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SC Rewind: The Governor General's Cup

Published: November 21, 2015 9:00 am ET

Last Comment: November 21, 2015 10:23 am ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls an important event from 1985, the inaugural Governor General's Cup held at Rideau Carleton.

Rideau's Governor General's Cup Won By Wilcos Comet

The first ever Governor General's Cup for three-year-old pacing colts was contested on Saturday, July 13, 1985 at Rideau Carleton Raceway​ in Ottawa​. It drew a large number of entries (16), and was raced in two elimination heats with the top five finishers qualifying for the final. Total purse for the event was a rather large $160,000​ plus​. ​It pitted some of that season's top performers who had already racked up quite a few victories, thus setting the stage for some exciting competition. ​

One entry new to the Ontario racing scene was the Western Canada invader Hy Class Minbar. Based on his recent performances this colt's owners decided to ship him East and try for the lucrative purse. To enter the Cup race a supplemental entry fee of $10,000 was required and believed to be justified. Just previous to this race he was a convincing winner of the Brad Gunn Pace at Stampede Park scoring in 1:55.3. He had also hung out a mile in 1:55.1 earlier at the Meadowlands for owners John Jones, John Simone and breeder/driver Al Bowman. Bowman, 42 at the time, had been named B.C's top horseman of 1984 and was enjoying a great year with this horse.

In the first heat carrying a purse of $52,125,​ the winner was Wilcos Comet driven by Ron Henderson, trained by Lew Clark and owned by The Golden Horseshoe Stable of Michigan. Finishing second was Hy Class Minbar (Al Bowman) with Adjudicator third for Dr. Scott Anderson. Time for the mile on a very hot afternoon was 1:56.3 equalling the winner's best ever ​taken less than a month earlier at Greenwood in O.S.S. action. ​Coming into this race Wilcos Comet was the leading OSS ​performer for 1985.

Wilcos Comet controlled the race from the start with Hy Class Minbar settling into third place. He remained there until the three-quarter mile station when Bowman took him out. He made it past Adjudicator and eventually gained ground on the leader, but at the wire he was still a half length in arrears.

In the second heat, Bold Talent a grey son of Smog-Keystone Warwick prevailed over his seven rivals with Buddy Gilmour handling the driving duties for the partnership of trainer Bob McIntosh and The Warner Stable of Alvinston, Ont. Gilmour chose to cut the mile and it undoubtedly paid off as he won handily in 1:57.4. In the trailing horses a number of 'road problems' occurred which eventually affected the outcome of the race as Twin B Playboy and driver Dennis Duke were set back to fifth. This moved Armbro Dryden (Harold Stead) into second and Cupid Connection (Doug Brown) advanced to a​n improved​ third place finish.

Although the first five finishers from each heat were eligible for the final, only eight started as Cupid Connection and Jans Challenge declined to start in the main event. It is doubtful that any of these young horses had ever been asked to go two heats in the same day.

​​Wilcos Comet and driver Ron Henderson reach the wire a handy winner of the Governor General's Cup ​stopping the timer in 1:56 to set a new track record for three-year old-colts at Rideau. Second place horse is Hy Class Minbar with driver Al Bowman just out of camera range.

In the finale, the script played out much like the first elimination with Wilcos Comet and Ron Henderson immediately heading for the front end, where they were able to record a rather slow half in 59 seconds. From here ​they​ motored home with a 57 second last half, ​bettering​ the​ir​ heat time ​and setting a new Rideau track record​. Closing for second was Hy Class Minbar, who tried valiantly to collar the leader but was still a length in arrears at the wire having passed third place finisher Bold Talent in the lane. The other two money earners were Twin B Playboy and Armbro Dryden.

Driver Henderson knew ​quite ​a bit about some of the competition as he had piloted heat winner Bold Talent to victory just a week previous to this event. ​Faced with having to choose between two of the top horses in the event, he decided on Wilcos Comet​. When Bud Gilmour was named to drive Bold Talent it set up a sort of 'dream' scenario for young Ron. He had grown up admiring Bud Gilmour and on this day had the opportunity to spend some time chatting with him in the track cafeteria prior to the race.

At the conclusion of the final Henderson glanced back as he crossed the wire to see how close his pursuers were. Gilmour gestured toward him with his whip in a manner that could have been easily misinterpreted if the day's proceedings were not known. What was actually happening was that Bud was congratulating Ron on his victory, the biggest of his career to that date. He knew the joy of winning a big race and wanted to be the first to congratulate the young reinsman. Henderson and Wilcos Comet were indeed on a roll. In the horse's most recent eight starts, Ron had been in the sulky six times (Wm. Gale the other two) and these two wins made the pair six for six!

Wilcos Comet with this big earnings day, which marked his seven​th win in ​12​​ starts, jumped his bankroll to over the $150,000 mark for owners Ermen Lanzilloffi, Gerald Fauber and Fred Ese. The colt, who was sired by Armbro Splurge, was purchased at the 1983 Canadian Classic sale for $30,000 and at this point appeared to be a wise investment.

​Wilcos Comet and trainer Lew Clark appear in the Rideau Carleton winner's circle with Dr. Roly Armitage (centre) and Maurice Sauve presenting the trophy on behalf of his wife Jeanne. [Photo by Heather MacKay]

I​t was a banner day for Lew Clark, a non-driving trainer who prepared Wilcos Comet for this event. ​Lew, a native of Strathroy, Ont. and a former pupil of the noted yesteryear trainer of that same area Morris MacDonald, trained a number of good horses during this era. He eventually gave up training and accepted a job as Paddock Judge at Windsor Raceway in later years. Lew passed away ​in March of 2010​ and is still remembered by many.

I recently spoke at length with Ron Henderson (pictured at right), who drove Wilcos Comet to victory on this day. ​Now 30 years later, he is still very actively involved in the sport but in a much different way. After operating and overseeing his own stable for many years, he now devotes his time and energy solely to training. Fairly recently he joined the training staff with the large Bob McIntosh stable located in LaSalle near his home. Somewhat ironically it returns him to the very spot where his career started some 40 years ago when he began working for trainer Bruce Fenn, who once occupied a portion of what later became the McIntosh training centre. It was while working with Mr. Fenn that Ron first received his driving licence.

As a further coincidence, Jimmy Stocker -- the young man who so capably groomed Wilcos Comet that season -- is also now a trainer for the McIntosh stable. He recalls the day very vividly and noted that the Governor General's Cup race was held for just two short years. The following year he was again involved with another pupil from the Lew Clark stable. On the second occasion he was the caretaker of heat winner Known Fact (also owned by the Golden Horseshoe Stable) but lost out in the final to Kawartha Playmate. Jimmy worked for the Clark operation for eight years.

In February of 1987 Mark Gryba, a spokesperson for Rideau Carleton, announced that the track's newest Stakes event was being cancelled after just two years as a cost saving measure. He stated "We just weren't getting enough bang for our buck...The race took $100,000 out of the purse structure." The Governor General's Cup was a huge event of thirty years ago and while it did not grow into a long term affair it was pretty big for those two years.

Most of the same participants from the Governor's Cup are shown trackside at Greenwood following a win by Wilcos Comet in O.S.S. action on June 22. Noted horse owner Max Webster (far right) presents a silver tea service to co-owner Ermen Lanzilloffi. From left: co-owner Brad Esse, driver Ron Henderson, Wilcos Comet, caretaker Jimmy Stocker and trainer Lew Clark. (Tambosso Photo)

November 21, 2015 - 10:23 amGreat job Robert. Ron's

Great job Robert. Ron's wife Mary is the Groom for our Tony Soprano from the Bob McIntosh Stables. She does a great job with Tony and he loves her. Also Ron regularity warms up Tony if Bob isn't available, like for his win on Superfinal night when Bob and John Campbell were still flying from Lexington before the Woodbine post for the 3rd. We were in the 5th.
Keep up the good work. Enjoy reading these articles. Marv

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