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SC Rewind: Turning Back Time

Published: January 13, 2018 9:42 am ET

Last Comment: January 18, 2018 11:11 am ET | 4 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

This week's Rewind travels well back in time as Robert Smith recalls what racing was like 75 years ago. His story recalls a bit of what harness racing in Canada was like back in 1943.

Lorne Lee, winner of the 1943 C.S.H.S. Three-Year-old Futurity stands in the Stratford winner's circle. In the sulky is 58-year-old driver & trainer J. Blake Buchan while owner A.D. McKillop proudly displays the silver tray received for his win that day.

Turning Back The Hands of Time

A few years ago June Moore, a follower of Rewind, sent me a couple of very interesting old photographs. I have chosen one of them to centre my story on today. This old picture which is in "mint" condition was taken nearly 75 years ago and is living proof that the old black and whites certainly stand the test of time. Seeing the driver in the picture conjured up some special memories for me from a time long ago.

Way back then, 75 years ago, the racing of colts was still not fully developed as it became in later years. Everyone who had hopes for their two- and three-year-olds entered them in what was then called The Futurity. It was sponsored by the Canadian Standardbred Horse Society and was first started in 1929. The system involved nominating a colt at the time of foaling or shortly thereafter, and then periodic payments were made to the Society which were held in a pool which eventually formed the purse for which the colts raced. As a colt progressed (or didn't) an owner could cease payment or continue them depending on the individuals perceived potential. Some years more owners paid in, others not as many.

In 1943 harness racing was at a low ebb. The Country was at war and in many respects the sport had taken several steps backward. Many young men who had been engaged in racing were called into the service. Some major Fairgrounds were being used as military training bases, thus no racing was taking place. In general people were not raising as many horses and everything was in a holding pattern awaiting the cessation of hostilities.

The Futurities though went on as planned. These races were a one-shot happening, there were no eliminations or second chances; it all happened on one day. In addition to the huge purse, the owner was always presented with a large sterling silver tray. It was the highlight for anyone to be connected with a Futurity winner. These races later shared the spotlight with the Supertest Stakes but they started in 1944, the year after this picture was taken.

The Top Three-Year-Old Pacer of 1943

On the afternoon of September 8, 1943, the best three-year-old pacers available lined up at Stratford, Ontario, the scene of many of the early year Futurities. Unfortunately I do not know just how many faced the starter that day but I do know who won the big prize. One outstanding colt from that year's crop of three-year- olds was The Count B. He was in action that season but due to an undisclosed illness or lameness was not able to participate that day.

Lorne Lee, a three-year-old son of the popular sire Corporal Lee owned by Mr. A.D. "Baldy" McKillop of West Lorne Ont. was the winner of that year's prize which amounted to the princely sum of $2,550 as the full purse. The youngster was trained and driven by a gentleman named Blake Buchan of Rodney, Ont. His winning time was 2:11, well off of the record of 2:07 set by Bob Lee in 1939 at Strathroy, Ont. The purse was among the lowest in the race's 15-year history.

Although it is a bit of a stretch, the winner of the 1943 Canadian Standardbred Horse Society Futurity -- which garnered Lorne Lee's owner a paltry $1,250 -- was about as close to today's Pepsi North America Cup winner as then existed. The race winner had unofficial bragging rights as the sport's top (or close to it) three-year-old pacer of the season in Canada.

In later years, from age five onward, Lorne Lee moved into the ownership of Alfred Moore of Sarnia. He went on to a long and productive career for Alf, racing mainly in Michigan, Ontario and a bit in Ohio. Lorne Lee often raced in Preferred company meaning that he faced the best horses on any particular day. (A short piece from a 1949 Harness Horse write up appears below.)

I recall Mr. Blake Buchan vividly as he trained some horses for my father for a number of years in the mid 1950's. I shared many visits with him and on a number of occasions visited his quaint old family farm in Aldborough Township in Elgin County west of London. The stately old farmhouse built in the 1800's stood proudly at the end of a long laneway lined with pine trees. His family had deep Scottish roots. He was truly from the Old School, a man who embodied all of the dedication, patience and perseverance that kept people of that era so deeply interested in the sport. It was a time of a great deal of work and very little in the way of monetary rewards. He went about his daily chores in a methodical way, not too much changed his routine. He was a quiet man whose demeanour was kindly and friendly as I recall. He was soft spoken and chose his words carefully.

It was not until recently that I actually found out his age and I am further astounded that he was still able to do so much despite his advanced years. He was born in 1885, so when I first remember him he was already well past the traditional retirement age and was nearing his 70th birthday. This seemed to do little to diminish his love of the sport and his quest for another good horse.

Blake, a lifelong bachelor, spent his entire life around the horses. He was born on the family farm and remained there for the duration of his life. His life outside of farming involved racing at the local fairs and during the winters he often ventured Eastward to Dufferin Park in Toronto. When night racing came into being in 1940, Blake joined in the new form of the sport and his travels took him to far away New York City and Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island. He joined a number of other Canadian horsemen such as Clint Hodgins and Harold Wellwood as the sport stepped up to a higher level.

He once told me the story of how timid he was on the track as a driver and how his friend Clint Hodgins helped him out. Blake had an unfortunate start in a race and found himself hopelessly parked out and in a bad position with his mare Helen Direct. Clint yelled to him "Blake, GET IN BEHIND ME..." and so he did. Blake recalled after the race, "Why Clint was driving his own horse and mine too! I didn't realize it until later on."

Blake raced horses for many years at Ontario, Quebec, Michigan and New York State tracks. He hired a number of drivers as the years went on, including Keith Waples, Harold and Bill Wellwood, Duncan MacTavish, Ronnie Feagan, Gerry Johnston and others.

In 1965 when Windsor Raceway opened Mr. Buchan was still on the job. On opening night in late October, his only horse Atom Direct B was an entrant in the second race. While he did not hit the winner's circle on that evening he did manage to win a race during the inaugural meeting with Gerry Johnson in the sulky. He was just 80 years young at the time!

Several members of Blake's extended family still live in the Rodney, Ont. area and remember well following his racing career. His final resting place is the Ford Cemetery just a short distance from his home.

It has been fun for me to remember a gentleman named Blake Buchan and also The Way It Was.

The following item appeared in the Sept. 15, 1943 Harness Horse [Courtesy Don Daniels]

Ray Harvester and Lorne Lee Win Canadian Futurities

Stratford, Canada. Sept. 8 - After being rained out Labour Day the fifteenth three-year-old Futurities sponsored by the Canadian Standard Bred Horse Society was decided today and when the smoke of battle had cleared, Ray Harvester, son of Lee Harvester 3, 2:16 1/4, had won the trotting division and Lorne Lee, shifty going son of Corporal Lee 2:05, stood best in the summary in the pacing division.

It is doubtful if there has been a better field of pacers collectively ever to go to the post in the stake than was the case today. Regardless of the fact that there were no records broken. In the trotting division. Ray Harvester was the best without doubt, his main contention coming from his paternal half-sister, Love Call, which finished second to him.

Two other races were on the program and the outstanding event was the free-for-all pace which provided three different heat winners at the odd distances. While the free-for-all was the main supporting race to the Futurities the other pacing event furnished plenty of thrills and close finishes. The four races providing one of the best afternoon's race entertainments in Canada this summer.

The following item appeared in the Aug. 10, 1949 Harness Horse [As above]

Friday night saw an increase in the mutuel handle over the opening night when the total reached $182,851.

The feature race, a 15 class conditioned pace, run off in two sections, saw the favorite, Sam Hy, owned by Wes Litt of Stratford, Ontario, driven by Harold Wellwood, take the mile race by three lengths, paying $5.80 for the win.
In the mile and one-sixteenth section, Lorne Lee, owned and driven by Alfie Moore of Sarnia, Ontario, nipped Sam Hy for the win, and paid $14.40.

​Shown above are a couple of pages of hand written entries in Mr. Buchan's little black notebook where he kept his "Accounting" records during the time he trained horses for my father. A close inspection indicates that hay sold for 80 cents a bale, straw was 60 cents and the cost of shoeing a horse was $12.00. It also looks like Blake liked to use Absorbine.


This 1950's photo was taken at Northville Downs in Michigan with Mr. Buchan holding his trainee Minda Dillon. He had great success for several seasons at Michigan and New York State tracks with this mare owned by Carl H. Smith, my late father.

Who Is It?

Can you identify the person in this week's photograph? The answer will be given during the coming week.

January 18, 2018 - 11:11 amThis week's "Who Is It?"

This week's "Who Is It?" featured 38 year old Jacob "Sonny" Geisel Jr. driving Pats Lightening for owner John Rier of Elmwood, Ont. Sonny was a member of a rather large and well known racing family that hailed from the Hanover, Ont. area. Unfortunately as mentioned by Al Casselman, Sonny was killed in a farm related accident while still a young man. This picture appeared on the front page of the Sept. '68 issue of Harness Horse Happenings, a publication of the O.J.C. authored by Wm. Galvin.
As always, thanks to those who submitted their answers.

January 14, 2018 - 7:11 amLooks like George Zirnis.

John Hill SAID...

Looks like George Zirnis.

January 14, 2018 - 6:25 amI agree with Al, the "S"

gord waples SAID...

I agree with Al, the "S" stood for Sonny. Maybe the horse is Chocolate Éclair, she was worth remembering!

January 13, 2018 - 1:22 pmJacob Geisell Jr. and Minda

Jacob Geisell Jr. and Minda Dillion both take good pictures! If I remember right he got hit by a train at home. I was two years late for the 1943 Rewinds.

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