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SC Rewind: The Downtown Track

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Published: January 16, 2010 5:21 am ET

Last Comment: November 9, 2013 10:35 pm ET | 12 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

Robert Smith reflects on some people and happenings at the once popular Toronto track known as Greenwood.

The old New York Yankee baseball legend Billy Martin used to say "my two favourite kinds of music are country and western." Following that line of logic it is probably safe to say that a lot of people's favourite downtown Toronto tracks from the old days were Old Woodbine
and Greenwood. In 1963 the track officially changed its name from Old Woodbine to Greenwood and remained as that until its closing.

While a lot of the history of Canadian harness racing took place in small towns with their quaint half-mile tracks and cute old wooden grandstands, a lot more occurred "downtown". In 1954 Old Woodbine as it was then known, began to host harness racing. It had been a thoroughbred only operation prior to that although it did host harness racing back in the 1890's. Unlike its country cousins this track had an oddball sized 3/4 mile track and a grandstand that would likely hold the entire population of a lot of small race towns.

I have chosen to look at a few facts and faces as they appeared back in early 1969, just a little over 40 years ago. A lot has changed but many familiar names and faces remain. I have selected only a portion of the people involved as it is impossible to list everyone who was
there even though I realize that the input of every single participant was important.

Leading Drivers - This is a combined list based on wins, winning percentage and earnings in January 1969. Most of these drivers appeared in multiple categories. The leading driver was awarded the Carling Brading trophy and a cash prize of $50, with $30 for the second place finisher and $20 for third in standings.

Gilles Gendron (percentage leader)
Keith Waples (wins and money leader)
Wes Coke
Ron Feagan
Russ Furness
William Wellwood
William Carroll
Allan Waddell
Bill Lambertus
Brent Davies
Ross Curran
Harold McKinley

Other Drivers (abbreviated list)
Carman Hie, Jack Gordon, Jim Holmes, Randy Boyce, Brian Webster, George Wain, Guy and Lloyd Gilmour, Fred Hill, Gary Campbell, Roy Lawson, Bill Troy, Reg Gassien, Larry Walker, Omar Knight, George Zirnis, Ray McLean, Jerry Hughes, Jim Muttart, Ken Webb, Bruce Shea, Ron Waples, Doug Nash, John Hayes Sr.

Racing Officials:

Director - E.M. Bradley
Judges - Jules Giguere, William Lang, William Lawrence.
Race Secretary - Lewis James
Clerk of the Course - Alan Nielson
Announcer - Jack Stephens
Starter - Ernie Brown
Paddock Judge - James Halliday
Placing judges - Gary Wilmot, Charles Ayers
Publicity Director - Jim Lampman

The final harness race was contested at Greenwood on New Years Eve, December 31, 1993. Thus closed a long and storied chapter in Canadian racing that dated back to its original opening in October of 1875. Many of today's horsepeople and fans alike certainly have memories of Greenwood and may care to share them.

November 9, 2013 - 10:35 pmI absolutely love your

I absolutely love your articles on the old days. My Grandfather was Race Secretary Lewis james.....and my Dad is Allan Waddell. I believe you wrote an article last year we used for my Uncle Bill James at his funeral. Please keep these memories alive. They were great days for me as a little girl, sitting with my Grandpa up stairs in his office watching my Dad cross the finish line!!!Thank you!!!

January 22, 2010 - 2:46 pmThis is a bit off the topic,

This is a bit off the topic, but my Dad and I were talking, as we usually do, about horse racing the other night and we often go back to when we first started going to the races in the mid 60's in Hanover. There are two names that always stand out for me in these conversations, a horse named Jay Bird (might have been Jay Byrd) and a driver by the name of Lloyd Wagner. Just wondering if Robert, and or anyone else, remembers either this horse or this driver and could tell us who owned and/or drove Jay Bird and maybe some stats on Lloyd. I was all of eight years old when I started going to the races, so other than the fact that the first horse I ever bet on, Jerry G, paid 26.10 to win, I'm a little fuzzy on details

January 22, 2010 - 12:01 pmAs a teenager I spent many

Norm Brunet SAID...

As a teenager I spent many summers at woodbine grooming the horses with wonderful memories. Keith Waples Ron Feagan and Bill wellwood were the big wheels at that time. Keith Waples had an open pacer called Sanka because the dam was named caffeine...John Hayes had a powerful stable with Keystone Pat. Dr John Findley had Canny Choice
The boys from Montreal came in August, Gilles Gendron Gilbert Lacharite with the Miron bros horses all called "Mir", Rosaire Bouthiller...Roger White (Silent Majority).

Most exciting though, the first week in August was Grand Circuit week. Dancer Haughton and O'brien were in to compete with their beautiful stables and 1 groom per horse which we don't see anymore. Fresh Yankee (O'brien) beat Crane Hanover by a neck (driven by Henri but trained by Herve Filion) in the Canadian Trotting Derby. Roland Beaulieu had Columbia George whom won in 1.56.4 which was a new canadian record and went on to win the Jug that year.

We'd have lunch at 'THE MECCA' restaurant a block away on Queen street, steak and mushrooms was the specialty. We would watch the races from upstairs outside and had a great view at the finish line and of course we would line up for the french dip roast beef sandwich down on the main floor which was cut fresh for $1.25, wow what a deal, of course I was only making $60 a week then so everything is relative. On hot days we'd go for a swim across the road to the city pool or hang out at the beach...what a great time, miss the old Greenwood.

January 21, 2010 - 1:58 pmGreenwood and Wolverine/DRC

Greenwood and Wolverine/DRC have always been my 2 favorite tracks. We seldom missed Saturday afternoons at Greenwood in the winter, even though it is a 6-hour round trip from Dresden. We sat in the clubhouse bar overlooking the paddock, but when the race was on, we ALWAYS went outside to watch it live. I marked my programs, the first 1/4 would be fine, but by the half, my pen would be froze, and I would have to memorize the 1/2, 3/4, and mile times to mark when my pen thawed! We'd walk back in after the race, and a group of men would be standing under a TV betting each other on who won the photo. And also walk by the line-up for beef on a bun. I never once bought a beef on a bun there that I didn't have to stand in line for. But it was worth it. One of the best that I have ever had. The server would let the top half of the bun float on gravy while carving the beef off a 50-pound roast, a few dill pickles, the perfect sandwich! Plus the waiters selling draught beer right off the tray. Like most have written, atmosphere and good racing are what made Greenwood so popular.

January 21, 2010 - 9:06 amok very last comment and I

john thomas SAID...

ok very last comment and I too always went to see the Blizzard or Snowshoe pacing series. I would sit in the grandstand with a coffee. You could always count on a massive snow storm for those. I left my car over at the beaches one day and the passenger side window was open a crack.
When I got back I had 18 inches of souvenier to bring home in my front seat.

January 21, 2010 - 8:46 amIf I could I would bring

john thomas SAID...

If I could I would bring back Greenwood as a Harness only. Make it a 5/8 track but closer to the stand where the old T-bred track lay.
I remember coming down Kingston road from the east and pulling up beside the traniers as they were bring in thier horses to race. We would get them to roll down the window on thier pick up truck so we could ask them how thier horse was.
I love the Saturday afternoon cards where you could count on Willow Wiper and Ray McLean going to the winners circle at about 1:25. Just after the FFA 2nd race was over. Of course Air Force One always completed the exactor. A few years later Wipers spot was taken by Famous Cade and Dougie!!!!
My favourite memory is actually on opening day of the T-breds on a Monday I beleieve.
My buddy Chris who was taking me down to get baptized to the world of horse racing. His uncle is Gord Huntley so we would always have lots of interesting tips. Of course everyone else knew who Gord was so no surprise there.
We were in the beer parlour on the east side when the 1st race was finished the 4 horse Cotton Kelly had won at 70-1. A retired gent had 10 across the board on him but had lost his ticket. There were 20 people on the ground looking for that ticket.
It was found and the retired gent could smile again.
The ticket had foot prints all over it. Chris then stated that he wished he had gum on his shoe.

January 19, 2010 - 12:15 pmWow! After reading the above

John Sarino SAID...

Wow! After reading the above article, it sure brought back a lot of memories. I was most interested in Carolyn Rae's comments, she mentions a lot of the horses and drivers I probably wagered on. One trainer she mentions was my first grooming job at the track, Franz Beitlich. That was back in 1965. I still have the ORC license in an album. A few of the things I remember about Greenwood was the two or three hundred people waiting on Queen St. to get in free for the last two races. The guard wouldn't dare let you in too early. How things have changed! Who could forget Ron Pestell getting tons of catch drives with the single shaft sulky? A not so pleasant part of Greenwood was the smoke in the grandstand. Coming home after a night at the races, one had to strip out of the smelly clothes. A few of the more memorable events, was the day Niatross raced there (Dec 13/80), and who could forget Cam Fella winning his 28/th in a row at Greenwood? I believe it was also his retirement race. It was sad to see Greenwood ride off into the sunset. Many of us boomers cut our teeth at the east-end oval. Thanks for the memories................................ P.S. I couldn't agree more with David Aziz (above), the racing at Woodbine is" terribly" boring.

January 17, 2010 - 3:35 pmA cousin went to Greenwood

Norm Borg SAID...

A cousin went to Greenwood and brought me back a program similar to the one shown above. It was the subject of a lot of day dreaming as it sat well tucked inside my math book at school. I vowed that I would one day visit this shrine to Horseracing.

Years later when I lived in Toronto, I became a regular at Greenwood and beleive me the anticipation of those previous years was matched by the reality of actually being, experiencing and loving the "Downtown Track"

Thanks for the memories.

January 16, 2010 - 10:36 pmVictoria Thompson There

Victoria Thompson

There isn't much I can add after the other excellent postings.. Yes, the paddocks were frigid in the winter but ahhh in the summer--there was no better place in the world to spend a warm summer evening with the breeze coming off Lake Ontario. As a groom on the backstretch I didn't have much money to spend (sorry Carmen!!) but I sometimes bet on Lunas Bullet or Aunt Thelma (a Bill Stirton gelding) because they were always a safe show bet for a little extra pocket money. As you entered the Grandstand at the west end there was a little person who sold handicapping sheets; he never changed his pitch, it was always, "Raceway Journal,Two exactors and a long-shot last night." I also loved the crowded smokey ladies' room with the interesting-looking women who hung out there. Such atmosphere! 1992 was the year of Artsplace and that summer Bill O'Donnell had a few winning trips with him at Greenwood--just after he'd set his mark of 1:49.2 at the Meadowlands--what a thrill. Greenwood was just so accessible--by streetcar, auto or just plain on foot. I really miss that old place. Thanks for the weekly flashbacks.

January 16, 2010 - 7:31 pmWonderful memories all

David aziz SAID...

Wonderful memories all around in this article and in the comments as well. Thanks for that!

My first visit was in August 1968, when I was encouraged to go to Greenwood by a friend named Mark, who worked part time as a runner. (I had been to the "flats" twice by then.)

I clearly remember watching my first race and when they passed under the wire (after 3/8ths of a mile and did not stop as they started into the Club House turn to start the
next 5/8ths --WOW they are going around AGAIN!! Compared to the T breds. where the race was over in seconds. I knew right at that moment that I like the harness better; a longer race was way more entertaining!!

Let me mention also the first sub 2:00 mile by Sunny Tar and Joe Obrien in the elim to the CDN. Pacing Derby. I learned a painful handicapping lesson in the Final about the importance of pace, when Keith Waples got away with a half in 1:02.1 and Sunny got buried at the back. I lost $20.00-- almost a day's pay then!!

Too too bad that ALL the fun is gone now with the awful boring "racing" at Woodbine which will NEVER replace any part of those wonderful days!! More memories please!

January 16, 2010 - 1:15 pmBrings back some great

Carolyn Rae SAID...

Brings back some great memories from the old Greenwood Raceway. No place more exciting than to sit in that huge grandstand and watch the horses race down that long stretch for home. Before the track was converted to a 5/8 mile, the horses used to start down "the chute" at the east end of the Grandstand, and come straight down the stretch at the start of each race. I remember if you had dinner in the Clubhouse, you didn't have to go to the mutual windows to bet, the ladies would come around to the tables and take your bets, and cash your tickets. I remember Shirley McLean (Ray McLean's sister)working in the dining room taking bets for the patrons. The names of the drivers listed brought back memories of some of the more well known horses of that era also. When I hear of Jimmy (Red) Holmes, I immediately think of Silver Laird, the grey ghost. The other well known grey of that era, would have to be Silver Ronnie and his driver/trainer George Hawk. When I hear Ron Feagan, brings to mind H A Meadowland. Other drivers/trainers and horses that came to mind after reading your article; Lawrence Geisel with Potomac Lass, Fanny Symbol (owned by Lawrence's sister Phyllis), Scotland Van, Josedale Paragon; Lawrence's brother Sonny (Jacob Geisel Jr.); Dr. John Findlay with his trainer at the time, Nelson White with horses like Autumn Frost, Renfrew County, Opeongo, Kintail to name a few. I seem to recall John Hayes Sr, or "The Senator" as he was called in the day had a horse called Sharp N Smart, very fast but a bad actor on the track; Bill and Jack Herbert always had a large stable at the old Greenwood oval including Dean Herbert, Replica Herbert, Singing Herbert; Bruce & Glenna Clements and their good trotter (on the track)Fearless Doc, (He was really bad to handle, Glenna lost her finger looking after him); Bev Kingston; Pat Crowe; Bill Hicks; Franz Bietlich; Renald Filion. Horses like - Danny Song A; Mr. Galophone; Grandpa Jim; And of course anyone from the old Greenwood backstretch at that time has to remember Sid. I remember he used to come into the old restaurant in the backstretch (which used to have horseshoe shaped counters and you sat on stools at the counter), and every night Sid would order "four scoops of vanilla ice cream". At that time Sid was working as a security guard on the back gate by Barn 11. The other thing I remember vividly, I used to think Greenwood Raceway's Blizzard series which ran in January was very aptly named because it seemed like the coldest place on earth in the winter, with the winds blowing off Lake Ontario. Still for crowds and fans, there was no place like it, because it was the only racetrack where the streetcar stopped at the front door to the grandstand.

January 16, 2010 - 12:19 pmMY DAD INTRODUCED ME TO

LIZ THERRIEN SAID...

MY DAD INTRODUCED ME TO HARNESS RACING AT GREENWOOD IN THE 60'S. YEARS LATER IN THE MID 80'S HE WAS UNABLE TO CARE FOR HIMSELF AT HOME AND MOVED TO THE VETERAN'S RESIDENCE AT SUNNYBROOK HOSPITAL. I TOOK HIM TO BRUNCH AND RACING ALMOST EVERY SUNDAY AFTERNOON THE WINTER OF 87/88 AND MY LAST MEMORY OF HIM WAS SPENDING A JUNE SATURDAY EVENING IN THE DINING ROOM THERE WATCHING THE ELIMINATIONS FOR THE NA CUP TO CELEBRATE FATHER'S DAY. HE PASSED AWAY 2 DAYS LATER. NEEDLESS TO SAY I HAVE MANY FOND MEMORIES OF GREENWOOD.


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