This past Canada Day, I set aside my usual tradition of doing nothing, and opted for a new adventure.
Luckily, Packwood Grand was right there ready to fill the newly opened void!
Last year I had seen the vintage-themed horse event somewhere in the social media abyss, but I wasn’t around that day to partake in the fun. So, when I learned that I would in fact be in town this year for this splendid event, I quickly got in contact and snagged a pair of tickets.
If you haven’t heard of Packwood Grand, it’s a (now) annual event which takes place at Century Downs. Guests are encouraged to dress up in style – mimicking the high fashion displayed at the Kentucky Derby – while horses trot by, beginning for you to place a bet on their win.
After much debate about what to wear and a few trips to the mall, I settled on a white jumpsuit complete with a horse-themed silk scarf and a wide brimmed hat.
While Cole stuck to a classic navy blazer, white chinos, and a pocket square.
Upon arrival, guests walk down the red carpet, admiring those truly dressed to impress, and comparing which hat or fascinator is the best of the bunch. All before striking a pose for the photography team.
We then grabbed a drink and some cotton candy, before selecting a prime viewing spot and hunkering down for the rest of the afternoon.
While there are a number of tables, chairs, and covered seating areas set up, everyone knows the action is right in front of the fence, so once we grabbed our spot I was in no mood to give it up.
The rest of the afternoon was, therefore, a game of musical chairs, taking turns to adventure the grounds or place a last minute bet.
Always returning, of course, to watch the practice rounds and scope out our favourite picks. Did they look fast? Were they fit? And most importantly, were they pretty?
Each race signalled its start with the Canadian flag and the sound of the horn, and then they were off!
If you haven’t been to the races before, the most important thing you must do is purchase an info book. It’s not only where you’ll find the pro’s pics, but it’s stuffed with different stats for each horse in the race. Unless you’re some kind of horse whisperer, it’s really the only way to ensure you have a chance at winning.
Having been placing $2 place bets since I was a child, I knew the drill and began my analysis.
I whizzed through racing times, win counters, ages, and colours (for luck!), circling my hopeful winners as I went and then comparing them with the pros to make sure I wasn’t off course.
While you could bet from a mobile app, I much prefer the old tradition of physically placing my bet, so I went for the stations. Delivering toonie after toonie in exchange for one of those prized white tickets.
Of course, I’m not really that much of a gambler, or a risk taker for that matter. So, I stuck to the simple $2 bets, limiting myself to one horse per race. Too scared to go for a win, but too anxious to merely pick a show, I went safely for a place – which means your horse must win 1st or 2nd place. If so, you make the big bucks! Or, in reality, your original bet plus 90 cents or so.
If you manage to get any more than that, you’re golden!
Of course, there were other guests wagering much higher bets, or perhaps betting on multiple horses per race. But, I don’t want to get into the technicalities of horse betting, because, it’s really all about having fun!
With only 10 races, my limited wager meant that the most I could lose was$20 – but ideally, the most I could win would be enough for an ice cream!
This afternoon, the sun was shining and there was a bit of a breeze to cool you down. Guests mingled and compared outfits, with Mint Mojitos or Moscow mules in hand, and sometimes a plate of the delicious lunch buffet.
And then, each time the race began, we all slowly headed back to the fence, cheering on the horses (and drivers), and begging for a win as they plummeted down the track.
The heat rushed by twice – and on the second time, passed the finish line directly in front of our table. In a flurry of colours, you had to squint at the numbers to see if your horse kicked it into high gear at the very last (and crucial) moment.
I managed to be successful in 6/8 races – choosing to forego the last two and leave on a good note.
If all of this has inspired you to visit the races for yourself, Century Downs hosts live races every weekend. It’s an absolute blast and I would highly recommend grabbing your friends, family, date, or even going alone on the odd occasion! The thrill of the bet, combined with the evening sun, good company, and hopefully a hot dog or two, really can’t be beat!
And, be sure to watch for updates on the next Packwood Grand, because I really can’t think of a better example of an event you won’t want to miss. I can happily say it exceeded all of our expectations.