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SC Rewind: First $100,000 Earner

Published: January 17, 2015 12:07 pm ET

Last Comment: January 17, 2015 1:22 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind Robert Smith recalls the long career of Ezra Deen, Canada's first $100,000 winner that was truly Canadian-bred.

The honour of being the first truly Canadian-bred horse to earn $ 100,000 in a career belongs to a great horse named Ezra Deen. His long, colourful and interesting career spanned parts of two decades and covered a lot of miles, both on the track and travelling in both Canada and the U.S. His is an entertaining story that has a lot of interesting parts well beyond the money he earned.

Ezra Deen was foaled on May 7, 1950 on the 500 acre farm of his owner and breeder James C. Cameron (better known as "Bert") in Smiths Falls, Ont. He was truly homebred as both his sire Ezra Blue and his dam Willowdeen were not only owned by Mr. Cameron, a local automobile dealer, but they too raced out of his stable during their track careers. He was by all definitions truly Canadian-bred.

Ezra Blue was purchased by Mr. Cameron in his hometown of Shawville, Quebec, for $250 as a three year old and performed admirably for a lengthy career before being retired to stud duty. Willowdeen was U.S.-bred and purchased in the 1940's when the Cameron horses raced at Batavia and Buffalo. Acquired for a reported $2,000, Cameron once said he could have bought a farm for that kind of money but later stated that in the long run she was money well spent. She produced just three foals, with her first born Ezra Deen by far the best.

Ezra Deen, a gelding, was broke and trained at the owner's farm by resident trainer Norm Conley. Unraced at two, he made his raceway debut in 1953 at the old Thorncliffe Park track in Toronto. On the afternoon of July 28th he won his first ever start in the opening heat of the day, pacing home in 2:13 and change. It was a qualifying race which was somewhat of a rarity in those days. Another slightly different aspect of the race was that it carried a purse of $100. Not a huge sum of money, but it left just another $99,950 until he would reach the magic plateau of 100 grand!

Later that season, trainer Conley and Ezra Blue made further travels that took them first to Batavia, New York and then on to Montreal. After 11 starts andfourwins, the young campaigner had his first $1100 in the bank for his initial season of racing. Obviously the best days were ahead.

The era of Ezra Blue usually meant that to earn any kind of money with a better than average horse, Canadians most often had to race in the U.S. Much of his early career was spent at several New York State tracks. While he saw success wherever he raced, his most prolific early campaigns were at Saratoga Springs, N.Y. In 1955 he was voted "Horse of the Year" at Saratoga. During that season he won 14 races in 25 outings and banked $13,400. The season's fastest clocking over the Spa half-miler was his then record of 2:03.4.

In 1956 a then six-year-old Ezra Deen had another great season and his last with his original trainer and driver Norman Conley. This year saw another rise in earnings to over $15,000 and was split between Saratoga and Montreal as Canadian purses experienced an increase. Following this time he was trained and driven by quite a number of reinsmen. Among them were Harley Harrison, Keith Waples, Clarence Franklin, Fred Parks, Dick Williams, Archie Llewellyn, Bunny Elliot and "Ancaster" Bill Harvey. That same year one of his wins pictured elsewhere involved a win at Montreal which was part of the first $300,000-plus mutuel handle in Canadian history.

On July 25, 1961 a special gathering was held at Richelieu Park to recognize Ezra's lifetime accomplishment of being the first to reach the $100,000 plateau. At this time in an interview, his then trainer Dave Pinkerton spoke in glowing terms of the already 11-year-old. He told an Ottawa Citizen reporter "He might be a bit elderly but he ain't showin' any signs of slowing up; not just yet. He's a great champeen and if you don't believe me drop out to the boss's house. You can't get in the door for trophies, cups and what have you he's won."

Ezra Deen took his speed record of 2:03 in 1957 at the age of seven. His lifetime best was taken at Blue Bonnets with Harley Harrison in the sulky. This was a big day for this horse as he not only captured the major share of the $7,250 purse for winning "The Montrealer", he also set a new Blue Bonnets all age record. It was previously jointly shared by Bay State Pat and Smokey Online. During the majority of his career he faced the absolute best competition the sport had to offer and obviously fared very well.

He continued to race year after year until his final season of eligibility at the age of 14. By this time the wins came much less often than in the earlier years; gone were the days of racing in the day's headline event. During the 1964 season the old campaigner made a total of 16 starts and could manage but two trips back to the winner's circle. He was still competing though as he finished in the first three eight times.

In a near fairy tale ending on the evening of November 3, 1964, Ezra Deen made his final lifetime start at Blue Bonnets in Montreal. It was the 271st start of his long and illustrious career and as fate would have it, he won that last start. With a then just 27-year-old trainer and driver Ken Carmichael in the bike, there was one last gathering in the winners circle. He also added another blanket to his already huge collection. His final lifetime earnings were recorded as $118,428 stretched over a 12-year racing career. A lot of history had been logged since that first start at Thorncliffe Park.

Now at the mandatory age of 14 he was shipped back to the Cameron farm at Smiths Falls. Here he would enjoy his retirement years in the very spot where he was foaled. His sire Ezra Blue lived until the age of 27, dying in 1962. His dam Willowdeen made it until her 28th year, passing in 1966. All still in the Cameron ownership.

On October 14, 1967 which was Canada's Centennial Year, Ezra Deen died at the Cameron farm of an apparent heart attack at the age of 17. His death came as a shock to his owner and caretakers but they were understandably relieved that his end came without suffering.

The long saga of Ezra Deen illustrates what it took back then to accumulate an impressive lifetime earnings total. It gives renewed meaning to the old saying "earning your money the old fashioned way" which was usually meant to be a little at a time.

Mr. J.C. Cameron is a member of the Horse Racing Hall of Fame, elected in 1978 in the Builders category. He passed away in 1978 at the age of 80.

Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Cameron centre accept "Horse of the Year" trophy won by Ezra Deen for his outstanding 1955 season at Saratoga Raceway. In the picture from left are George Miller, Warren Flood and Bill Connolly from the local chapter of Harness Writers Assoc. [Harness Horse]


Sept. 1956 - Ezra Deen at the rail closes to win at Montreal's Blue Bonnets track with driver Norm Conley at the controls. His time of 2:04 was just two-fifths of a second off the existing track record. Finishing second is Ladys Lad (Wm. Harvey) with Barney Diplomat (Keith Waples) third. On this day fans at Montreal's Blue Bonnets track fashioned Canada's first ever $300,000 plus mutuel handle.


Driver Norm Conley appears in the Saratoga winner's circle with Ezra Deen as part of a phenomenal 1955 season which saw him win 10 races and the track's top individual honour.


Ezra Deen closes out a storybook career as he wins his last lifetime start at age 14. Joining the great horse in the Blue Bonnets winner's circle along with driver Ken Carmichael are owners Mr. and Mrs. Cameron, Aime Desrosiers and Mike Mac Cormack representing the track. [Carmichael Family collection]


January 17, 2015 - 1:22 pmYou did it again Robert.

ron francis SAID...

You did it again Robert. Being a Valley kid,I vividly remember hearing of the great Ezra Dean, and believe he raced at
Rideau Carleton at few times 62-64.

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