SC Rewind: Argyle Farms Opens

SC Rewind: Argyle Farm opens
Published: March 12, 2023 10:33 am EDT

In the latest edition of the weekly Rewind,  Robert Smith recalls the opening of a new breeding farm in Central Ontario almost 50 years ago.   The grand opening of "Argyle Farms" located on the Guelph Line just north of Mohawk Raceway was celebrated in rather grand style.  Read on to hear about some of the details. 

When the Ontario Sires Stakes Program was announced in 1973 and started in 1974,  it spurred an entirely new chapter in Canadian harness racing and especially in Ontario.  The new era would see increased growth and activity in a multitude of directions.  The stakes series, which was for two- and three-year-old competitors of both gaits, immediately created a lot of changes.  One of the first was a need for more breeding operations. 

After the opening of Mohawk Raceway in 1962, the area surrounding the then newly constructed track soon began to attract new residents.  Many were folks interested in Standardbred racing, training and breeding.  A number of farms and properties with acreage were converted to horse operations from their former usage.  A few years ago a Rewind was devoted to this area and some of the people who were local harness racing enthusiasts.  (Feb. 28, 2015) 

On Thursday, November 14, 1974 the newly created Argyle Farms held their official opening.  It was not exactly your regular "tea party" but rather a well planned and detailed get together,  complete with a sitdown meal.  Hosted by farm owners Howard and Mary Oster,  they rolled out the red carpet to a number of people then involved in the sport and business of harness racing.  

The central structure of the newly redesigned farm was the refurbished  barn which had undergone a complete transformation.  A local construction firm Campbell Construction of Milton was in charge of the rebuild with a price tag of $25,000.  Work was carried out by Ken Campbell and Clare Mathies of Campbell Construction.  The 110 x 40 foot barn contained 22 stalls as well as other necessary quarters.  Part of the get together included a ceremonial ribbon cutting to kick off the festivities.  

Ribbon cutting
Photo courtesy of The Canadian Champion 

Somewhat reminiscent of the old barn raisings of yesteryears, the Oster's barn opening was a good excuse for a feast.   Guests sat at one long table which was set up in the centre aisle of the main horse barn.  About twenty horses watched from their sideline stalls while guests dug into a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings.  The catering staff at the Charles Hotel in Milton were in charge of the sumptuous repast.  At one end of the table sat a rather large cake which was inscribed with the words "Congratulations Howard and Mary" flanked by candles.  

As a nod to the past, the farm's previous owner Albert Schouten of Milton was also an invited guest.  He ran a large turnip growing operation there for many years prior to selling the property.  He spoke with pride as he said "We used to fill this barn with 40,000 turnips every fall" as he looked about the area.  On this occasion there were no turnips in sight (they may have been on the menu),  just tables filled with guests,  horse stalls, tack rooms and the makings for a large dinner.  

Among but not limited to those mentioned here were the following people, either directly or indirectly associated with some area of the Standardbred industry.  Ted and Charles Armstrong of Armbro fame, both very familiar with operating a horse breeding farm, were on hand to offer their best wishes and Ted proposed the toast at dinner.  Also attending were such well known figures from harness racing as Mac Cuddy, Ron Waples, Laurance Geisel, Bill Wellwood, Bill Carroll, Don Furness, Clive Blackmore and Vern Barber. A few others were on hand such as Arnold Belore, a senior judge,  Ed Bradley, director of racing for the O.J.C. and I'm sure a few more.  

The new farm had John Jones as the manager and he came to the job well schooled in all aspects of the Standardbred business.  By this time he had been with Mr. Oster since about 1970 having previously worked with the Keith Waples stable so he had learned from one of the best. 

Argyle Open House

Armbro Mystic

Armbro Mystic
Armbro Mystic owned by Howard and Mary Oster appears in the Flamboro winner's circle.  Mr. Oster is at the horse's head with Neil MacKay, P.R. man with Flamboro.  Driver Brian Webster was joined by a number of unidentified guests. 

Despite being a relative newcomer to the sport,  Howard and Mary Osler had a very accomplished horse in their stable.  Armbro Mystic, a top class pacer, had provided them with a number of wins and thrills on the track already.  At one time he was driven by Brian Webster and they won quite a few races for the Osters.  They raced at numerous tracks and even went to Sudbury Downs to compete in the annual Nickel Plate Race, their signature event.  When the farm officially opened this horse was listed as one of the three stallions available although he was still racing.  Also on the farm roster was Smog and Sir Dalrae. 

Armbro Mystic
Armbro Mystic paces to victory at Flamboro in this 1974 photo with Brian Webster in the sulky.  He also had success with other drivers such as Russ Furness and Nelson White. 

See the Trivia question below. 

Varioca M
Mr. and Mrs. Wolfgang von Richtofen owners of Wolfhill Farm with their trotting mare Varioca M. They were guests at the opening. Their farm was located on the Guelph Line near 15 Sideroad not too far from the new Argyle operation.  He was also a successful thoroughbred trainer as well as being a trustee of the Ontario Jockey Club. Their specialty was European-bred trotters. 

Stallion ad for Smog
Above is an early years ad for Argyle Farms (Hoof Beats) 

Closing note: The Argyle Farm is still in existence and serves as a Veterinarian clinic and training centre.  It has changed ownership a few times since its opening.  

Quote For The Week: "If you even dream of beating me, you'd better wake up and apologize."  Words of Muhammad Ali, legendary boxer. 

Today's Trivia Question? - Can you identify the driver of the #3 horse in the above photo and while you're at it see if you can name the horse as well.  They were both well known for many years. 

Who Is It? 

Who Is It photo question

Who are these two chaps? This photo came to me without any names attached so any assistance will be appreciated.  I think I can get one! The awning you see in the background is a slight clue.  Years ago a lot of stables had them as part of their setup.  Anyone recognize the two dogs (or deux chiens) ?

Where Was It?

Where was it?

Can you identify where this old photo was taken? Back in the day it was a pretty busy and popular place.  



In reply to by RobertLarente

Thank you Robert Larente for your very informative and interesting reply. It is nice to hear that your father is still with us and with you. He occupies a special place in harness racing history as a second (at least) generation horseman who enjoyed a remarkable career. For long-time followers of harness racing even the mention of his name brings back many memories. I appreciate hearing from you.

In reply to by Looking Back

Good afternoon, as Mr. Gordon has already mentioned, seated is my father; Jimmy (Jacques) Larente in front of Lucian Dugre's stable at Blue Bonnets race track. According to my Dad, this was taken around 1957-58 and the groom holding the horse was Charles Berube. Charles was the caretaker for one of my dad's favorite horses back in the day named Aerial Gunner. Dad also mentioned that Mr. Berube lived in Middletown, NY before he passed away. One of the dogs in the picture (facing the camera) was my dad's dog; Moxie. Jimmy will be 92 on May 21st and currently resides with me in Pennsylvania, having officially retired from training horse at 88 yrs young. A special thanks goes out to Chris Coyle from Olive Branch Horse Farm in Wingate, NC. for sending me the original post.

Who Is It ? - The old picture showing the awning for the Dugre Stable of Sherbrooke, Quebec brought forth some answers. The gentleman seated is Jimmy Larente early in his career. The fellow standing remains a mystery and still no definitive word on the dogs' names. 
The "Where Is It ?" photo was taken at the Blue Bonnets track in Montreal. Garth says it was 1960 and he is very likely correct.
Trivia Question? connected to the Flamboro photo. The driver of the #3 horse was Ray McLean of Port Elgin and the horse was Mr. Peter Ray, a standout performer for several seasons. Also in the photo but not part of the quiz was Thorncrest #4  and driver Cliff Sheppard.
Thanks to everybody for your input, interest and information.

Sitting looks like Jimmie Larente

Early in the afternoon of August 9, 1975 I piled into the car with 2 of my cousins and my aunt and uncle, Jack and Nancy Holmes. We were off to Wolverine to watch Armbro Napier race. Napier had spent some time in Clinton under the care and tutelage of Walter Oster, Howard’s brother, and then moved on to Hazel Park and Wolverine with Ray Remmen. Napier was a half brother to Armbro Mystic I believe. No one cashed a ticket on Napier that night. Later in the card, Armbro Mystic with Greg Wright in the sulky won in 1:58 flat. It was the first time I had ever seen a race go in under 2 minutes. We got our picture taken. The picture of Mystic was framed and still hangs on a wall in our home. I look at it often. The horse that finished 2nd to Mystic that night was Quick Baron, owned by Eric & Harry Whebby if I recall correctly. Quick Baron and Ray Remmen would gain some notoriety in September 1976 winning the first race ever contested at the Meadowlands.

Driving Mr. Peter Ray vs. Armbro Mystic.
They had some great duals, including at Garden City.

Driver of #3 is Ray Maclean Sr. and could horse be Willow Wiper

#3 driven by Ray Maclean? This is a bit before my time but could it be windshield wiper

My memories of Armbro Mystic was when Dr Russ Furness trained and drove him. I remember Russ being stabled there at that farm with his oldest son Dr Don Furness living in an apartment built above the barn. And his youngest son Dave was his second trainer.
The number 3 horse in the picture with Brian Webster winning with Armbro Mystic is Ray McLean driving Mr Peter Ray. Mr Peter Ray was a free legged pacer and that horse isn’t wearing hopples.
Correct me if I am wrong but I think Mr and Mrs Wolfgang Von Richthofen sold the land that Mohawk Raceway sits on today. I think it was their farm that the O.J.C. bought?
Who is it is Jimmy Larente one of the top drivers at Montreal in the 1950 and sixties.
Where is it is Blue Bonnets Raceway. That picture was taken just after they built the new barns in 1960. Garth Gordon