YORKTON - When the chuckwagons take to the Yorkton Exhibition track this weekend Todd Baptiste will be looking to continue the consistent runs he made in 2021 when he was the high point driver in the Canadian Professional Chuckwagon Association.
Baptiste is certainly ready for the new CPCA arriving for the Pro Tour Yorkton Classic presented by the Yorkton Tribal Council with four chuckwagons for him and his brother, and 27 horses. He explained 16 horses will run each show on the wagons, eight more are for the outriders who race with their wagons, and three horses are along just in case an extra is required.
It’s a lot of horses to get ready for a new season – a half dozen remained at home as back-ups if needed over the season -- especially in a year when winter was reluctant to leave to allow for training.
“It was a bit late. In my perfect world I was probably 10 days late to start this spring,” said the driver from Cando, Sask. in an interview with Yorkton This Week Thursday. “. . .You always want to have a solid spring training and stay away from injuries.”
But, the missed days haven’t proven too much of an issue on the eve of the first CPCA event of 2022.
“I’m happy where my horses are at for this weekend,” said Baptiste.
That includes Baptiste breaking in a few new horses.
“All four of them are doing really well,” he said, adding they are fitting in nicely with the existing teams he assigned them too.
Baptiste said it’s not always the case where new horses, almost always bought off the thoroughbred race circuit, fits into a chuckwagon team, and most that do still take time to adjust to the new form of racing.
Horses off the racetrack usually come to chuckwagon racers when they are three or four years old and aren’t making the strides in that form of racing their trainers want.
“There are so many up and coming horses,” said Baptiste adding as a result a lot of young stock gets moved to chuckwagons.
Typically, new horses start as outrider mounts, and then five or six are transitioned to a wagon team, said Baptiste.
It takes the time for new horses to get used to chuckwagon racing.
“I don’t like to start any horses under five. When they’re three or four they’re still too young for that sort of pressure (on a wagon team),” said Baptiste. “...There’s a lot to adjust to for the horses from the track to the wagon business.”
Once happy in a chuckwagon team a horse can run for 10-15 years.
“That’s the second life they get in terms of racing in their careers,” said Baptiste, adding with age some horses get better, other plateau, but can still be solid on a team.
While the horses originate from thoroughbred tracks, once on chuckwagon teams, drivers will look to upgrade their string of horses buying from competitors.
“There’s always lot of dealing going on behind the barns,” said Baptiste, adding that is especially true when a new season with new horses starts.
It’s all part of the sport business Baptiste has been involved in for years. He started as an outrider for Edgar Baptiste as a 15-year-old, and has now been driving wagons for 22 years.
Baptiste said the sport tends to be very family-oriented, with him being a second generation racer and younger brother Ryan Baptiste driving too.
“It’s a good lifestyle,” he said.