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Jeff Blair

Nothing trivial in this pursuit Add to ...

The toast will come some time after dinner, although it's safe to say that Chris Haney's name will be spoken often Thursday when the Devil's Pulpit golf course celebrates the 20th anniversary of its opening.

And Sunday, when the other co-creator of Trivial Pursuit, Scott Abbott, watches his Ontario-bred bay Smart Sky make his first appearance in a stakes race, at the 151st running of the Queen's Plate at Toronto's Woodbine racetrack, he will no doubt take a moment to once again remember Haney, his fellow dreamer and co-conspirator who died on May 31 at 59 after a long battle with heart disease and kidney failure. Abbott will also recall Floyd The Barber, Haney's dalliance with the sport of kings back when King Caledon Farms' Charlie Barley was Canada's champion turf horse in 1989, amassing career earnings of $1-million.

"Chris wasn't involved with John [Haney, Chris's brother]and me in King Caledon except very briefly," Abbott recalled Wednesday in a telephone interview from his office at the Devil's Pulpit in Caledon, Ont. "He got one horse which he named Floyd The Barber, and, uh, Floyd the Barber didn't do very well.

"Chris lost interest quickly enough. But I remember when we were building the Devil's Pulpit in 1989 that Charlie Barley was doing very well. He was on the front page of the newspaper one time - a big, colour photo - and Chris said: 'You know, I don't think we're getting enough publicity [for the golf course]' So he wasn't afraid to trade on the horse's notoriety when it came to selling golf memberships."

Abbott and Haney were the central figures in the well-known success story that is Trivial Pursuit. The game's designing and runaway success are the stuff of legend, and in some cases urban myth, but this much is clear: Beer was involved as was journalism (Abbott worked for The Canadian Press based in Montreal, Haney was a photograph editor at The Gazette) and so were 32 dreamers, suckers and roustabouts who ponied up $1,000 each for shares in the venture and ended up with wild riches.

So these next three days will be emotional for Abbott, who also owns the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League as well as Devil's Pulpit and a neighbouring course, Devil's Paintbrush.

"We had a remembrance at the golf club last Saturday night for family and friends and we will mark his passing [Thursday]" Abbott said. "It does seem in many respects like Devil's Pulpit was just opening yesterday. Chris's passing has brought reminiscences and a lot of old photographs out again and, yeah, it's all come back pretty vividly in the past month.

"I've got a good trainer in Mike Doyle and my family around me," Abbott continued, "so I'm getting support that way and encouragement and advice so I think, you know, you soldier on. There's no doubt I miss Chris Haney greatly. I wish he were still here. I wish I still had the opportunity to play golf again and have dinner and a drink this summer before he left for Spain in the fall, but that's not going to happen. It's the way things are, so you accept it and keep on going."

The son of Sky Mesa, Smart Sky has been more comfortable on grass and Polytrack than dirt, which was driven home to Doyle, the Irishman who last season won $1-million for the eighth time in nine seasons, when he took Smart Sky to Florida for two races at Gulfstream in January and February. Chantal Sutherland will be aboard this weekend.

Abbott wrapped up King Caledon Farms "because we had a pretty good run and decided we were tied up with other things," before coming back to racing on his own with C. Scott Abbott Racing Stables.

"You can't win it unless you're in it, you know?" Abbott said with a chuckle when asked to handicap the horse's chance. "I like to think the horse will like the distance and that if we get a good trip and a good ride, we'll have a chance."

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