Last month’s tragic crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team struck a chord with Brad Grant.
The 63-year-old trucking magnate spent plenty of time riding a team bus during his 16-year tenure as owner of the Junior A Milton Icehawks (formerly the Merchants) hockey club. He said he was affected by the April 6 crash that claimed the lives of 16 people aboard the Broncos’ bus and left 13 others injured.
“I think it hit home with anybody that has owned a team or ridden a bus,” Grant said. “There’s a lot of teams at a lot of levels around here that do travel by bus.
“I think anybody who’s done that or been part of that, it had to hit home.”
That prompted the longtime standardbred owner to donate the earnings of Humboldt, a four-year-old gelding, to the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s player assistance program, over a three-week span that concludes Saturday night at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Humboldt will start from post 1 in race 7.
Humboldt has earned $15,000 from two starts since Grant’s pledge, finishing second in a race April 21 before winning another last Saturday.
“I know Bill Chow from the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League and I’m still involved in hockey (as outgoing chairman of the Ontario Hockey Association),” Grant said. “My wife and I had already decided we were going to do something but then out of the blue I realized I had this horse named Humboldt and thought, ‘What a great connection and maybe we can help use it to generate some funds for the SJHL’s player assistance program.’
“So far it’s raised some money and it will go to a good cause.”
Humboldt is trained by Ben Wallace of Milton, Ont., and driven by Doug McNair of Guelph, Ont., Canada’s top driver last year.
The SJHL assistance program was established following the Broncos bus crash to offer mental health assistance and counselling to all league players.
Grant, one of North American harness racing’s top owners, purchased Humboldt in January at a sale in New Jersey. The horse was named by his previous owner prior to his first start in June 2016.
“I thought it was quite ironic with me being involved in hockey, knowing the people and owning this horse,” said Grant, currently Woodbine’s leading owner. “So I thought why not see if we can do it this way and get some other people on board and do some more good.
“It’s just such a small world to be involved in hockey the way I am and having this horse named Humboldt.”
Milton won four division titles, three league championships and a provincial crown during the 15 years Grant owned the club. He sold the franchise in 2001.
Grant’s stable also includes Stay Hungry, Canada’s top two-year-old pacing colt last year and an early favourite for the $1-million Pepsi North America Cup on June 16 at Woodbine Mohawk Park. Stay Hungry won six-of-nine starts last year — including the $600,000 Breeders Crown two-year-old colt pace final — and earned over $557,000 for co-owners Grant and American Irwin Samelman.
That’s not bad, considering Stay Hungry was a US$150,000 purchase at the Lexington selected yearling sale.
“I’m not talking about (Pepsi North America Cup), I don’t want to jinx it,” Grant said with a chuckle. “He’s a nice colt and is deserving of the recognition as being one of the favourites.
“But there’s a number of good ones in the three-year-old crop and there’s always one that might’ve been on the edge last year that will improve and step up this year. Everything has to be right and we keep our fingers crossed.”