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November, 2000


A Man on a Mission

Bv Larry Simpson

A successful no-nonsense businessman, horse owner, race sponsor, now HBPA Director, Victor Deschenes is a man of many hats. Considered possibly outspoken by his contemporaries, he has continued to put his money where his mouth is, much to the benefit of the horse racing sport.

    Victor and his wife Rosanne, currently hold the ownership papers on 22 horses stabled at Woodbine and Fort Erie. Successful in the thoroughbred ownership game for the last four years, Deschenes is also president and CEO of Expedite Plus Inc., a world-wide emergency transportation service with annual sales over $8.5 million, that is open 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. He has come a long way from the streetwise kid from a working class family in Toronto, who at age seven sold newspapers on the corner.

    Victor, started Expedite Plus almost a decade ago when he realized there was a need for a courier service where speed was more important than cost. "If someone in New York needs an item from Korea, I'll send someone to get the part and take it directly to New York, Deschenes says. "They know it's going to cost a premium, but when millions are at stake, the cost becomes secondary."

    However, it is what Victor Deschenes has given back, to the community and the racing business in general that gives him the most satisfaction. Past beneficiaries have included hospitals, the Harbourside Theatre in Mississauga, and that city newspaper's Christmas Bureau Fund. Although he doesn't keep tabs on what has been donated, previous years programs in Toronto saw him donate as much as $250,000 per annum to causes such as lunch programs for students, buying computers for schools, uniforms for sports teams, and providing underprivileged children (at last count over 5,000), with tickets to Toronto Blue Jay baseball games. Presently, Deschenes through Expedite Plus, is working on a new fund raising project with the Harbourside Playhouse in Mississauga, on a production of Charles Dickens'A Christmas Carol, to run from November 29" to December 17'. Expedite Plus underwrites the costs of the production, which allows local groups to sell the tickets for the show and retain 100 per cent of the proceeds. It is estimated that each performance can raise as much as $3600for the ticket-sellers, with the entire run potentially raising over $75,000 for local charities.

    But it doesn't just end there for Victor Deschenes. Rather this past year saw him combine his passion for horse ownership with an ongoing penchant of supporting his community, in this case, the jockey community.
"It's time to recognize this unsung heroes of the game", he states with the emphasis on unsung. "People don't realize that if these guys don't win the race, they get $85. And they start at 5 a.m. exercising horses, and they don't get paid for that. It's free! And then, despite all this, there is no guarantee that an owner is going to let a jockey ride his horse that day. In my opinion, as athletes, jockeys are drastically underpaid!"

    Thus, the introduction of the Expedite Plus Stakes, a race slated for Fort Erie this past August. However it was not just like any other race, as one thing people in the horse racing business are finding out about Victor Deschenes, he just doesn't do things in an ordinary fashion. In fact it was a precedent setting move for horse racing.

    "Originally, we committed $15,000 to the purse. Then we upped it another $25,000, which brought the purse up to $35,000, from which the competing jockeys received $15,000. The $15,000 was distributed in the same manner as the purse: 60 per cent to the winner, 20 per cent to second, 10 per cent to third, and so on, and it was paid over and above the jockeys'  usual riding fee. We tried to give the jockeys some recognition that both owners and trainers had neglected. The other $10,000 went to fans in the form of prize money, where entry forms were filled out prior to the race and names were drawn randomly with each name matched up to a horse in the Expedite Plus Stakes. We paid out prizes in win, place and show fashion, according to the race results. For the record one lucky fan, Roy Moreira of Mississauga won $6,000 in prize money after his name was drawn and assigned to Big Virg. As for Deschenes, not only did he put up the $35,000 for the race, but he also threw his entire support behind the project by arranging to have
several Mississauga and Toronto fans bussed over to Fort Erie for the day.
    As it turned out, Big Virg owned by Bruno Schickedanz defeated seven rivals and won the 5-furlong event in an ironic twist. "The race was originally scheduled to be run on the turf, but was moved to the main track. Big Virg was entered only if the race came off the turf, which it did", added Victor.

    The Expedite Plus Stakes provided trainer Layne Giliforte with his first stakes winner, and for jockey Cory Clark, a nice paycheck for the winning ride. In addition to her 10 per cent share of the purse, she grabbed 60 per cent of the $15,000 bonus put up by Deschenes.

    As a newly elected director of the HBPA, Victor Deschenes is now in a position to have a bigger say in the direction thoroughbred racing is headed. In fact, it is his belief that racing has to address several problems in general. "I can't emphasize more that we need to compensate jockeys properly. He or she has to maintain their weight and, race in-race out, put their life on the line for as little as $85 a ride. That's not right!" he says emphatically.

    "Secondly, we need to address the issue of stalls. I see races run with short fields, and I'm told that there is a shortage of horses, caused by a shortage of stalls. Yet, why is it that I can walk up to four different trainers and they have an empty stall? That's the big question! Maybe it's a question that perhaps we are not writing the proper classes for horses, so we need to get a better rapport with the race office? Or perhaps we need to make it mandatory that trainers have to run their horses so many times per month in order to maintain their stalls, rather than just using the backstretch as a training area? I personally believe that a shortage of stalls does not exist-it's more a case of the wrong races being carded! We also need to have a look at the benefit plans for horsemen in the backstretch. There is still work to be done there as well!"

    And what other changes would Victor Deschenes like to see for the future of horse racing?

    "I would like to see some changes in the classification of races. We should make it mandatory that non-competitive horses are not allowed to race out of class. It should never happen that a $20,000 claimer is allowed to race with an $80,000 one, simply to either fill the race, or that the trainer doesn't want to lose the horse! Hey if you don't want to risk losing your horse in a claimer, don't enter him! But don't enter him out of his or her class. It's not good for the industry, nor is it any good for the betting public!"

    And what about the gap that has existed between the thoroughbred and standardbred product? (Note Victor Deschenes' first taste of ownership was with the standardbred set.)

    "I still believe that there is a small percentage that doesn't want to admit that the other side exists. I would like to see it change as in my opinion it's a business-racing is racing! It is better than it was though, as you see more of a crossover in ownership now than you did five or six years ago, but we still have a ways to go!"

    Nobody will ever accuse Victor Deschenes of being complacent whether it be in his role with Expedite Plus, or as an up and coming torch bearer for the horse racing industry.

    Rather, in a quote from an article in last years National Post, it was stated about one Victor Deschenes that he is "a card-carrying member of a small group of selfless individuals who feel a need to pay a little back for their own good fortune by aiding others, particularly kids, who are often forced to go without things others take for granted." Nowadays, nobody takes Victor Deschenes for granted!

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