Mark Clairmont |

GRAVENHURST — Donald and Barbra Desmond didn’t pick the winner at the Kentucky Derby, but they came away with some great hats and bow ties.

And they were the big winners Saturday night at the Rotary Races.

The Gravenhurst Lakeshore Road residents ran away with top prize, a week’s vacation in the Dominican Republic.

But the real winners were the nine charities benefiting from the video races at the Terry Fox Auditorium.

The Desmonds were among 158,000 for the 143rd running of the Derby May 6, 2017.

For Donald, a trip to Churchill Downs was on his bucket list.

So, the avid racing fan and his wife saddled up for Louisville, Kentucky, May 6, 2017, which is no easy feat.

Getting a ticket is about as difficult as picking the winner, Always Dreaming.

He said you have to know someone to get invited, which they did.

That meant invites to three social events, including pre- and post-races, to sip mint juleps (bourbon, mint, sugar, water, ice).

It also meant three new hats for Barbara, who picked them up in Florida beforehand, along with some additional fascinators she shared.

Saturday, she sported grand Florida orange number to go along with her citrus-coloured dress.

She shared equally fetching big, bold blue and white hats with two friends — Laura LaFortune and and Catharine Daly — who joined the Desmonds at the Rotary Races.

Donald, who accompanied his wife Saturday in his Derby suit — blue blazer, green trousers and Derby bow tie — also lent ties to Doug Tate and Gord LaFortune.

But the Desmonds, who also won a couple of other races with their friends Saturday, said that was enough and beats the Derby, which was far more costly.

It was all part of a good night of fun for a lot of great causes, including the women’s centre, GAP, Hospice Muskoka, and Rotary’s Polio Plus initiative among others.

Host and emcee Nick “Sporty” Jones who flew in from Bermuda with his bag of global race DVDs and donated his services, was an engaging and affable race announcer.

He donated the vacation property at his D.R. home and threw in two airline tickets.

As well, he got the most out of 70 bettors, who put at least $5 on each of the 10 races, including a couple of specialties for big prizes.

Rotarian Rob Abbott, who was right on the money eight times, also won a featured round of golf from Taboo, which he immediately said he’s going to put back up for auction in annual November Rotary TV/Internet Auction.

Fellow Rotarian Pat Bongers, who came up with the idea, was pleased with the night, which he hopes will be the first of more.

The club netted more than $4,000 on the night, after expenses including the arena hall and a lovely catered wine and cheese table and student servers.

Host and emcee Nick “Sporty” Jones, left, presents the Desmonds with their vacation prize, as Rotarian Pat Bongers and their friends Gordon and Laura Lafortune look on.
Video races from around the world drew a crowd of 70 bettors for great charitable causes.
Donald and Barbra Desmond, left, Gordon and Laura LaFortune and Beth Tate show off their Derby livery.
Rotarian Pat Bongers talks a little about the club event and charities the proceeds will support.
Bettors line up to put their money on their favourite horses.

Email Mark Clairmont at


Celebrating 25 YEARS of ‘Local Online Journalism’

Follow him at Twitter @muskokatodaily

And on Facebook at

Letters to the Editor always welcome:

Let us know what you’re thinking. Click on the Comment button at the end of this story to leave your comments.

Or write a Letter to the Editor …

And … please Subscribe: