Caribbean Excellence on the Road to the King's Plate
Written by Felicia Gopi
Sunday September 3, 2023
If you’ve ever visited Woodbine Racetrack located in Etobicoke, Ontario, you’ve been privy to the exhilarating sounds and often distinct smell of horse racing in the air. The stands are filled with excited fans who’ve put their money on their favourite racehorses, anxiously awaiting that starting bell.
For Caribbean fans of the sport in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) horse racing is a common past-time - yet if you take a closer look at the owners’ boxes or the winner’s circle you would never be able to tell just how much our community makes up the fabric of the sport altogether.
Chris K. Manohar is the current owner of three race horses although he’s had as many as six prior. Chris’ Canadian Sweetheart (which he claimed for $25,000), is notably one of the top female horses of the year at Woodbine.
So how does a first-generation Canadian, born to immigrant parents from Guyana become a race horse owner and King’s Plate contender? Well, for Chris the key to his success comes from a long line of hard work and knowing when to bet on yourself.
“Success is opportunity, when you see opportunity you have to take it.”
Chris’ father migrated to Canada at 28 years old in 1982. His mom came to Canada when she was just two years old in 1969. She grew up in Brampton, attended Chinguacousy Secondary School and worked at McDonald’s. It was there she met Chris’ father who happened to work at KFC. Of course, his family was no stranger to hard work as his father also worked and built a transmission shop focusing on torque converters with his uncle - a shop that a rebellious 18 year old Chris would also come to work at.
While working with his dad Chris was curious, innovative and had expansion on his mind. He busied himself taking apart and putting together transmissions, learning different skills from other shops, taking courses to expand his horizons and learned more about transmissions as a whole. As Chris’ ambitions continued to grow, he decided it was time to venture out on his own and open up All Pro Transmissions. He slowly grew his clientele and when he outgrew his Highway 27 location he began to look for a new place to house his business.
Chris’ admiration for his parents is boundless. He emphasizes that like many children of immigrant parents, he too shared differences of opinions with his parents and he wanted to take more chances than they were comfortable with. “Our parents, what they did, they survived,” he continues, “we never had the struggles they had.”
“It’s our generation that really has a chance to take shots.” So that’s what he did, after 2 years of successful growth Chris expanded his shop and relocated to Highway 7 where, in a complete full-circle moment he was able to house not only his own business but his father’s as well.
Now Chris says he understands his parents’ philosophy more than he did when he was a kid. “It’s not that they don’t see opportunity, they’re just so worried because of the way they had to struggle and grind to live over here. They’re scared to lose it.” Hindsight, for many adult-children is 20/20. It can be difficult to empathize, give grace and understanding to our parents. Chris’ observations allow for him to appreciate their contributions and have catapulted them as a family into new arenas.
The world of horse racing wasn’t something that Chris necessarily grew up dreaming about. “That’s the funny thing, I never grew up watching horse racing. I grew up playing sports, I was very competitive. I played Triple-A Baseball for seven years, then I represented Canada at the international level for cricket for eleven years. So I was very competitive.”
After his business took off and he was able to expand with his father by his side, Chris decided that instead of betting on horses, he was going to up the stakes.
“When I found out ‘hey you can own a horse,’ I said, ‘sh-t I gotta do this’. This is something I really, really wanna do.” His determination and grounded approach saw him through the process that started with him purchasing his first race horse through a private sale. As he learned the ins and outs, Chris moved on to buying yearlings (baby horses) at the yearling sale at Woodbine Racetrack.
“After that I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to take a shot at the claiming game.” Claiming horses involves purchasing horses at a set price at the end of a competition. Owning horses for Chris though, was always about much more than the money.
Chris met Renico E. Lafond, a horse trainer who is originally from Barbados, in Fort Erie. Since meeting, the pair have gone on to make history together. He gravitated towards Renico’s style, because he says he is always on the ground with the horses making sure that they are happy and he prioritizes training them from the ground up.
“We let them be the animal they wanna be.”
For Chris and Renico, caring for the animals is of the utmost importance to them, after that, the results always follow. Chris says, “We give them the time, we give them the effort, and they give us all the effort when they run.”
Before the King’s Plate Chris recalls a beautiful moment when Canadian Sweetheart won the Sweet Briar Too Stakes Race at Woodbine. After years of dreaming, risk-taking and listening to his parents' concerns he had finally made it to the Winner’s Circle. The only problem was, he wasn’t in town for the race!
“That was the greatest moment in my life, honestly speaking. We were sitting in the plane and I was screaming my head off because she won!” Speaking about that fateful day, Chris says because he was going on a family vacation to Disney World, he encouraged his parents to attend the race in his place. Little did he know his parents, two Guyanese-Canadians who immigrated here decades ago, would be standing in the winner’s circle, doubts aside, beaming with pride. That day, they got their flowers.
The win at the stakes put Chris in the perfect position to claim Morstachy’s who he claimed for $40,000. Despite only having him for three weeks prior to the King’s Plate, Chris said he had his eye on the race horse since the previous year in 2022.
The top 17 horses in Canada with the most earnings are selected to run the King’s Plate, so while Morstachy’s was on the eligibles list when he was claimed, Chris still had to wait to find out if he would make the cut. It was just after Morstachy’s ran his fifth race that he jumped in the 17th spot for the King’s Plate.
“It was something more of a dream than reality.” Still, Chris and Renico kept their composure stating that their nerves drove them into preparation mode. They had to work on their program for performance and tackle challenges like finding a jockey who would be willing to ride a horse that came in at the bottom of the list.
Prior to the race, Chris explains that they only had Morstachy’s for three to four weeks. “The odds for him to win were 99-1. So we were destined to finish last. You could have bet on us to finish last, but we still didn’t finish last.”
Morstachy’s placed 14th in the competition and Chris is beyond proud of the progress they’ve made with the horse even outside of the coveted event. “When we first got him, and we put him in his pen, he would sit in the back all day, he would never come to the front of the gate, couldn’t even pet him.” giving credit to Renico’s approach and their care for their horses he continues, “In a matter of a week he was at the front gates, you could pet him, you could go around him, you could touch him, you could lift his foot, he just gave us that full trust with him, and now he’s the nicest horse in the barn”
Chris defines success as taking opportunities as they come while also balancing the art of letting go. He says, “You have to know when to pull the plug.” He recognizes that while he had to be patient and work diligently to get to this point in his life, there is still room to grow as a community. Chris dreams of building programs for our youth to help in a number of areas but particularly in sports.
“Something our community needs to do is build a structure, build a recreation centre, so our kids and other people can have opportunities to do things.” He describes ways in which people can make changes simply by talking, sharing and mentoring folks at all ages about their different fields which he feels confidently will bring us together.
As he looks for ways to bring our community together and preserve our culture, Chris is also preparing for the next leg of the Triple Crown. Morstachy’s has now competed in the King’s Plate (on a tapeta surface), and will be heading down to Fort Erie to compete in the Prince of Wales Stakes (on a dirt surface) followed by the Breeder’s Stakes back at Woodbine Racetrack (on a turf surface).
You can also find Canadian Sweetheart competing in yet another stake race this September at Woodbine. After which Chris will be looking into buying another yearling as well as competing in races at Gulfstream in Florida. After all, he and Renico have aspirations to be the best in the game.
If you’re looking for ways to get involved in the community, the Indo-Caribbean Canadian Association has built the mentorship program Star Bhai for young boys to learn from different folks in the community with expertise in fields like sports, computer engineering, culinary arts and much more.
About the Author
Felicia is the editor in chief of Story, a newsletter by the Indo-Caribbean Canadian Association. She also works in digital marketing with a background in beauty and fashion. She began volunteering with the Indo-Caribbean Association to contribute directly to her community and to learn from other like-minded individuals.
For more information visit feliciagopi.ca