Turfside Dining Room
Working with mom at the Fort
Mother’s day is not simply a day for giving your mom a hug and some extra love, but also a day to recognize some of the tight-knit families currently working at Fort Erie Race Track.
Case in point, trainer Julie Mathes and her daughter Alysha Robillard.
Mathes is not short on words or sentiment when she talks about working with her daughter.
“I feel like it creates a special bond between mother and daughter, being able to have her by my side,” said Mathes.
The leading trainer at last year’s meet, Mathes is grateful for Alysha’s support in the barn. “It really is a great thing, since we are family I know she’s got my back. She is particular and makes sure everything is done properly and knows how I would want it done.”
At 18, Alysha has been immersed in horse racing as long as she can remember and for the past few years she has been working as a groom at her mom’s barn. “It’s an amazing experience being alongside my mom. Seeing her do what she loves, especially when all our hard work pays off and we’re in the winner’s circle.”
Mathes currently has 17 horses at the track and depending on the day Alysha grooms and takes care of 5 to 6 horses. “I groom, I tack the horses, feed, do water buckets, basically everything that a groom would do,” said Alysha.
Working long days at the barn Alysha remains grateful to be at the Fort. “Everyone is nice at Fort Erie. It’s such a small area, so you basically think of everyone as family. You know everyone, everyone says good morning - it’s just a beautiful track in general.”
Alysha’s mom is very excited to begin racing again at the border oval. “It’s been a long winter. With COVID, none of us get to go out and do anything, so it will be great thing for us to get back into the swing of things.”
While the 2021 racing meet steadily approaches, another mother and daughter duo that can been seen out on the track and getting horses ready are Lori and Jennelle McMahon.
Lori has been working at the Fort for over 40 years, with a decade spent working as an outrider and the rest spent ponying horses. Jennelle has been working in the backstretch for the last four years in various roles including grooming horses. She has worked for several trainers, but this year she is working at the family barn, where she owns two racehorses trained by her dad (and former jockey) William McMahon.
Jennelle is happy to have the support of both her parents as she transitions into a couple new gigs at the track, including ponying as well as exercise riding. “Well, this year I started riding the pony and galloping. I’ve slowly started to gallop by myself now and (mom’s) been ponying me and working me up to that point.”
Lori is also happy to have her daughter working close by. “She is breaking a thoroughbred (Chilito Piquin) that Elliot Sullivan gave her into a pony horse and he is doing extremely well. I’m really happy with how he is doing. She hangs out with me in the morning with that horse and then she gallops her own horse.”
At 16, juggling school and track life Jennelle enjoys having the company of her mom during the work morning.
“I feel like we are very close because of it. We get along quite good and we go on road trips and stuff like that.” Outside of the track, Jennelle does barrel racing and Lori mentions that when the border was open they did do a lot of travelling.
Another hard-working family that you can spot not only on the backstretch, but also out on the turf includes Connor Whalen and his mom, Claudia Rabstein. Rabstein has worked at the Fort for over thirty years. She and her husband, Henry Whalen have five horses in training for this upcoming season. Connor helps his parents on the backstretch and has also worked in the track maintenance department.
“As an older child he worked in maintenance, so he’s out on the racetrack making sure that our turf is safe and making sure that our racetrack looks beautiful,” said Rabstein.
On the backstretch, Connor lends a hand where he can. “I usually do more of the physical stuff, I don’t handle the horses that much. I will help my dad do the walking machine and do the stalls.”
Connor offers a very wholehearted response when asked what he enjoys about helping out his mom and dad.
“I enjoy working with them. It’s cool to learn about the horses and all the different things behind it. It’s much more complicated than just a four-legged animal.”
According to his mom, Whalen also helps with leveling the stalls and any heavy work around the barn.
Rabstein remains extremely grateful to have family by her side during the pandemic.
“Oh it’s wonderful, I don’t think we would have made it through all of this if we hadn’t been together.”
As the stay-at-home order continues across the province strict COVID-19 safety protocols remain in place at the border oval. For more information on the upcoming 2021 racing meet, please visit www.forterieracing.com.