Sunday, October 17

Retired Jays announcer has a friend on Hello Friends

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Jerry Howarth, a retired announcer for the Blue Jays, was a huge sports fan growing up in the San Francisco area.

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He loved baseball, soccer, basketball … nice Howarth trained college hoops at Etobicoke Collegiate for years.

But one sport Howarth did not follow very closely was thoroughbred horse racing. That is to say. until very recently. And it was a chance encounter about a year ago that sparked Howarth’s newfound appreciation for racing and his love for one horse in particular… Hello friends.

Does the name sound familiar to you? Of course, Hello Friends was Howarth’s signature welcome on the radio broadcast at the beginning of every Blue Jays game. And now, when Hello Friends, a five-year-old brown mare, races the Woodbine Racetrack, Howarth is front and center, cheering her on.

“She’s a special filly, with special owners,” Howarth said of Hello Friend owner Maggie LeBlanc and her husband John LeBlanc Jr, the mare’s trainer. “But the big picture is my great friendship with the LeBlancs, and that means more to me than anything else.”

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Howarth’s connection to Hello Friends and the LeBlancs began in the summer of 2020 when Howarth and his longtime Etobicoke resident wife Mary encountered a Toronto sun sports writer who asked the retired Blue Jays announcer if he knew there was a horse in Woodbine named for his famous grand opening. It was not. E-mail addresses were exchanged and now, a year later, Howarth is in all the races. He was at Woodbine last Sunday when Hello Friends, listed at 14-1 with jockey David Moran on board, went from sixth place heading into the final inning to a 1 1/4 long win after a heartwarming charge in the home stretch at $ 101,200. Subsidy race for fillies and mares from three years old and up. Howarth has now witnessed Court Vision’s son win twice. This season, Hello Friends has recorded a pair of wins and a third of five starts.

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Before his friendship with the LeBlancs took hold, Howarth knew little about horse racing, though he has fond memories of hitting the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds track with his mother to see the ponies.

“I remember I was at the race with my mom, I am 10 years old and I bet $ 2 on this horse called Potomac Scout. So I’m there, they’re all at the door, and I hear loud and clear the PA announcer say, ‘Waiting for Potomac Scout’ … And I thought, ‘What does that mean?’ And my mom said, ‘They’re having trouble with that horse at the gate.’ And sure enough, when the door was opened, it started last and finished last, ”Howarth laughed. And that’s a memory of being in a horse race. Fortunately, I never heard that with Hello Friends. “

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How Hello Friends got its name derived from Maggie LeBlanc’s love for the Blue Jays, inherited from her father, the late Doug Wakely.

“I’m a huge Blue Jays fan. I never miss a game and I always listened to the radio broadcast and made sure to be there from the beginning because I loved the opening of Jerry’s ‘Hello Friends’ … It always made me smile, ”Maggie said. “I was driving home one day and the game started, (Jerry said) ‘Hello folks’ … And I said,’ That’s his name.

Hello Friends is a 2016 home-bred foal. The family has had several horses in their stable with names inspired by the Blue Jays. There was Wardo, named for Jays great reliever Duane Ward, who actually coached LeBlanc’s son Douglas at the Honda Super Camp every summer. And also Immaculate Inning (Hello Friends half brother), whose name was inspired by another Toronto reliever, Steve Delabar, who struck out three Oakland A batters on nine pitches on July 30, 2013.

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“We had an UpUp’nThereSheGoes, but she took her name too literally and preferred to jump over to be a racehorse,” added Maggie.

One recent afternoon, Howarth stopped by the LeBlanc stable down the backstretch from Woodbine to visit Hello Friends.

“Hello Friends is special,” Howarth said. “The only thing Maggie and John have told me is how sensitive this horse is to his surroundings, his friends, his training …”

Howarth got a chance to see it first hand as he posed for some photos with Hello Friends outside the barn. There was some genuine affection between the two of them.

Howarth is enjoying retirement since leaving Blue Jays broadcast in 2018 for health reasons and has been able to do some things he never had time to do during his remarkable 36 seasons broadcasting Blue Jays games.

“Every February 1, I would tell all my friends and family, ‘I’ll see you in October and maybe November, because I dedicate every day to my career,” he said. “And I loved every moment of it. But now in my fourth year of retirement, I love being able to do (things) like this and come to Woodbine and see a special horse like Hello Friends. “

And make new friends, like the LeBlancs.

“They are now very dear friends to our family,” Maggie LeBlanc said of Jerry and Mary Howarth.

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Twitter @Beezersun

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Reference-torontosun.com

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