This week's edition of Rewind is quite closely related to a previous column. Back in October 2022, Robert Smith recalled a special race held at Exhibition Park in Belleville to honour a beloved horse and also a local sport's supporter from that area. The horse was R Yankee Wann who unfortunately passed away unexpectedly less than two weeks after the big race. Today's column tells readers more about the background of this rather famous horse from yesteryears as well as some of his connections.
R Yankee Wann (left) is shown here with owner Campbell Wannamaker of Consecon, Ont. and on the right is half-brother J.J. Wann with trainer and driver Rejean Boily. At the time in 1970 R Yankee was the winningest ($208,000) and fastest (1:57.1) native bred pacer in Canadian harness racing history. (Photo courtesy of Belleville Intelligencer newspaper)
A half century ago R Yankee Wann was undoubtedly Prince Edward County's most accomplished and well loved horse. He was bred and foaled in the area and raced for the same owner and trainer-driver throughout his entire racing career. He was indeed a local hero, well loved by all fans of harness racing and even known by many others in the general area who were not close followers of the sport. He occupied a special place in the hearts of many Eastern Ontario fans.
"The Bull" as R Yankee Wann was lovingly referred to, came to Campbell Wannamaker's stable and farm at the age of just six months back in 1963. He was foaled at the farm of Don Chatterson at nearby Colborne some eight miles from his eventual home.
This was the winner's circle after R Yankee Wann scored his first sub 2:00 mile in 1970 covering the mile in 1:58.3 at Vernon Downs. At the horse's head is driver Rejean Boily while owner Cam Wannamaker is third from the right. I do not have identification for any of the others.
When R Yankee Wann returned "home" to Belleville in October of 1970 (see earlier Rewind) to race in a special event planned to recognize his world class status, it was not his first time there even though he did most of his racing at the large tracks on the Canadian and U.S. circuit. He appeared there as a two-year-old in 1965 winning two of his three starts. He was back again at three when he won in 2:08.3 the fastest mile of that season. He did come back again in 1968 to engage in a match race with stablemate J J Wann, which he won.
R Yankee Wann amassed a rather impressive bankroll in his six years on the track and did so without the benefit of the higher purses that came along shortly following this time. Today's colt performers, thanks to the O.S.S. program can collect a considerable amount as two and three-year-olds. It was not so in his case.
In about 1955 Rejean Boily met up with the Wannamaker family while they were racing at Quebec City. Just a young boy at the time he spent all of his spare time at the local track, much of it at the Wannamaker barn. He eventually returned to Prince Edward County with them and literally became part of the family. He spoke only a few words of English when he arrived but soon became bilingual.
His time at the local school was limited and he soon followed his ambition to become a full-time horseman. He drove in his first race at the age of 16 and a few years later he saw R Yankee Wann for the first time. The colt had arrived at the Wannamaker stable as what was termed "part of a horseman's bargain." Mr. Wannamaker told a reporter "All my good broodmares went to Don Chatterson of Brighton and I got some colts in return. I had my choice between 'Yankee' and another youngster named Campbell Chief. I took him and just last week (in 1970) I claimed Campbell Chief at Batavia Downs in N.Y." I guess you could say he liked the breed.
Right from the start, young Boily liked the "Yankee" colt because "he seemed blockier and more able" than the other choice. He broke the colt to harness and began to jog him and of course eventually trained and drove him throughout his entire career. He took no special credit for how the horse turned out saying "Nobody knows why he was so good. There is only one out of thousands like him."
When R Yankee Wann died so suddenly and unexpectedly his owner and handlers were heartbroken. However the "family" was happy that while this great horse had thrilled a multitude of fans across the country, he crossed the wire a winner at his hometown track. The fans who cheered him wherever he raced got to see him in his last race. They felt he belonged to Prince Edward County.
It was revealed after the horse's passing that Wannamaker had been offered $100,000 for his prize horse during the past summer but he said "He was not for sale." The horse was insured against fire and transportation injury "but not just against dying." Boily stated after his passing that "the horse had never been sick a day in his life."
Originally from Montmorency Falls in the Quebec City area, Rejean spent many years in Eastern Ontario. Sadly in October 1996 at the age of just 53, he lost his life in a farm accident at Consecon, Ont. A log rolled off a front end loader and pinned him beneath it, resulting in his death. It was a sad day for many who knew and admired him as an excellent horseman and a good person.
R Yankee Wann and trainer driver Rejean Boily
A number of years ago Rejean was voted into the Prince Edward County Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of his many accomplishments in the sport of harness racing. His greatest achievement was undoubtedly attained through his years of handling R Yankeee Wann and elevating him to world class status. In 2014 he and another local horseman Chris Storms entered the HOF. See also below in Who Is It?
The following item appeared in a 2011 Rewind.
1981 - Veteran Eastern Ontario Horseman Passes
Oct. 10 - Christopher George Campbell "Cam" Wannamaker, one of the best known horsemen from Eastern Ontario recently passed away at Belleville, Ont. He was born in Ameliasburgh Township, Prince Edward County in 1911 and resided throughout his lifetime at nearby Consecon, Ont. He raced horses for many years, mainly on the Quebec circuit but also competed in numerous other locations in Ontario and the U.S. His mother, who lived to be almost age 95, passed away just seven years previous to this. Among his better known campaigners were R Yankee Wann and many carrying the "Wann" name, and in earlier years Oro G Kett, Scottish Reel and even one called Consecon. In more recent years his stable was joined by horseman Rejean Boily, who assumed all of the driving chores and took the stable to a number of New York State tracks where they competed very successfully. Mr. Wannamaker was 70 years of age. He is recalled as one of the last people to transport his horses and equipment in an open uncovered vehicle.
Quote For The Week: "We are stronger when we work together." Heard on a TV show recently. A reference to people working together to erect barns in days gone by.
Where Is It?
Can you identify the location of this once popular Ontario racetrack? The track and grandstand remain but like most yesteryear small town tracks it does not host racing and it is likely to be repurposed in the near future.
Who Is It?
Can you identify this gentleman who hailed from the Belleville area and is a member of the Prince Edward County Sports Hall of Fame. Pictured here in his hockey jersey he excelled in a number of sports including many years of involvement in harness racing as a trainer, driver and owner. Let us know who he is. Photo courtesy of PECSHOF.