been backing me and decided to sponsor me this show. It feels pretty good to get another win running that Davco tarp this year.”
Heading into the final dash in Medicine Hat, Laboucane made the decision to give his veteran right leader Mac the day off and instead substituted in a horse named Acrobat.
“He’s only a second horse on right-hand lead,” said Laboucane in regards to Acrobat, who he usually uses off the three and four barrels. “We started using him halfway through last year on right lead, so he’s still very green there, but he’s getting better and better.”
The move to have Acrobat run alongside veteran left leader Threescore paid off as did putting in a young horse named Clay as the left wheeler beside Papa, another seasoned vet on the right side of the wheel team.
“It was kind of one of those things where we still wanted to be competitive in the dash,” Laboucane said. “That’s why we sent Threescore. He’s just a solid old vet and Papa is as well.”
Like Acrobat, Clay fit in seamlessly with the outfit.
“I’ve been driving him in the morning lots and stuff,” said Laboucane of Clay. “I knew how good of a horse he was, but I just hadn’t had a chance to work him into the race. I didn’t want to send one of my older boys that had went more, so I thought, ‘Well, this is a perfect time to put him on an outfit and see what he can do and he didn’t disappoint’.”
Now Laboucane is hoping that giving Mac some extra rest will pay off with solid showings at the Ponoka Stampede, which starts Tuesday and runs through Sunday, as well as at 10 days of the Calgary Stampede from July 7-16.
“We knew there was a lot of running coming up and we wanted to save (Mac) to get more runs during Ponoka and Calgary,” Laboucane explained. “We’ve got a big stretch of race days coming along, so you’ve got to manage your barn the best you can, but still be competitive and try to win.
“I’ve just got to ride that momentum that I have. I’ve just got to stay consistent and keep doing what I’m doing and let the horses do the rest.”
Not only did the veteran reinsman earn one of two wild-card spots (the other went to Tuff Dreger) awarded to permit drivers to compete in Ponoka, Laboucane also vaulted to the top of the World Driver Standings ahead of Obrey Motowylo.
“We weren’t necessarily planning on doing that,” said Laboucane, who also commended outriders Hayden Motowylo and Tyson Whitehead for helping him win the final dash in Medicine Hat. “Obviously, I’ve been running enough years and had enough success, that’s always my plan to go and try to win as much as I can and climb the standings as high as I can go. The biggest thing we wanted to do was be the No. 1 permit guy and qualify for Ponoka and we did that and then some. I’m very happy with our success so far.”
Like Laboucane, Ross Knight earned one of the two wild-card spots for permit drivers to compete at the 2022 Ponoka Stampede. The other went to Rae Croteau Jr., who went on to qualify for the $50,000 Tommy Dorchester Championship Final Heat along with Knight, Motowylo and Jordie Fike.
In last year’s final, Knight raced around the track in a time of 1:20.50 to edge out Jordie Fike by 5/100ths of a second, while Motowylo and Croteau finished in third and fourth respectively.
“Some days you’ve just got luck on your side,” said Knight, who commended his horses for their strong performances throughout the six-day show in Ponoka. “It’s one of the biggest shows that we go to and one of the hardest ones to win, other than Calgary.”