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SC Rewind: Winter At Greenwood

Published: January 10, 2016 10:14 am ET

Last Comment: January 11, 2016 11:46 am ET | 3 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls a rather important milestone from 50 years ago when winter racing first came to Greenwood Raceway in Toronto.

The first winter racing program at Greenwood started on February 26, 1966 and went through to April 16. The inaugural winter session drew 254,956 fans who wagered $13,989,628. The Ontario Jockey Club termed it a "Spring" meeting, but it was the earliest start on the OJC Circuit ever. Jacob "Sonny" Geisel Jr. of Hanover Ont. won the UDRS title with a percentage of 0.458. A few of the horses he drove were Brother Noble, Rose Ovelmo, Jean First and Frisco Lou. Leading the way in dashes won was 41-year-old Dr. John Findley who made 24 trips to the winner's circle. A few of his string included George Volo, Palermo, Ann Barmin, Henrietta Sue, Chatham Chip, Sporty Tag, Dilly Bob, Even Glo, Royal Dominion and Horatius. The following year the first truly official winter meeting started on January 2, 1967.

The opening race winner of the then new "winter" schedule was Spencers Pride C with Clarence Hilliard driving. Other winning drivers on opening day included Wm. Wellwood, George Hawke, Allan Waddell, Ross Curran, Wes Coke, Yvon Demers and Jimmy Holmes. With the racing strip conditioned for winter racing, the best time on the opening card was 2:10.4 turned in by George Volo who won the $3,000 Invitational for Dr. John Findley. The balance of the field behind George Volo included J J Wann (2), Sonny Creed (3), Lochinver King (4) and Perennial (5). [The current value of a $3,000 purse would be about $22,000]

Most of the well-known drivers of the day were participants at this mid-winter gathering. In addition to those mentioned above were John Millman, Harold Walsh, Lloyd Gilmour, Ronnie Feagan, Wm. Stillar, Rejean Boily, Dave Dowson, Bev Kingston, Omar Knight, Bert Quinlan, Renald Filion, Harold McKinley, Bill Hicks, Clure Archdekin, Mickey Coliton, Wm. Stirton, Jack Bissonette, Laurence Geisel, Joe Carr, Allan Walker, Peter Thibaudeau, Wm. Troy, Bruce Clements, Ken & Barry Galbraith, Everett Norris, Gary Campbell, John Redpath, Pat Crowe, Doug Palmer, Carman Hie, John Hayes, Allan Pacey, Frank Alexander, John Graham, Guy Larush, and many more too numerous to list. To my knowledge the only female driver in the colony was Retta Herrington.

Absent from the list was Keith Waples, who was campaigning his large stable at the new Windsor Raceway along with a satellite training centre at the Young Bros. track. Also at this time Bill Wellwood at age 25 was just launching his career with operating his own public stable after spending many years with his Uncle Harold Wellwood.

One driver who scored just a pair of wins during the meeting captured the two races carrying the largest purses. One time clothing store owner Maurice Monroe of Ottawa won both the Willowdale Pace for a purse of $4,490 and the Swansea Pace for $4,520 as he piloted Baron Adios to victory in both early closing events. He co-owned this fine six-year-old son of Greentree Adios with his wife Connie. The chestnut speedster had quite a year in 1966 pacing in 2:01.3 and taking home just over $40,000. Mr. Monroe would have had to sell quite a few pairs of socks and ties to bring in that kind of "hay".

In 1965, as a prelude to winter racing at Greenwood, a five-eighths mile stone dust track was constructed inside the dirt track and the lights etc. were moved. At the same time, the main floor of the grandstand was glassed in and extended to the east. The paddock, the only original building remaining at Greenwood, was also glass enclosed. Soon both the racing personnel and the fans adjusted to the new kind of racing. Many people who had attended races only in more moderate weather conditions made the transition to cold winds, snow squalls and "white outs" on the track.

Soon after this inaugural winter race meeting everyone became accustomed to racing during even the coldest days and nights that the shores of Lake Ontario could provide. Gradually the facilities were improved and upgraded amenities were provided for the fans. A short passage from the O.J.C. publication "Track Times" summed up the changing times as follows:

"Although horsemen experience many crisp wintery nights on the track, patrons can enjoy the luxurious facilities of the Terrace Dining Lounge or stroll about the clubhouse and grandstand in shirt-sleeves. A guaranteed minimum of 60 degrees F. is maintained by huge warm air ducts which blend into the historic edifice."

I am not sure of the year it started but Greenwood came up with a novel idea to attract fans and better horses by instituting a series of races called "The Blizzard Series". It seemed almost uncanny that each year these races just naturally occurred on what seemed to be the absolute coldest days of any given winter.

With winter racing came new equipment and other attempts to deal with the inclement weather. Shown below are a couple of participants both human and equine, displaying their new ideas at coping with "Mother Nature".

Veteran horseman Jack Mehlenbacher, a very recent Rewind subject, is shown above with his horse sporting a plastic device he invented to shield the horse's nose and aid in its breathing in very cold temperatures.

Note: While this device was probably a worthwhile invention, it was not allowed by the Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency who were then in charge of the photo finishes. It was ruled that any piece of equipment that would hinder the judging of the finish of a race was not acceptable. I guess there was concern that a horse's nose might not hit the wire first but his "nose guard" might!

A horse named Daniel Boy owned by Raymond Moreau of Quebec City is shown wearing a special pair of earmuffs designed to protect his ears which were very sensitive to cold weather.

1) Dr. John Findley, leading driver from Greenwood's first winter meet.

2) The front cover of the once popular Star Weekly magazine dated March 13, 1965, profiled the popularity of harness racing in all types of weather with this shot taken at Greenwood Raceway. The lead horse is Beverly Dillard, a well-known performer of the day owned by the father son team of Earl and Bruce Shea of Bethany, Ont. I am guessing Silver Laird ("Red" Holmes) is the trailing horse.

3) Driver Don Brainard of Whitney Point, N.Y. shows off his woolen face mask designed to ward off the cold winter winds. At the time at least 125 drivers were wearing these at Greenwood

[My thanks to Bill Galvin's archives for a great deal of information and photos contained herein.]

January 11, 2016 - 11:46 amSo many memories. Sunday


So many memories. Sunday brunches in the Terrace dining room with my parents and friends. The comfy club chairs, sun streaming in the windows, excellent food and service, messenger bettors. Those were the days. Thanks Robert for taking me back.

January 10, 2016 - 8:24 pmGreat stuff Robert! The

Great stuff Robert! The understatement in the article is the word "crisp" for the weather in the winter at Greenwood. It was a great place to race and a great place to watch races. Carmen Hie is about the only one you named still driving. I understand the OJC sold Greenwood and spent millions constructing the E.P. Taylor 1 1/2 mile turf course, so they could hold the Breeders Cup thoroughbred races at Woodbine.

January 10, 2016 - 12:37 pmIn today's lead picture

In today's lead picture featuring Greenwood's clubhouse turn, the 8 horse field is being led by La Salles Hope in rein to Ray Gemmill the pride and joy of Cobden Ont. I do not have an exact date for this but believe it was 1967. The bay son of La Salle out of My Hope was a 9 year old at this time with a mark of 2:07 and at the end of the '67 season showed lifetime earnings of nearly $15,000. Many people remember Ray and a horse named Innocent Bob who was the mainstay of his stable for quite a few years .

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