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SC Rewind: Years Ago - 1950s

Published: September 5, 2015 11:46 am ET

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In this week's edition of Rewind, Robert Smith takes a look back at some of the personalities and events from the decade of the 1950s in the ongoing monthly feature Years Ago.

1953 - Ontario Horseman Moves to Maryland

Ocean Downs officials congratulate Canadian horseman Lloyd Cummiford after a win with his trotting mare My Mary M Dillon in this 1952 photo.

When Ocean Downs located in Ocean City Maryland opened in 1949 it was probably not a natural spot for Canadians to visit. However one horseman from north of the border soon decided to move to the area. Lloyd Cummiford of Delhi, Ont. settled in nearby Snow Hill, Md., with his family and several Ontario-bred horses in his modest stable. He became a regular at the new track as well as other spots such as Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware. Accompanying him on the move was his son-in-law Jimmy McIntyre who married daughter Frances. Jim soon took up driving of the family horses and also became an accomplished blacksmith,eventually working for the track. The move was permanent and when Jim died in 2008 the family had been area residents for some 55 years. [Note - This Jimmy McIntyre a native of Harrow, Ont. is not to be confused with another perhaps better known Jim McIntyre, a longtime horseman from Peterborough. I believe they were not related.]

The pacer Ella Darnley appears in the Ocean Downs' winners circle for 22-year-old driver Jim McIntyre and owner Lloyd Cummiford in this 1955 photo.

1954 - Local Horse Paces Meeting's Fastest Mile at Petrolia

August 2, 1954 - Members of the Petrolia Racing Association were extremely pleased at the turnout and also the quality of racing at their recent race meeting. A total of four races, each consisting of two heats were staged in front of a large enthusiastic crowd. Three of the races had eight starters with the other attracting seven entrants. The only two heat winner was Calla Lee owned by Burton Harris of Salford and driven by Bill James. Other winning drivers on the day were Harry List, Cecil Coke, Nate Neely and Stanley Freer with two wins. Petrolia owned horses accounted for a total of three victories on the day.

The fastest heat of the afternoon was recorded by Leta Lee, a seven-year-old Corporal Lee mare owned, trained and driven by Stan Freer of Petrolia. They stopped the timer in 2:10 even in the opening heat of their race which carried a purse of $400. In the second tilt which went in 2:11, they finished second to winner Brown Lee B driven by Wm. Gardner of Goderich. Leta Lee had a good season in 1954 and lowered her record two full seconds about a month after this day. She toured the Wolverine track on the outskirts of Detroit in 2:08 flat for her lifetime best, again with Stan in the bike.

It was a busy year for Leta Lee and Stan Freer with stops at Alvinston, Clinton, Exeter, Goderich, Ingersoll, New Hamburg, Parkhill, Rodney and Tillsonburg. They closed out the season at Jackson, Michigan at the end of October with a total of $1,792.50 for her season's efforts which included 33 starts.

Note: Mr. Freer is still a trackside regular at Hiawatha Horse Park in Sarnia and enjoys visiting about the old days of our sport.

Leta Lee reaches the wire a winner at Petrolia's Greenwood Park. Owner Stan Freer was in the bike as they recorded a mile in 2:10, the fastest of the afternoon's eight heats of racing.

1955 - Scott Frost Wins Hambletonian in Straight Heats

August 1955 - Canadian-born driver Joe O'Brien and his well-to-do owner Sol Camp of Shafter, California garnered their first Hambletonian win at Goshen, N.Y. on this date with Scott Frost. A field of 11 sophomore trotters contested the event which was decided in two heats. Although he was not considered to be in top form on Hambo day, Scott Frost toughed out two victories and established a new combined record of 2:01.3 and 2:00.3 for the event. Just five days previous to this O'Brien and his unbeaten colt had spent a gruelling day at Vernon, which saw them win three heats in a single evening with the finale just before midnight. In his first start of the season he won four heats, showing his tremendous stamina.

Three of the Hambo's entrants were from the Camp stable and with just four monies paid (60%, 25%, 10%, 5%) the day's winnings for Scott Frost and stablemate Butch Hanover amounted to over $55,000. The third entrant, Home Free, catch-driven by Clint Hodgins, finished last in both heats.

Scott Frost won 23 of 28 starts at three and was the first ever winner of the Triple Crown of Trotting as the term made its first appearance. On Hambo day the winner's circle ceremonies lasted a half-hour as the blanket of roses was presented for the first time in this great race. Later that year he was named "Horse of the Year" by the Harness writers.

1955 - Two Track Records Broken at Blue Bonnets On Same Day

July 17, 1955 - It is not often that the all age track record for both gaits is broken on the same day. On this day it did take place much to the delight of the large Sunday afternoon crowd at Blue Bonnets in Montreal. On the pacing side, H B Chief the seven-year-old speedster owned by Joseph Cauchon of Quebec City was the winner of the fourth race in the record setting time of 2:04 for driver Alf Cote. This eclipsed the previous best of 2:04 2/5 set by Ruth Chips and driven by Wilbert Hopkins the previous year. This new record was accomplished in the first dash of a two-heat race and in the second HB Chief was second to Mighty Cox and driver Barney Hughes in the slower time of 2:05.3.

The new trotting record came about in a slightly different way. In a special two-horse match race with a purse of $1,500, Maine Song owned by the Saint Maurice stable of Three Rivers and handled by Honorat LaRochelle, came on late in the mile to overhaul Morris H. (R. Trudel). The sometimes unpredictable eight-year-old trotted home in 2:05 to shave two-fifths of a second off the existing record held by Lord Brookville set in 1954. This also created a new lifetime mark for the son of Peter Song. Exceptionally fast miles prevailed throughout the entire weekend with no less than 11 clockings under 2:10 on the two days.

1959 - Lots of Action at Toronto's Old Woodbine

​Change was the order of the times at Old Woodbine during this era. In 1958 an additional 4,400 seats were added and in 1959 1,914 club seats were added plus a dining lounge and Director's quarters. It was a time to look more at entertaining people beyond just the races. Selling food and drinks was rising on the agenda. On the backstretch, two new 44 stall barns were built. This was the most successful meeting held at this track up this point in time. Attendance soared to 200,863 and the mutuel handle was $7,631,962 which meant a daily gathering averaging over 4,000 and a handle of over $150,000 per day. Clearly the sport was experiencing a huge growth in popularity.

The year of 1959 marked the first year that all drivers wore safety helmets. The old style soft caps soon became a part of the past and will forever serve as a symbol of the early days of harness racing. All racing was held in the afternoons or early evening as night racing was not yet allowed, but would make its way to this track two years later in 1961. Most of the stables racing here were the same people who had raced in previous years at the fairs and small town spots. They relished the opportunity to get regular racing and not have to be constantly on the move.

Long gone are the days of Old Woodbine but they are still fun to recall.

​Shown above is one of the winningest horses during the 1959 Old Woodbine season. Mighty Nice, a four-year-old mare reaches the wire a winner for driver Levi "Jiggs" McFadden and owners Jack McIntosh of Wheatley (also the trainer) and his partner Raymond Burgess of Tilbury. This mare was purchased at a sale in Delaware, Ohio. In her 1959 season she was a ten-time winner in 18 starts.


​ Mighty Nice and "Jiggs" appear in the Old Woodbine winner's circle with a view of the quaint white picket fence that was such a memorable part of this old track.

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