This week's Rewind is the monthly version of 'Years Ago', a review of names, faces and happenings of a certain decade. This time, Robert Smith takes readers back to the 1950's. It was still a time when silk hats were worn, lots of one-day race meets were still being held but also a time when much bigger things were happening in the sport and business of harness racing.
1955 - Batavia A Favourite Spot For Canadian Stables
An old Batavia program from 1955
At this time a number of Canadian-based stables were among the backstretch residents at the Batavia oval. Racing was held six nights per week with no activities scheduled for Sundays. On that day the track remained closed with no on track training allowed. Purses at this time were quite favourable, ranging from $700 for the lower classes with the weekend features carrying a purse of $2,500.
A trip through the program showed the following drivers (listed in alphabetical order) who would be considered Canadian. Ed Arthur, Duncan Campbell, Johnny Chapman, Don Corneau, Bud Gilmour, Jack Herbert Joe Hodgins, Wilbert Hopkins, Dick Johnson, Harold McKinley, Hugh McLean, Harold Wellwood. There may have been more but not racing at the time of this program.
Shown above was the drivers standings as of October 13, 1955. As noted, a minimum of 65 starts were required to make the list. The first three drivers were all Canadians as was the ninth, Dick Johnson who had just made the list with the minimum number of starts.
1956 - Frenchman Doing Well In The Maritimes
Back in the mid 1950's a horse named FRENCHMAN was doing pretty well for his owner and driver James Given of Halifax, N.S. The pacing son of Nibble Hanover out of Valeria Hanover was a consistent performer and most often competed in the Free For All ranks. In 1956 owner Given piloted him to 13 victories in 33 starts at just two tracks, Lower Sackville and Truro. His earnings of almost $2,400 was pretty good back then.
This horse had taken a mark of 2:08 as a two-year-old over the 3/4 mile track at Vernon for his original owners The Rimouski Stable of Rimouski, Que. and was now four. And to answer an obvious question — Yes, this horse did eventually make his way to race in the Province of Quebec as an aged horse. He was then owned by the Bodnoff Horse Exchange of Montreal.
Horse's names and how they got them is always an interesting topic. I am guessing this fellow might have had his original name changed as all of the other foals of Valeria Hanover (at least six) had names starting with V. She was the property of Hanover Shoe Farms which followed a strict pattern for naming their horses.
1957 - Summer Racing Continues At Woodbine
Summer racing was in its fourth season at the Woodbine track (later Greenwood) at this time with all activity taking place on afternoon cards six days per week. Remember, still no night racing in Ontario at this time. Saturdays were the highlight of the week with Invitational cards featured each weekend. In mid-August the biggest race day of the meeting was scheduled. That was the day of the 8th annual Canadian Cup Pace. It was expected to draw several entrants from the tough Montreal circuit as well as a few from the U.S.
On opening day, veteran driver Vic Rowntree took the Inaugural Pace in two straight heats behind Captain Wright owned by the Armstrong Bros. of Brampton. A field of 10 contested the event which carried a purse of $1,330. Fastest mile was recorded in 2:04 1/5. This pair were right back in the winner's circle five days later to take the week's first Invitational. The rather unique 3/4 mile track was new to Canadian harness racing and provided some fairly fast miles.
These great photos depict a typical afternoon at the Old Woodbine track as young children were being admitted and families were beginning to frequent the Raceway as an outing.
Be sure to see today's Woodbine trivia question at the bottom of this page.
1957 - Senator Spangler Wins Quebec Circuit Colt Series
Colt racing in Quebec was well ahead of its time by 1957. When the racing season for two-year-olds concluded in late September with the final held at Connaught Park a youngster named Senator Spangler took home the silver trophy. In all eight events were held at various locations and this colt stood out all season long.
The windup finale was raced in front of a large crowd who were not deterred by intermittent rain which caused a rather slow track. Just five colts faced the starter and the "Senator" was a convincing winner for regular driver Phil Dussault and owner Laurent Bourgon. Time of the mile over a track rated as "slow" was 2:13.3. In second spot was Queen Express for Albert Boucher and Bucky Frisco took the show spot.
Following the race a trackside presentation was made to the winning connections by Sebastien Brisson, Sec. of the United Horsemen's Assoc. (left), driver Phil Dussault and on the far right. Cliff Bradley, an official with the C.T.A., was also on hand for the festivities. (Ottawa Citizen archives)
1959 - New Record For Two-Year-Olds Set At Blue Bonnets
September 29, 1959 - A new Canadian record for a two-year-old pacer was set on this date at the Blue Bonnets track in Montreal. Doug Johnston, a black colt sired by Irish Chief out of Peggy Johnston, paced his way into the record books as he stopped the clock in 2:05.3 beating a field of eight. This youngster was bred, trained and driven by Lorne Johnston of Rutherford, Ont., a small community near the noted racing centre of Dresden.
The record setting performance erased the existing mark of 2:06 set last season at Quebec City by Sir Winston Pick a son of Gene Abbe owned by noted owner Allan Leblanc of Quebec City. This youngster had an unbelievable two- year-old campaign winning nine of his 17 season's starts and a shade over $20,000. He was in the first three in all but one start for driver Roger White.
Mr. Johnston had the practice of naming all of his farm's foals with the name Johnston. In recent years he has enjoyed a fair amount of success with his homebreds and frequently sells them following successful freshman and sophomore seasons. Lorne, who was in the pilot's seat for the record-setting performance behind Doug Johnston, also has two sons who are capable drivers; they are Ross and Gerald, who are also racing in Montreal at the present time.
This fine young colt was making just his eighth start of the season. To end the season Doug Johnston won both heats of the two-year-old Futurity also at Blue Bonnets. In this event his best clocking was 2:06 4/5, fast enough to defeat his other 10 rivals. At the end of his 1959 campaign Doug Johnston showed a near perfect record with nine wins in 10 starts, his only defeat came at the hands of stablemate Dixie Johnston in early season at Ridgetown in an event carrying a $100 purse in which he was second. Mr Johnston was able to collect a respectable $4,880 from his colt's outstanding performances, plus had the enjoyment of driving in all of his victories.
ALL SMILES: Pictured above are a group of Southern Ontario horsemen at the annual Bothwell Turf Club banquet held in February 1959. High on the group's agenda was lobbying for night racing in Ontario. From left: Vern Evans (Brantford), Lorne Johnston (Dresden), Gordon Lawrence (Blenheim) and Norm McIntyre of Charing Cross.
OLD WOODBINE TRIVIA QUESTION
In looking over some old records involved in preparing this week's Rewind I could only find one winning driver participating at the 1957 summer meeting (see above) that is still alive today. If there are any more possibilities I would love to know who they might be. Bear in mind that some 65 years have passed since 1957. That is a lot of "water under the bridge" or wherever proverbial water flows as time passes us by. The fellow I am thinking of went on to a great career mainly in the U.S. where he continues to reside. A further clue is that at one time he had the "top" horse in all of harness racing in his stable. Give us your best guess.
Quote For The Week, Advice to a University student: "Choose a major you love and you'll never work a day in your life because that field probably isn't hiring." -- Unknown
Who Is It?
How many people can you identify in this photo? I see three, the two gents wearing racing silks and one other (third from the right) who has owned horses (and still does) for a long time. Let us know your best guesses. (Abahazy Photo collection - courtesy of Don Daniels)
Who Else Is It?
Can anyone recognize this gentleman who was at the forefront of racing a few generations ago. He won two Hambletonians and other famous races in his heyday. This one goes back a very long way.