04/25/2014 08:00 EDT | Updated 06/25/2014 05:59 EDT

Hastings Racecourse honours photographer with her own race

The Hastings Racecourse kicks off it's 125th season this Sunday, and as usual, Patti Tubbs will be on the track, snapping photos.

But this year is a little different. The third race of the day has been renamed the Patti Tubbs Sovereign Purse in her honour.

At the end of the race, Tubbs will put down her camera, and will hand out the flowers to the winners.

Hastings Racecourse general manager Darren MacDonald says the decision to name a race after Tubbs came after she won a 2013 Jockey Club of Canada Sovereign Award for a photo she took of Hastings jockey Frank Fuentes.

"Someone from the West very rarely wins the award, and we wanted to do something on Patti's behalf," said MacDonald. "We just wanted to show her how proud we are of her accomplishment."

The announcement caught Tubbs by surprise.

"I thought it was cool," she says. "It means they actually appreciate me being on the racetrack, and they support me."

Long history with the racecourse

Tubbs has been around horses as long as she can remember. Her mother trained horses, and her father and brother were outriders.

Getting in to the sport, however, wasn't easy. Tubbs was born without a hip socket, and was in and out of the hospital throughout her childhood.

"I always came out with a smile on my face and fought through it. I just lived with my disability, I learned to live with it," she says.

Tubbs didn't let her hospital visits and surgeries get in the way of her love of horses. She worked in the stables, and later became a horse trainer.

"Really [it wasn't] until I hit in my 40s that it really started to affect my ability to walk without pain," she says.

That pain forced Tubbs to retire as a horse trainer, but it was also what led her to photography. She picked up a camera her daughter had lost interest in.

"I thought, I just bought this thing, I'm going to learn to use it and take pictures, and I thought what better place than the racetrack, because it's horses."

Tubbs posted some of the photos she took at the races online. She says the response was overwhelming.

"They loved it, they were like, 'Oh, you must come down and do more,'" she says. 

Last year, Tubbs took a photo of jockey Frank Fuentes heading back to the winners' circle after a victory. The expression on his face made it a standout photo for Tubbs.

"The big smile and everything, it's like, 'I love my job, even in the bad weather,'" she says.

She submitted it to the Jockey Club of Canada for consideration, and was shocked to find out she had won for Outstanding Photograph.

Tubbs is on a disability pension, and couldn't afford to go to the Toronto awards ceremony. One of the horse owners at Hastings bought her airfare, while other horsemen pitched in to pay for her hotel and other expenses.

Tubbs says the experience is something she will never forget.

"Everyone was dressed up to the nines, and the food was extravagant," she says. "I'm a blue jean type of girl. To get into dress clothes, it's just not something I'm used to."

Racecourse struggles with declining revenues

Hastings Racecourse has struggled with declining revenues over the past few years. In part, that is due to less people in the stands.

Tubbs hopes the award she won for her photo will bring some much needed attention to the sport.

"I'm hoping it brings out the crowds. We need more people there to bet on the races so we can keep putting the races on for the public," she says. 

Tubbs isn't employed by the track, and does her photography as a freelancer. Still, her top priority for this season is to take another award winning photo, to keep the Hastings Racecourse on the map.

The Hastings Racecourse opens for the 2014 season on Sunday, April 27. The first race starts at 1:50 p.m. PT.