High style, high stakes at Deighton Cup

gabriel at hastings racetrack

A young fan of the ponies watches from the rail as the Deighton Cup races take place. (DeNon Boquist photo for Vacay.ca)

Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — I was 11 years old when I first bet on a horse race. It was at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto and I was following my grandfather’s advice. He owned horses in Guyana, the South American country where I was born, and when he visited me in Ontario after my parents and I emigrated we went to the track together. Pick one horse you like and bet on it to win, place and show, he said. That meant I was actually making three bets, wagering that my selected horse would finish in first or second or third place. Although the strategy would cost three times as much as a bet on the horse to just win, playing “across the board,” as bettors say, mitigated the consequences of a near defeat and pumped up the payout of a victory. (See an explanation of the strategy at the end of the article.)


Fashion and winning make a great combination, as this fan at the Deighton Cup discovered while cheering on her horse. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

It was the first time I realized you can make your own luck. I studied the racing program and the Daily Racing Form, searching for data that would help me choose the one horse in each race with a good chance of finishing in the money. Once I got the handle of “across the board” betting, my grandfather taught me about “exotic” bets, including: exacta (picking the first two horses in a race); trifecta (the first three); the daily double (picking the winning horse in two consecutive races); and the pick three (or four or five or six), which challenges you to select the winning horse in a designated number of races and is the bet that most resembles wagering on a lottery.

Going to the horse races has been a part of my life wherever I lived — except in Vancouver. My first visit to Hastings Racecourse didn’t occur until this summer. From what I had heard, the horses were not highly competitive and the racing didn’t compare to Toronto or New York. What I learned was that while Hastings did lack big-name race horses, it also featured one of the most beautiful settings for a day at the track you could imagine.


Horses circle the track at Hastings Racecourse, chasing Deighton Cup glory. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

The Vancouver attraction, located next to the Playland amusement park, provides a clear view of the North Shore mountains and the Second Narrows Bridge. It features picnic and patio tables near the rail, as well as grandstand seating, and a laid-back, family-friendly atmosphere that is nothing like the intense and often profane environment encountered at racetracks such as Woodbine and Belmont Park. At least once a year, Hastings also turns into a showcase of fashion and fun in Vancouver.

Horse Racing Is in Style in Vancouver

For the past decade, the Deighton Cup has chosen one Saturday each summer to transform Hastings into the place to be seen. It includes a “style stakes” fashion competition, food stations operated by restaurants like Earl’s, numerous pop-up bars stocked with premium alcohol, and VIP booths. Musicians perform between the races, a red carpet is rolled out at the entrance, and artists are on site creating images while the party atmosphere around them builds. Meanwhile, on the track, a card of eight races features some of the best thoroughbreds and jockeys in British Columbia.


Fancy hats and fancy cocktails are a very good mix at the races, as Deighton Cup attendees in 2018 found out. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

The Deighton Cup is Vancouver’s attempt to mimic the Kentucky Derby, the most famous horse race in the world. At the derby, fans at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, dress in prim clothes, with men in fedoras and ascots, and women decorating their hair with ornate fascinators or donning large hats that resemble the plumage of a peacock. Vancouver’s version of the Run for the Roses experience looks micro in comparison but in a city that could use more colourful events the Deighton Cup provides liveliness and, more than that, an opportunity to educate attendees on the sport of kings.

Based on my conversations with people in the crowd, the Deighton Cup was the first time several of the 5,000 attendees visited the racecourse. Many placed their first bets — repeating that thrilling and hopeful action I encountered when I was a child — and some let the moment overtake their composed demeanour, cheering ferociously as their horse galloped to the finish line.


A day at the races has never been more fashionable in Vancouver, as these friends who attended the Deighton Cup show. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Horse racing is unique from other forms of sports betting. For one thing it’s complex and very hard to predict because of the number of entrants in each race. But it’s also rapid, raw, and riveting. At the Deighton Cup it was noticeable how many of the people who came to the track for the scene also stuck around to pay attention to the races and the majestic animals running around the circuit. The horses won over many, doing what they’ve done for generations: captivating human imagination with a combination of power and grace that typifies champions.



Lord of the North holds off Sir Knight to win the fifth race on the 2018 Deighton Cup card in Vancouver. (Adrian Brijbassi/Vacay.ca)

Location: 188 North Renfrew Street, Vancouver, BC (see map below)
Website: www.hastingsracecourse.com
2018 Dates: Races take place at least twice per week, with the last day scheduled for October 14. Check the racing schedule for dates and times. 

BC Cup Day: The most significant races of the year at Hastings occur on BC Day, the first Monday of August. Nine races are scheduled. You can check the entries here.
Explaining “Across the Board” Betting: If your horse won, you would not only win the first-place prize money, you would also collect the earnings for second and third. So on a $2 across-the-board bet on a horse with odds of 4-1, you would collect $10 for the win, plus additional dollars for both the “place” (second place) and “show” (third place) earnings. The earnings for second and third are dependent on several factors for each race, including how much was in the total betting pool, but it wouldn’t be unusual in this example if the second and third payouts totalled $8-$10, giving you close to $20 on your wager of $6. If your horse comes in second, you may still make a profit. If your horse finishes third, you win a little bit of your money back — which is better than losing it all.

Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.

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