SC Rewind: Years Ago - 1950s

Published: October 2, 2021 12:51 pm EDT

In the latest version of Rewind Robert Smith serves up another edition of the monthly feature Years Ago.

This time his short stories and old photos are all centered around events, people and places in the news during the decade of the 1950's. This was an eventful time in the sport's history as new tracks opened, old ones were updated and the racing season was gradually growing longer.

1951 - Driver Killed At Three Rivers Track

Headline from The St. Maurice Valley Chronicle Newspaper of October 18, 1951

Twenty-three-year-old driver Roger Sancoucy was fatally injured in an unusual accident at the Three Rivers track on Saturday. In the 6th race while driving General Grattan II he collided with another horse Belle Brooke handled by Harvey Boucher. Sancoucy was thrown heavily from the sulky and suffered serious injuries. He died very soon after the accident without ever regaining consciousness. The other driver Boucher was taken to a local hospital but was soon released after no serious injuries were detected.

The tragedy was described in the local paper as "the first of its kind on Quebec tracks although from time to time drivers have had heart attacks and succumbed during a race." This was believed to be the first instance in which a driver was killed outright.

1953 - Vernon Downs Opens

On July 1, 1953 Vernon Downs, the newest racetrack in the U.S. opened its doors for business. It was unique in that it featured a three-quarter mile track rather than the traditional half-mile oval that had been the normal-sized racing strip for centuries. The new track size was intended to produce much faster race times which it certainly did. It was also considered to be safer than the old half milers as the horses had more time going in a straight direction before encountering a turn.

A number of Canadian-based stables raced at the new track. Many high profile drivers appeared during the inaugural meeting including Joe O'Brien, Delvin Miller, Frank Ervin and a number of others including veteran Tom Berry.

Pictured above is the Canadian-owned three-year-old Kilts Hanover, a son of Knight Dream and driver Henry Clukey. This young horse was owned by Joseph Smith of Ottawa. After several dismal showings Smith decided about a week prior to this outing to turn his promising colt over to the veteran Clukey. He immediately responded with a clocking in 2:04 3/5 to make him the season's second fastest for age and gait coming out of Canada this season. (Picture courtesy of Harness Horse)

1954 - Clint Hodgins Makes A Trip Back Home

For many years one of the top racing spots in the Province of Ontario was located at the Stratford fairgrounds. Local hotel owner Dave Pinkney, proprietor of the Queen's Hotel, was the main organizer of the race days and consistently provided some of the keenest competition on the circuit year after year. It was customary on race day to set up a room at the hotel where horse owners picked up their winnings from the day.

On the afternoon of Aug. 2, 1954 another great race day was held in front of a huge crowd. On this day famed horseman Clint Hodgins, originally from Clandeboye, Ont., was on hand as a special guest. He was a long-time friend and business associate of Mr. Pinkney and undoubtedly made the appearance as a special favour to the race day organizer.

Hodgins showed the locals how it was done when he piloted a horse named Now to a two-heat victory in the Jr. Free For All for owners Dave Pinkney of Stratford and Robert Hales of Chatham, Ont. Now was a 12-time winner that season while racing at the one-day meets and later at Blue Bonnets in the stable of Vic Lutman. As a matter of interest Mr. Hales was the father of Ruth Herbert, wife of Bill Herbert.

Clint Hodgins appears in the Stratford winner's circle after a win behind the locally-owned NOW. A huge crowd is evident in the background. (Photo from London Free Press Collection - D.B. Weldon Library)

Note - In 1950, just four years previous to this race day, Clint Hodgins made a very special appearance at the Stratford track. On this occasion he went an exhibition mile with the world champion trotting mare Proximity and set a new Canadian record. That event was covered in an earlier edition of Rewind back in 2010 titled The Queen Visits Stratford.

1955 - Canadian Driver Johnny Chapman Has Top Prospect

By the mid 1950's Canadian-born horseman Johnny Chapman, originally from Toronto, had been a major force on the Western New York circuit for several seasons. This year he had a top three-year-old named Hal O Matic in his stable for Buffalo, N.Y. owners Mr. and Mrs. James Kennedy. The colt was from the last crop of noted sire Hal Dale and was purchased at auction by his current owners.

The standout three-year-old had an excellent season that year and took a mark of 2:02 1/5 while turning in 10 winning performances in just 19 starts. The highlight of his 1955 season saw Chapman make an appearance in that year's Little Brown Jug. He finished a disappointing sixth and thus did not qualify for a start in the final but it provided a thrill for the owners and also John.

Mrs. James Kennedy, owner, receives the Hotel Utica trophy from T. P. Eldred after Hal O Matic (John Chapman) won the three-year-old pace with a 2-1 placing at Saratoga Raceway. Mr. Kennedy was on the right. (Harness Horse photo)

1956 - Jimmy Cruise Wins Six At Roosevelt

Horseman Jimmy Cruise, a native of Shepherdsville, Ky., was a standout on the very tough N.Y. Circuit for several decades. He was also the leading driver at the great California fall meetings on numerous occasions. Cruise was well known by many Canadian horsemen as he on occasion competed on our side of the border, especially in stakes events. He also raced at the legendary Dufferin Park in Toronto many years ago.

While Mr. Cruise was a great all-around horseman he was particularly adept at treating problem horses and restoring their careers. A short excerpt from his bio in the U.S. Hall of Fame states the following as a testament to his great abilities in this area. "Because of his talent and ability to make a lame horse sound, Cruise was known as 'The Doctor.' Patience and perseverance were his tools. He built the first swimming pool for horses at Roosevelt and swam his horses in the ocean on the West Coast. Many of his top campaigners, pacing free-for-allers Stormy Dream and Mr. Budlong and successful trotters Express Rodney and Earl Laird, benefited from Cruise's ability to keep them sound."

In 1956 he made history at Roosevelt Raceway when he won six races on one card. Racing over a muddy oval he achieved this feat without a single favourite among his wins. I believe all of his winners were from his own stable which meant that he also trained them.

Many years ago while visiting Ben White Raceway in Orlando Florida I had the pleasure of a visit with Mr. Cruise. At this time he was retired from his life calling but while I was there he took a two-year-old from his son's stable out for a training mile and certainly looked like he was still pretty able to handle the reins.

Shown above is a collage showing Cruise's six winning efforts described above.

Quote For The Week: "The good old days are now."

September Trivia: As we bid adieu to September, I recently thought of a yesteryear horse named September Morn C. Does anyone remember her and can you name her owner and also the fellow who often drove her? Let us know.

Who Is It?

Elmira was the place but who was the driver? Can you correctly identify this gentleman in the sulky?

Who Else Is It?

Dave Groombridge special projects manager passes out the Carling-O'Keefe awards to the leading drivers at Greenwood. Who are these fine fellows? Can you name them all?

Be sure to stay tuned during the upcoming week to see the correct answers.



This week's pictures were again both identified without much difficulty. The correct answers were as follows:
Top picture was Gary Payne in OSS action at Elmira
The lower photo was an award presentation and the participants from left to right were Dave Groombridge, Mike Guitard, Jerry Duford and Ron Waples Sr.
Trivia Question - The owner of September Morn C. was Arnold "Bucky" Armstrong of Petrolia, Ont. who also drove her on occasion. She was driven by a number of people including Wilf & Jerry Duford, Cecil & Wes Coke and probably others. The person's name I associated with often driving this chestnut mare was Bill Kingdon from Forest, Ont. In 1966 when Dresden started night racing she was an opening night winner (and I believe handled by her owner) .She was sired by Hillcrest Attorney and her dam was listed as Not Named.
Thanks so much for sending in your answers.

Cecil Coke trained September Morn C at Rideau the summer of '63. Erin's on occasion by son Wesley. She had pretty ugly scars on both hips. Problems arose when lines not taken care.

Who is it...... Gary Payne

Who else is it .... Mike Guitard, Jerry Duford and Ron Waples Sr

Trivia question... September Morn C. Owner is Bucky Armstrong, Wilford Duford drove until Jerry Duford got his licence.. and he took over...

Who is it... Is Gary Payne.

Three drivers are... Mike Guitard .. Jerry Duford...and Ron waples