By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator

And…they’re off! 

You’ve probably heard this phrase used on a regular basis if you have ever visited the Assiniboia Downs racetrack.

If not, well, it’s used at the beginning of a race once the horses leave the starting gate and rumble down the track, horse and human, testing their might against one another to see who is the fastest! 

Two Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame Honoured Members created their legacy in this sport, both locally and nationally. Both had very successful horse racing careers, but in different capacities.

They are R. James Speers (inducted in 1983) and Robert “Bobby” Summers (inducted in 1992). 


The Power of Three

R.James Speers arguably started the movement of horse racing on the prairies. In 1922, he organized his first race at River Park, which was essentially the first race track in Winnipeg.

The track had been around since the late 1800s, but was not primarily used for formal thoroughbred horse racing, until Speers and a couple business partners took on a three-year lease of the track. 

After this, his success continued to grow and within a couple of years, he established Whittier Park and Polo Park in Winnipeg. 

They were considered the model race tracks for the Canadian racing community. Indeed, they were a sight to behold, and superior to any other racetrack stables across the country. 

This was not enough for James, though. He wanted to prove that the west could also produce thoroughbred horses that were on par or better than any other in North America.

He had stallions and mares at his Whittier Park farm and eventually became Canada’s leading breeder in 1946, winning six Canadian Breeder of the Year awards in a row until 1951. 

His horses won races across Canada, including Toronto, which, at the time, was considered the hub for Canadian horse racing.

After his sudden passing in 1955, his legacy continued. He was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame in 1966, and the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1983. There is also a stakes race named after him at Assiniboia Downs, called the R.James Speers Memorial Handicap.


A Fiery Passion

Robert “Bobby” Summers took a different path in establishing himself as a Manitoba Sports Hall of Famer. He was a jockey who honed his craft at a young age and by the time he reached 22 years old, he was already considered one of the most successful jockeys in North America. 

His career could have taken a calamitous turn before he reached 22, though. Before then, he was the top apprentice jockey, but almost quit due to an unfortunate event that happened at Polo Park race track. 

Another jockey had lost their life riding, so Robert’s mother went over to Whittier Park and told him that he needed to quit. 

Story has it, as he packed up his things, he turned to his mother.

 “Mom, what am I going to do? I’m so small.” 

So, he continued riding and the rest is history. 

His career highlights include winning the Sugar Ray Robinson Handicap in New York and winning the $25,000 race at Bay Meadows. Back then, that was a lot of money. 

In the photo above, Bobby is standing next to Sugar Ray Robinson, who was the Muhammed Ali of boxing…before Muhammed Ali.

In the Hollywood Gold Cup, a $100,000 race, he finished fourth, and at the Santa Anita Derby, arguably the biggest race on the west coast, he finished third. 

He also raced in the Preakness Stakes, which is one of the legs in the Triple Crown of racing. 

And he was not the only Hall of Famer in the family. His brother, Danny Summers, was also inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1995 as an Athlete/Builder in Hockey.



Being a jockey is a very unforgiving profession and unfortunately for Bobby, he could not avoid the injury bug. 

His riding career was cut short after a series of knocks that left him more than bruised and battered. In one of his rides, three horses went down, and in that collision, he fractured his collarbone, broke six ribs, and suffered a collapsed lung. It was a long two and a half month recovery before he could ride again. 

A little later in 1955, he was kicked in the head by a horse and that was it. His career was over. Even though his career came to an abrupt end, Bobby gave everything he had to the sport, and in his short time as a jockey, his legacy will continue to live on, unrivaled by many.