October 14, 2016 - 2:17 PM
He followed in the footsteps of a Hall of Fame father but Daryl Wells Jr. made the job of calling races at Fort Erie Racetrack his own.
Wells served as race announcer and the unofficial face of Fort Erie Racetrack for 33 years before leaving the post in 2010. The Hamilton native died Thursday in hospital in Ajax, Ont., at the age of 56.
The cause of death wasn't immediately known.
Wells was a second-generation race caller. His late father, Daryl Sr., called races at Woodbine, Greenwood and Fort Erie from 1956 until 1986 and in August was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
Daryl Wells Sr. died in December 2003 at the age of 81.
"Listen, Daryl knew his dad was an icon and a tremendous race caller," said Nick Gonzalez, a two-time Queen's Plate-winning trainer who has horses at Fort Erie and remains a commanding presence on the track's backstretch. "We used to joke about how he used to practise mimicking his father when he was just a little boy and he was very very close to it.
"His father was one of my heroes as I grew in racing and Daryl was obviously a clone of his dad and was a super race caller in his own right. But not only that, he was a super guy, a super friend."
Wells Jr. left Fort Erie Racetrack in 2010 after the facility went under new ownership. At the time Wells Jr. was adamant the decision to leave was his.
Wells Jr. was doing race commentary at Ajax Downs last week when he became ill and was taken to hospital. Brandon Wells said his father died with his family present.
Wells Jr. grew up in Mississauga, Ont., and started calling races in 1976 at age 16. He made no bones about always wanting to follow in his famous father's footsteps.
"The track was his life, it's what kept dad going," Brandon Wells said Friday. "He touched the lives of so many people.
"He was an amazing person and dad. He always had a smile on his face, everyone loved him so much."
Each year, Wells Jr. would have the call in the annual Prince of Wales Stakes, the second jewel of Canadian thoroughbred racing's Triple Crown.
"He had two sides to him," said an emotional Gonzalez. "He had some great calls on a lot of our races and everyone knows what kind of race announcer that he was.
"But he'd also shoot the breeze with you and walk around the backstretch. He was very close friends with a lot of the owners and trainers and grooms and jockeys, all the backstretch people. He's an institution at Fort Erie Racetrack."
Gonzalez learned of Wells Jr.'s passing Thursday afternoon but refrained from divulging the news at Fort Erie Racetrack's awards banquet later that night.
"It was a nice occasion and a happy thing and I wanted to keep it that way because all the people there knew him and were close to him," Gonzalez said. "I didn't want to crash the party with the sad news but (on Friday morning), it travelled very quickly on the backside.
"Daryl wasn't one of those guys who came floating in under his dad's fame, he was his own man. I remember him as much for his friendship as I will for his great calls."
Gonzalez plans to speak with Fort Erie track officials about a recognition of Wells Jr. on the final day of racing at the venue Tuesday. Brandon Wells said arrangements are being made for a celebration of his father's life to be held in Fort Erie.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016