With barely a cloud in the sky and the summer sun beaming down upon me, I entered Ajax Downs led by the sweet smell of BBQ in the air. This past Sunday was Steak Stock, an event which boasted ‘Bands, BBQ, Beer’ along with their usual quarter-horse racing. It’s not a huge outdoor space but it is expansive enough for several food and drink vendors, a stage, horses at the side prepping for their races, a mechanical bull, and a decent set of bleachers all situated in front of the track. By 1pm the Downs, which is in its 46th racing season, was filling up and you could truly sense the excitement around you.
What I was most excited for was the food (of course). On Sunday, some of the vendors included Jimmy Guacos Burritos and Kips Flamin Burgers.
My favourite was fidel gastro’s, with chef Matt Basile at the helm. They were cooking up a storm at the grill: chimmichurri steak sandwiches with Argentinian salsa and cowboy brisket tacos with 24-hour smoked brisket, guacamole, pickled onions, and jalapenos, each served with a dijon potato salad.
To go with that, Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co. was serving their Lug Tread lagered ale, Festivale, and Beaver River I.P.Eh? It was exactly what you need to quench your thirst as the afternoon sun left its mark. Festivale is a refreshing summer beer based on a rare German style of ale, with Caramunich providing its amber colour (caramelized Munich malt).
In between races, live music was there to hold up the country vibe! Artists like Casey Spencer and Jack Connolly performed on Sunday. They kept the positive vibes going all afternoon long.
The main event, horse racing, was one of the most fun parts of the whole event. The Ajax Downs track is new (only 7 years old) and state-of-the-art, with a drone that was flying around taking live video of the races. Different than the horse racing I’m used to, these were short races where the tip of a nose can make a huge difference. Quarter horses are able to reach a speed of 90 km/hr on a quarter mile track.
“Quarter Horse racing is special because it attracts the young with its focus on brute speed. It also attracts the cowboy in all of us with its western appeal.”
– Nick Coukos, Professional Handicapper at Ajax Downs
You’re able to check out the horses on the side of the track and see if any stand out to you before you make a wager (a minimum of only $2). The crowd cheering as the horses get to the finish line is an exhilarating addition to your afternoon that you won’t be able to replicate with anything else. But if you’re interested in any of the other 80 racetracks, you can make wagers on those races in their lounge. Or try your luck at the OLG slots inside.
Ultimately, I had a great afternoon with my family and friends. The rain started to trickle in just as the last race took place. My beautiful niece was with us all afternoon and it reminded me of when I used to visit the track with my dad as a kid. The racetrack really is family friendly: there is space for kids to run around, they love seeing the horses, and there was even face painting to keep them busy. Spending a day at the races every summer is definitely a tradition I’d love to continue.