By Perry Lefko

The Youth Literary Derby will give Ontario elementary students a chance to witness the birth of standardbred foals and write about it for a chance at $2,000 in prize money.

The juried contest, which includes the Mississauga Arts Council, the Mississauga Library System and Mississauga Writers Group among its partners, is patterned after a similar contest which ran back in the glory days of standardbred horse racing (also called harness racing) back in the 1970s. It has been revived by horse racing publicist William Galvin, a longtime Mississauga resident and member of the Mississauga Arts Council. It’s designed to encourage writing and literacy skills and reaches out to “horse-loving kids” with a literacy flair and the province’s educational system.

Galvin, who had been working for the Ontario Jockey Club (now known as Woodbine Entertainment Group) when he originally ran the project has been working on bringing it back since last fall.

“I got over 600 entries (the last time it was done), but this is province wide,” he said. “It’s really huge. It’s a lot of work, which I kind of like to do.”

The program is designed for Ontario-resident students in Grades 5-8 with divisions for poems and essays. There are 30 standardbred breeding farms in Ontario giving writers a chance to watch the birth process during the foaling season in April and May and put it into words.

“Based on the acceptance of the program so far, I’ve been getting a lot of emails and good comments,” he says. “I’m expecting thousands of entries. Some of those thousands of students who participate in the program and go out and see foals and be able to connect with them and write about them…may consequently look at a career in some segment of racing or may, who knows, become racing fans.

“The grassroots thing is not going to fill the grandstand tomorrow. If we’d done it every year since I started in 1969, we’d have had 100,000 alumni – people who have had a little bit of exposure to horses and to the industry. It’s like a little thing, but it could be a good thing.”

Galvin adds the contest challenges students’ evaluations and perceptions of horses and their abilities to capture in prose and verse their up-close encounters with them.

Moreover, he says the contest “challenges the educational system to draw the attention of today’s youth beyond the world of computers and into the world of nature and the horse that has had a major impact on the history and development of this planet.”

The deadline for submissions is June 15.

Mississauga Arts Council executive director Mike Douglas jumped aboard the project and his organization has created the contest logo.

While provincial school boards are being contacted and made aware of the Youth Literary Derby, students are encouraged to contact their teachers and principals to reinforce their interest in the program.

For additional information, visit

The organizers and managers of the Youth Literary Derby are a small, non-profit and independent group of industry volunteers dedicated to promoting the standardbred horse and harness racing and receive non-monetary, promotional support from various partners.


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