Long way from Barbados

SCOTT UNGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

Flipping through the program at Assiniboia Downs each weekend, fans will notice a pair of Leacocks in the jockey column. Brothers, Paul and Jason have been migrating to Winnipeg each summer from their home in Bridgetown, Barbados, since 2002 to make a living riding horses at the Downs.

"We both came together," said Paul, the senior brother of the two.

In Canada, many boys grow up at the rink, surrounded by ice and pucks. In the Barbados, the Leacock brothers grew up on a farm, surrounded by race horses.

"Basically we grew up next to a thoroughbred farm," Paul recalls. "We had a couple of brothers who were groomers, so we would go over once in a while. I guess we developed a love for it.

"From very young, we had an interest in the horses. Once you get hooked, its like hooked on phonics."

"I was going down there from the age of five or six," Jason added.

And now he's gone from being a little boy petting the horses to a man charging the horses to victory.

"You just get a rush," he said. "It's something that I've always wanted to do since I was small."

Assiniboia Downs director of operation Darren Dunn lured the Leacock brothers to Winnipeg, along with several other jockeys from the Caribbean, back in 2002 because there was a shortage in the jockeys' room at the Downs.

"I noticed in Toronto, and to a lesser degree in Alberta, that they were having some success getting riders from the Caribbean," Dunn said yesterday.

And Paul might be Dunn's biggest catch, given that Paul was the track champion at his home track in Bridgetown when Dunn discovered him.

"I won lots of stakes races back home, with the biggest being the derby," Paul said of the United Insurance Barbados Derby, which he won back in 2001 atop Pan Woaman. "I think the derby is the height my career so far."

This season Paul is admittingly off to a slow start with only five wins in 41 starts, but he is looking for that to change.

"Things usually pick up when people make a couple switches, so I just have to wait my turn," he said.

When the season winds down here in late September, the Leacocks and the rest of the jockeys from the Caribbean return home to race, but on a much lighter schedule. Tracks down there race about once every two weeks.

"There's not much racing at home, so we come here in the spring," Jason said

When they do switch tracks, there is a definite adjustment period that the riders who race in both locations go through.

"Down there is different. We race on grass and here we race on the dirt," Jason said. "And back home we go the other way. That's just the way the track is built there."


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