In this week's 'Rewind,' Robert Smith recalls one of the truly great horses in Canadian harness racing history: The Count B. The darling of race fans of the 1940s, this warrior helped to heal a nation at war. Wherever he appeared large crowds gathered to watch and cheer. Times were not easy but many believed that attending harness racing served as a morale builder during these difficult times. A lot of years have passed, but memories of this horse remain.
Horses don't live to be 80 but if they did, one of our country's best -- The Count B -- would be at that ripe old age this year as he was a foal of 1940. Today's Rewind covers the highs and lows of this memorable horse's career and his lasting impact on our sport.
The Count (he took on the 'B' when he was registered in the U.S.) was bred and raised by Thomas & Fred Saint, a well-known name in yesteryear harness racing circles. He was the son of Corporal Lee who stood at the farm of Harold Currie of Strathroy and out of the Saint-owned mare Countess Brook. The Saints not only raced but regularly sold horses, often through ads in The Canadian Sportsman. In 1942 one such ad advertised four horses of varying pedigree for sale, one of them the colt prospect called The Count. He was unraced at two but had recorded an outstanding exhibition mile at Saint's Park in Wallaceburg (The Saint's own track) during that year's race meeting. Fred Saint, who did very little driving, handled the reins as the young pacer hung out a mile in 2:21 1/2.
Based partly on this showing, Mr. J.W. "Jim" Brown a well-known horse owner and sportsman based in New Liskeard, Ont., purchased the young gelding. While Mr. Brown passed on many years ago his presence in the sport remains as he was the father of Dr. Glen Brown. No purchase price was made public but it was believed that he paid around the $1,500 range; it may have never been disclosed. He was immediately placed in the stable of Cliff "Chappy" Chapman of Toronto, one of the sport's most successful and popular trainers and drivers of the day. The day that the transaction was made the Wallaceburg track was too muddy to use so the colt was driven on a nearby sideroad. He apparently passed the test.
The Count's first real show of promise occurred at Orangeville on July 1, 1943 at Dr. Riddell's final race day. The famous veterinarian passed away later that year. The Count was a resounding three-heat winner defeating a field of eight other colts and in the process set a new track record for three-year-old pacers scoring in 2:11 1/4 in the opening heat. He went undefeated as a three-year-old and took a season's mark of 2:10 1/2 at New Hamburg, Ont. in winning all three heats of that year's Derby Trial. His clocking that day was the fastest mile for a three-year-old in Canada that year. Despite the lofty credentials his season's earnings were only $678.89!
Illness forced The Count to be scratched from that year's biggest race for sophomore pacers, the Three-Year-Old Futurity. That year's event was held at Stratford and was won by Lorne Lee, also a son of Corporal Lee. It was about the only blemish in his then young career. With a hefty purse of $2,550 on the line for this one race a nice possible payday was missed but many more chances would follow.
At the age of four The Count continued his dominance of Canadian racing. In August he won his first of four Canadian Pacing Derbys, the only horse to ever accomplish that feat in its long history. He recorded victories in the 1944, 1945, 1947 and 1948 editions and in 1946 chased that year's winner Blue Again to a stakes record of 2:04 1/2. After WWII as night racing resumed in Western New York State, The Count began to race with distinction at Buffalo and Batavia Downs. He scored many memorable victories at both ovals. His move to the U.S. also gave him a new name - from then on he was known as The Count B to avoid conflict with a horse already registered with that name in the U.S.
Left: Clifford "Chappy" Chapman, one of Canadian harness racing's pioneers and also a top horseman, appears with The Count at the Stratford, Ontario track in this 1943 photo. Chapman was the regular driver of the great roan son of Corporal Lee throughout most of his racing career. His son John also drove The Count in later years.
Right: James Dunnigan (centre) president of Buffalo Raceway makes a trophy presentation to owner Jim Brown and driver "Chappy" Champman following a 1945 victory by The Count at the Hamburg, N.Y. oval.
After winning three Derbys with Cliff Chapman Sr. in the bike his son Johnny Chapman took the reins in the 1948 Derby. After taking the first two heats the horse broke a bone in his front leg. He pulled up and had difficulty making it off the track; a tearful sight for the thousands in attendance that day. The serious injury put an end to that season and erased the entire 1949 season and most of the 1950 campaign. Finally in 1951 he returned to racing but he was not his former self. Racing against lower class company he made 18 starts in Northern Ontario handled by Bruce Brown, the brother of owner Jim Brown. In 18 outings he scored six victories and a rather paltry $427 in purse money.
His final career victory was scored at Burks Falls, Ont., a long way from the bright city lights and huge crowds which he had become accustomed to. It was his last hurrah. In nearly a decade of racing the great roan started 203 times. He won 95 heats, finished second 32 times and was third on 24 occasions. His career earnings amounted to $23,759.15 just to be exact. In 18 heats of racing on Derby Day at New Hamburg he recorded a standing of 11 wins and five seconds, an amazing accomplishment spread over six years. Speed was not the order of the day, success was based on stamina and consistency. The Count B took his lifetime mark of 2:06.3 at Buffalo as an eight-year-old in 1948 with a very young Johnny Chapman in the sulky.
The Count B shown at Buffalo Raceway in 1948 after taking his lifetime record. In the sulky is a very young Johnny Chapman as he is joined by Roscoe Holmes trophy presenter. (Harness Horse photo)
In the spring of 1952 as The Count was being prepped for the upcoming season at Listowel, Ont. by trainer Lyle Jackson, tragedy struck. Following a routine morning training session the illustrious roan breathed his last. The heart that had propelled him to so many victories and provided so many thrills to Canadian and U.S. racing fans had suddenly stopped. He dropped dead of an apparent heart attack in his stall at the age of 12.
The world of harness racing went into a state of shock, followed by a time of mourning. For 10 glorious years the great roan pacing gelding had electrified and entertained the nation wherever he appeared. Even to the casual racing fan, he was a household name. His heroics on both sides of the Canada - U.S. border for many seasons had helped two nations forget about the horrors of World War II and a number of other lingering woes. He gave a great boost to the sport which it sorely needed.
When the Toronto-based Globe and Mail carried the story under the headline "The Count Is Dead" it shocked people across the nation. It was not just the death of a horse, The Count was somewhat of a hero; he was almost human and a symbol of our Country. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1981 and his dominance of the class of Canadian harness racing for so many years is a feat unlikely to ever be duplicated.
Note - In 1969 when Grand Circuit racing came to Greenwood, The Count B Pacing Stakes became a part of the annual calendar. It was for two-year-old colts and geldings and the inaugural was held at Greenwood on July 14, 1969 and won by Romalong driven by Keith Waples as part of the Kopas Stable entry.
The death of this memorable horse was such an event that it made news in many papers across the land. This sudden passing raised the emotions of his huge following and the decision to make his grave site a public monument was immediately made. He was transported from Listowel to Fountain Park in New Hamburg, Ont., and buried at the scene of many of his resounding victories.
A solemn moment is recorded in this time-worn 1952 photo. A formal presentation of a granite shaft marking the final resting place of The Count is made by New Hamburg Race Secretary Earl "Katzie" Katzmeier (left) to owner J.W. Brown. The grave site is in the infield near the finish wire, the scene of many of his memorable victories.
Thought For The Week: This is Easter weekend and despite the conditions now in place that prohibit people from gathering in the normal way we can still do something special. Thanks to texting, emails and such we can still be in touch. It is a wonderful time of year and with spring in evidence everywhere we have much to be thankful for and to look forward to despite the current state of life. I would like to send out a special "Thank You" to the many people who are currently working on our behalf. At the top of the list are our healthcare workers who are all going way beyond what anyone can imagine. Also thanks to grocery store personnel and all other food providers as well as first line responders. We love you all and thank you for being here in our time of need. HAPPY EASTER!
Who Is It?
Can you correctly identify the two drivers in this photo?
Who Else Is It?
Can you put a name on this individual? His last name is still pretty prominent in today's world of harness racing.
Who Else Is It #2?
All dressed up at Flamboro in 1976. Who is in the driver's seat?
Be sure to stay tuned during the coming week to find out the correct answers.