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Donna Groves is the Eye-in-the Sky at RMTC

June 1, 2004     E-mail this page to a friend!

The Horses, RMTC - High in the eye-in-the-sky, in a small corner room each race day, you’ll find Donna Groves, a lady with a very strong influence on the way you wager.

Donna is the chart caller for The Horses, Rocky Mountain Turf Club at Whoop-Up Downs, or in this world of political correctness, the executive racing data collector.

The results of Donna’s work, which are far more visible than she is, can be found in your Race Program each day at Whoop-Up Downs and on the Equibase web page. Donna literally charts each horse in every race, recording the information to give a history of how each horse runs at Whoop-Up Downs, race in and race out. Her work for the season began Saturday, May 1, at 1:30 p.m. as the 2004 Spring race meet kicked off at Whoop-Up Downs.

Her work begins well before the gates open for the first race. Step number one is a phone call to the jockeys’ room, where she records the weights of each rider, along with the scratches for the day’s card and any rider changes as supplied by the RMTC stewards. She’ll proof-read the program and then, from the eye-in-the-sky, inputs all the information into her computer.

“I still do all my work on paper and then input it into the computer,” she says. “Within a half hour of the end of each race, the information is on-line with Equibase and Speed Horse magazine. I also send it to the Racing Forum.

“Despite all this, race fans should still check out the paddock and post parade for fractious horses and other things a handicapper should be on the lookout for. During post parade I check out the equipment, like blinkers, leg wraps, tongue ties…though I don't get shoe information here.”

Once the horses arrive at the starting gate, Donna watches for any that act up as they’re being loaded or standing in the gate. Once the bell rings and the gate flies open, she’s a busy lass. Thoroughbred or Quarter Horses, she records the positioning of each and every horse.

“I get things like the quarter, three quarters and final position…three calls in every Quarter Horse race and anywhere from four to six in a Thoroughbred race, depending on its length. I divide the track evenly, using a system Regan Wright taught me. I am also in constant connection with Kentucky’s Equibase resource centre for assistance and here I get a photo finish from Bill (Bill Pratt, the finish line photographer). His film shows the exact distance a horse won by. I also use Stan (Skretting), our video guy, for race re-runs, particularly for Quarter Horse sprints, which are so fast. If I missed anything live, I get the information from these two guys.”

In entering the information in the program for the bettor’s use, she includes very short comments regarding the race. These come from a set file, with 500 comments available to choose from in Quarter Horse racing and 105 with the Thoroughbreds.

On Quarter Horse trial days, with more than one race, Donna also compiles the finishers of all trial races in a timed order, which adds to her work load. With Quarter Horse times she is very exact, to the hundredth of a second (25.34 seconds as an example) while the Thoroughbred seconds are only to tenths (1:01.4 as example). In a Quarter Horse race every single horse must have a time, while only the winner’s time is acknowledged in Thoroughbred races.

”Times all come off the photo finish print out,” she says. Now in her fourth season as the RMTC chart caller, Donna brought her overall knowledge of racing to the position, much of it picked up from assisting her uncle, Dale “Digger” Mortensen, on the backstretch.
For her chart calling position Donna received a day and a half of live training as well, from her supervisor, Trese Norton, who came up from California with her computer and trained Donna - on a very busy trial day.

“I was brought up in a racing family,” says Donna, the daughter of Lethbridge Sports Hall of Famer Garth Hughes. “About 16 or 17 years ago, Uncle Dale needed help one night and I’ve been her ever since. At the time my husband (Brian) didn’t know one end of a horse from the other, but he’s been helping out at the track ever since that first night.”

As well, the Groves’ children, Aaron 15, and Brock 10, both work along the backstretch at Whoop-Up Downs. Donna also travels to Millarville for the July 1 holiday meet there. Because there’s no eye-in-the-sky at Millarville, there’s a whole different perspective of the race and makes her appreciate her corner room at Whoop-Up Downs all that much more.