It’s in his blood
- Local Journalism Initiative - NC Raine | December 15, 2023
As a fourth-generation, Cree, thoroughbred horse trainer, legacy is important to Tom Gardipy Jr.
“This is probably just what I was meant to do,” he said. “I think it’s the same as a hockey player or football player. You have to have that passion, that drive to keep you going. I’ve always had that passion.”
His fascination began with ‘Black Diamond’ – a champion racehorse owned by his great-grandfather.
It made such an impact that Gardipy named his own facility, Black Diamond Stables, in honour of his family’s history.
From the Beardy’s and Okemasis’ Cree Nation, he’s kept the trade alive.
Gardipy, a successful horse trainer, was recently inducted into the North American Indigenous Athletes Hall of Fame (NAIAHF).
“After I went to the (awards) ceremony, it hit me,” he said. “Seeing what it meant to my family and friends, how much it meant to the people involved … it’s special.”
Gardipy’s storied career started first with riding, then with racing before moving on to training horses when he was around 17 or 18 years old.
Since then, he’s racked up quite the record.
In 4851 horse-racing starts, Gardipy has 872 wins, 842 second place finishes, and 721 thirds, with a total earnings of $4,925,535.
He’s been named Top Trainer from Marquis Downs in Saskatoon in 2000, 2001, and 2002.
In 2003, he received the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Circle of Honour Award for Sports.
In the 19 years he’s trained at the Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, Gardipy has ranked in the top-three trainers every year and has won the Top Trainer title six times.
“When you do this, it’s pretty much your whole life,” he said. “You put in a lot of hours, often getting up very early in the morning.”
These distinctions throughout his career play a big role in allowing Gardipy to continue doing what he loves.
One of the biggest challenges of horse training is financial stability, he said, and success largely comes by way of building a name for yourself.
Things became easier after he won his first Top Trainer award in 2000.
“It’s easy to be overlooked if you’re not a known name,” said Gardipy. “I have to be very grateful to the clients who believed in me while I was first starting off. I see a lot of people struggle because they haven’t yet built a name for themselves.”
As such, he’s committed to helping younger generations learn the trade.
Not only does he work with his own sons and daughter in caring for and training racehorses, but he also mentors Indigenous youth interested in horse training.
“I think it’s important to keep this tradition going,” said Gardipy. “Everyone who has success in what they do should give back.”
He opened Black Diamond Stables in the 1990s on his First Nation. Gardipy trains there until May, before heading to Winnipeg for the horseracing season.
He currently runs approximately thirty horses but has had as many as 55.
Although it’s hard work, Gardipy said it’s been rewarding in many ways.
“I believe that horses have a special healing power,” he said. “You find that out when you’re troubled. When you start working with them, you notice your troubles disappear… I often wonder what I would have become if I didn’t have horses.”