In the current edition of Rewind Robert Smith has assembled a variety of short stories and old photos for the monthly feature Years Ago. This time it is centered around the decade of the 1950's. It was a decade like none before it as new tracks sprang up across the U.S. and harness racing as a sport was increasing in popularity. The racing season was growing longer each year, purses were rising and in general things were all headed in the right direction. Among the top horsemen of the day were many Canadians who started their careers at home but moved to the U.S.
In 1958, Brandywine Raceway, one of many new state-of-the-art racetracks, opened in the U.S. as the sport of harness racing flourished. It was located at Wilmington, Delaware.
1953 - Thorncliffe Park In Its Fourth Year
As part of the renaissance of harness racing in Ontario, Thorncliffe Park in Toronto staged daytime harness racing for four consecutive years 1950 to 1953. The track had been in existence for decades but sat idle for many years until a group of folks took on the initiative to refurbish it and stage summer harness racing. In 1953 the fourth and final year of racing was held with moderate success (despite the wording in the item shown below) but the decision was made to close the facility forever which did happen. The following year summer racing switched to Old Woodbine.
The following item appeared in the Harness Horse magazine in late August 1953. (Probably before the decision to close was announced)
Toronto, August 13 — Thorncliffe's 34-day trotting meeting conducted by the Ontario Jockey Club and supervised by General Manager J. W. Brown, widely known horseman of New Liskeard, Ont., closed today and proved to be the most successful meeting in the history of this track. Since the inception of harness racing over Toronto's metropolitan Thorncliffe course in 1950, a steady increase in the popularity of the trotters in this Canadian city has been noted. Each season has brought an increase in attendance and in mutuel handle. Despite the fact that Thorncliffe's programs were raced in the afternoon, crowds up to 7,500 turned out on Saturdays and holidays with the mutuel handle hitting around $130,000 on these occasions.
Please check the old photographs below to see if you can identify the well-known horseman pictured who competed during that closing season.
1955 - Old Home Week A Huge Success
August 1955 - Another highly successful Old Home Week concluded with Saturday night's race program at the Charlottetown Driving Park drawing an estimated crowd of 8,000. The week-long races were held each afternoon with a post time of 2:30 and again in the evening with first post at 8:45 p.m. It is interesting to note that when post times were advertised they included the term "Fast Time" which is an alternate way of saying Daylight Saving Time.
The undisputed star of the week's proceedings was the six-year-old pacing gelding Bay State Pat, a fan favourite throughout the region. The son of Volstadt out of Elizabeth Worthy was owned by Andrew Perry of Summerside and driven in all of his starts by James "Roach" McGregor, an Island hero. Fans in attendance were hopeful of seeing a new track record set and most felt that if anyone could accomplish it Bay State Pat was the likely hero.
On Saturday evening driver MacGregor made a couple of valiant efforts to crack the long-standing mile record set by Bud Wenger 19 years earlier but fell 1.7 seconds short as the best clocking he could get was 2:07 1/5 in the middle heat. The track management had an offer of $300 for anyone bettering the record but it went unclaimed and the current record of 2:05 1/2 remained unbeaten. In each heat driver MacGregor was slow to leave and trailed the field for much of the mile but came home with a rush to claim the victory, much to the delight of the huge crowd.
At the conclusion of racing it was announced that the leading point getter among drivers for the week-long races was Don MacNeill, who compiled 73 points, just three better than Roach MacGregor. The winning mile of 2:07.1 by Bay State Pat was the fastest of the week for pacers while April Bud hung out the fastest mile by a trotter stopping the clock in 2:12 even.
1956 - Clark Herbert Wins Canadian Pacing Derby At New Hamburg
Clark Herbert crosses the finish line a winner in the 20th annual Canadian Pacing Derby held at New Hamburg, Ont. The owners were Evans and Fraser and the driver Levi "Jiggs" McFadden from Dresden (London Free Press photo)
Aug 6, 1956 - The rain that fell on the proceedings at New Hamburg, Ont.'s Fountain Park failed to dampen the spirits of some 7,000 fans that filed in with rain gear in hand. No speed or attendance records were broken but the fans were treated to one of the best shows in recent memory. With all of the day's racing held on a very heavy track the times for all heats were the slowest on record. The Canadian Pacing Derby which featured the best classed horses on the card could do no better than a mile in 2:16 3/5. The dubious distinction of recording the slowest winning time of 2:23 3/5 went to the trotting filly Bonnie Song, owned and driven by Allan Walker of Owen Sound. This pair took both heats of the F.S. Scott Memorial Trot, the secondary feature of the day. They didn't go too fast but faster than the rest of the field.
This now-famous race, which was in its 21st year, had been the scene of a lot of history and great races dating back to 1936 when the inaugural was held right here. On this day's program no less than three entrants had names chosen with links to the beloved Derby. The three were Miss Derby Town, Katzie's Chief and Coronation Derby. The Derby Trial, always a popular event, was won by Flash Grattan -- a horse that had to travel a bit of distance from his home base. Owned by Stan Crossett of Port Hope and driven by Jack Gordon, the five-year old won both heats and the lion's share of the $600 purse.
The 1956 Derby, which drew a field of seven entrants, was won by Clark Herbert owned by Brantford auto dealer Vern Evans and his partner and the horse's trainer Bill Fraser of Ridgetown, Ont. The driver of the roan speedster was Levi "Jiggs" McFadden of Dresden, Ont.. This trio were repeat Derby winners as they took top honours in this event the previous year but with another entrant Richard Hal D. After winning the opener, a bad start almost robbed Clark Herbert of any chance in the second as they locked wheels with Joe Dale. But a skillful drive by the crafty McFadden landed the pair in the winner's circle following a thrilling stretch drive.
This was a major day of racing for the times as purses totalling $6,900 were awarded to the successful finishers. There was no finer day of racing in Ontario than those held for all those years at New Hamburg.
1956 - If Only Horses Could Talk
When Woodstock, New Brunswick held their fifth and final race meeting of 1956 what might be called a "seasoned" pair of horses shared victories in the day's featured "A" Pace for a purse of $200. In the opening heat, a gelding with the catchy name Beanery Boy was the winner for owner Lance Cairns of Campbellton, N.B. and driver Matie F. Grimes. In the second heat, Colonel Dan -- a horse with a real Maritime-connected name -- won the closer for driver Robert A. Troy and owner R.J. Ryan of Houlton, Maine in a swift 2:11.2.
If these two old fellows could have had a chat that day they probably would have quite a few interesting tales to swap. Beanery Boy was 17 years old at the time while Colonel Dan was a tad younger at just 15. Colonel Dan made 36 starts that year while this was Beanery Boy's lone track appearance. Four other much younger horses followed them home that day. Can anyone imagine having two horses in a race whose combined ages totalled 32 years?
1959 - T.E.M. Wins Madawaska Mile At Connaught Park
The evening of Saturday, June 27th was a memorable one for Pembroke sportsmen "Mac" Cassleman and partner Jim Bryson. Although their horse T.E.M. (named after Thos. E. McCool, a local sportsman, hotelier and lumberman) was a distinct longshot in the Connaught season's feature event, they were still hopeful. A number of slightly higher-profile horses had garnered more pre-race publicity and play in the mutuels, but their entry was still to be reckoned with. With eliminations held the previous week this race was just a one-heat affair.
This race was a big-time event and went for a purse of $4,000 while many events on this Saturday evening were going for as little as $200. As the race played out the five-year-old gelding soon proved that he belonged despite going postward at odds of better than 10-1. With a heads-up drive by Frank Baise, T.E.M. took the victory pacing the mile in 2:11.1, which was well off the time recorded in a couple of other events that evening. The margin of victory over second-place finisher Harmony Hy (Cecil Stone) was a comfortable two lengths.
A recap of the race carried in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper painted a pretty picture not only for the winning owners but also for many in the crowd. It read in part "The gathering in the winner's circle resembled Old Home Week in the lumber Town as many Pembroke horse-players in the huge crowd joined the party to celebrate driver Baise's victory with the gelding. Outside the winner's circle were many more jubilant fans clutching winning mutuel ducats on T.E.M., each worth no less than $22.50."
Quote For The Week - "Worry is like a rocking chair; it puts in time but doesn't get you anywhere."
Who Is It?
Can you correctly identify this popular horseman who was a competitor at Thorncliffe during its final season in 1953? Both photos are the same horse and driver. (Photos by Michael Burns)
Who Else Is It?
Can you identify this well-known gentleman long associated with Canadian horse racing circles? He was no stranger to hoisting trophies.
Where Is It?
Can you recognize the location of this fairly recent picture? Clue = a training track and more than a few pretty high-class horses have learned their lessons on this oval.