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SC Rewind: Memories Of Niatross (Pt. 2)

Published: January 25, 2020 9:33 am ET

Last Comment: January 30, 2020 9:02 am ET | 12 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's 'Rewind' Robert Smith concludes his two-part story on the career of the super horse Niatross as he closed out his racing career in 1980. An earlier episode chronicled the visit of this great horse to Greenwood. Today's story recalls his only other two visits to race on Canadian soil and also includes some photographs of this great horse and his trainer - driver.

Niatross Wins Prix D'Ete At Blue Bonnets

Over 21,000 fans were in attendance on Prix d'Ete day at Blue Bonnets in 1980 to see Niatross win by a wide margin.

On Sunday August 24, 1980, Niatross made a triumphant visit to Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montreal. His appearance at Montreal's showplace of harness racing added a huge chapter to an already gigantic "scrapbook" of memorable and historic days of racing at the Decarie Boulevard location. It was Prix D'Ete day, Canada's biggest harness racing attraction. It was the 14th renewal of this famous race first held in 1968. The purse of $161,850 was the second largest in its history.

Despite the overwhelming odds of finishing any better than second, the race drew a field of 11 starters. A quote from the Montreal Gazette stated "If there are no sure things in racing, animals that go off at 1-9 odds are about as close as it gets." Many experts believed that it was just a three-horse race at best with virtually no possibility of anyone but Niatross being the winner. The two likely contenders to chase the winner were Safe Arrival and Trenton Time. Herve Filion who had driven Safe Arrival in a number of previous starts for owners Duncan MacTavish and Conrad Leber was not in the sulky with his spot taken by Bud Gilmour.

Away very swiftly Niatross quickly took the lead from his number 5 post position and reached the quarter in :27.4 with Tyrant (driven by Dr. John Hayes) sitting in second spot. By the half Bud Gilmour driving Safe Arrival had moved up for second as they reached that point in :55.4. Justin Passing with Doug Arthur up remained a respectable third where he eventually finished. The only change in order the rest of the way saw Trenton Time and Billy Haughton move up to finish second but over six lengths in arrears. Trenton Time had the distinction of being one of the only two horses to ever defeat Niatross (the time he fell); the other being Bruce Gimble.

The race drew a huge crowd as so often happened when big-name horses and drivers came to Blue Bonnets on a Sunday afternoon. This one was recorded as 21,117 paying customers. The winning time of 1:53.4 was fast enough to break the track and Canadian record of 1:54 set the previous year by Hot Hitter in this race. It however failed to eclipse either the 5/8 track record which stood at 1:53.2 (held by Storm Damage) or the all-time mile record of 1:52 set in a Time Trial.

"We just wanted to go fast enough to win. I don't worry about records," said driver Clint Galbraith. The $80,825 which was the winner's share helped Niatross to inch closer to the $2 million mark which was a definite goal of the owners. Off the track, wrangling over money matters, details of where the soon-to-be-retired horse would stand at stud and numerous other squabbles were ongoing between the many owners of this great horse.

Niatross Visits Windsor Raceway

On December 7, 1980 the incomparable Niatross visited Windsor Raceway as he wound down his racing career. It was a Sunday evening affair and 10,845 people showed up to see the best horse on the planet do what he did best and that was WIN. This was the Raceway's second largest crowd in its 16-year history, second only to the throng that gathered there way back in June of 1972 to see this horse's sire Albatross 'do his thing'. The fans had hoped for an added bonus and that was perhaps seeing a new record or two set, despite the time of year which did not bode well for extreme speed. Driver and co-owner Clint Galbraith stated before the race that a record was unlikely "but if the horse wants to go that badly I'll let him go."

The big race which carried a purse of $42,000 was somewhat less than most he had competed for throughout the 1980 season. Smaller it may have been, but with the winner's share of this one pretty much assured, combined with an upcoming start at Greenwood for $75,000 the following week would put Niatross over the $2 million mark. One can't help but wonder if someone had been doing a little math in advance. In this event his share of the purse amounted to $35,000 by special arrangement.

The race drew a field of eight starters with no real threats to topple the champion among them. Galbraith was ahead by six lengths at the quarter and by four at the half with no one in pursuit. After that point he stepped up the tempo with a third quarter in :28.2 and a final panel in :29 even. Time of the mile was 1:57. At the wire Niatross was 14 lengths ahead of the field with Gee Dee Parker and Ken Hardy a very distant second and in for third was Greg Wright with Atasoy.

While many in the crowd were a bit disappointed that no new records were set the Windsor management were delighted at the crowd and the mutuel handle. The crowd wagered $985,151 to set a new handle for a single program; the highest ever for the track that opened in 1965. From here the Niatross contingent moved eastward some 230 miles to Toronto's Greenwood Raceway for what was then believed to be the final lifetime start of the famous horse in just six days.


Noted artist Harold Burton of Wheatley, Ont. created the painting shown above to commemorate the visit of Niatross to Windsor Raceway


In August of 1980 a special trackside ceremony was held to welcome two new members to the Meadowlands Hall of Fame. On the left is Niatross and Clint Galbraith and on the right is the great grey thoroughbred Spectacular Bid accompanied by trainer Grover "Buddy" Delp. Perched upon "The Bid" is regular exercise boy Bob Smith (once again no relation). Both had spectacular racing careers and were retired at the end of the 1980 season.


Niatross lived to the age of 22. In May 1999 he took ill and was transported to the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center where he was diagnosed with a large cancerous mass in his abdomen. On June 7, 1999 Niatross was humanely euthanized. He was cremated with his remains interred at the Hall Of Fame Museum in Goshen, New York. Nearly 40 years have passed since Niatross retired from racing but his name and his accomplishments remain among the absolute best in the sport's long history.

Quote For The Week: "A partnership is the hardest ship to sail." A quote from my late father.

Who Is It?

Can you name this man who was around harness racing for a very long time involved in many capacities?

Bonus Photo

Can you put a name on the driver on the outside This photo was taken at Hazel Park in 1953, the year the track opened. Is it OK to smile at the driver you've just beaten to the wire? In this case it was indeed acceptable to flash a grin. Any guesses as to why it was not offensive? Small clue, he was a well-known U.S. driver. (Harness Horse)

Stay tuned for the correct answers during the upcoming week.

January 30, 2020 - 9:02 amThis week's photos once again

This week's photos once again showed the versatility of the reading audience. The top photo was correctly identified as Rex Hughes the pride and joy of Grand Valley and later of Arthur, Ont. He was a breeder, owner, trainer, driver, announcer, starter (I think), historian, stallioneer (Julienne Todd), promoter among other things. He is also credited with staging the Ontario Trotting Derby at Grand Valley as a counterpart to the more famous Can. Pacing Derby. He was also a prolific story teller and at one time had this columnist as one of his listeners. He passed away many years ago but seeing his picture immediately reminds us of him.

The lower photo driver was "Curly" Smart as identified by several people. The story behind the smile was correctly answered by David Darocy as the two horses finishing together were part of a two-horse entry owned by Castleton Farm. They went off as 1-5 favorites and battled for the lead through most of the race with Scotch Harbor finally inching ahead for the win over Carl Larsen and Kashaplenty. Also don't forget Curly was the head trainer.

January 28, 2020 - 4:07 pmUpickit I believe it was

norm files SAID...

Upickit I believe it was Mitch Sahaley

January 27, 2020 - 10:11 amThanks to Jack Darling for

Thanks to Jack Darling for your interesting comment on the Niatross race at Windsor. I went back to revisit the results of that race, unfortunately you did finish 8th and last but it obviously did not tarnish your positive memories of that great race. Ironically in both the recent Rewinds dedicated to Niatross a driver, first Garth Gordon from the Greenwood race and now you, sent in a comment recalling the thrill and honour of just being a part of our sport's historic moments. Good for you! The Windsor race featured limited wagering with no win, place, or show bets allowed. There was triactor wagering and the 6-2-7 combination payoff of $ 19.00 was the smallest in  track  history. With the exception of Bill Gale I think that all of the drivers from that race are still with us, now, 40 years later. In addition to those mentioned are Ron Henderson and Ross Roselle. Not sure of who drove Upickit.

January 26, 2020 - 12:59 pmStill the greatest

norm Files SAID...

Still the greatest standardbred to ever look through a bridle.

January 26, 2020 - 10:13 amI still have that poster from

I still have that poster from that amazing evening! Plus the Niatross wagering tickets from Windsor Raceway. Greatest of all time.

January 25, 2020 - 7:08 pmHi Jack, I actually bet your

Hi Jack,
I actually bet your horse Blue Boots that night for my brother and I'm pretty sure I cashed the ticket for him. lol I almost booked it but thought I better not. Didn't pay much but I know I had a ticket. That was quite the night. I was up on top of the paddock watching the race with a couple of others from the Groom School.
I also have a number print of that picture by Harold Burton on my wall to this day!! One of the lower numbers of the series too.

January 25, 2020 - 2:50 pmThe second photo, is it Wayne

The second photo, is it Wayne “Curly” Smart?

January 25, 2020 - 2:08 pmI remember this Niatross race

Jack Darling SAID...

I remember this Niatross race at Windsor quite well. It was a really big deal for racing fans.I drove a horse in the race named Blue Boots who could pull more than any horse I have ever sat behind and he was generally a no choice front runner. I had the 7 hole and Niatross had the 8. We did get the jump on Niatross leaving the gate and grabbed the wood and once Niatross floated to the front I had no problem sitting Blue Boots in the hole - it was a big hole lol. I’m pretty sure I finished last but it was a big thrill for me lining up behind the gate beside Clint Galbraith and Niatross.

January 25, 2020 - 1:41 pmBonus Photo - Wayne (Curly)

David Darocy SAID...

Bonus Photo - Wayne (Curly) Smart smiling at his stablemate?

January 25, 2020 - 12:38 pmThe gentleman in the judge's

The gentleman in the judge's stand is Rex Hughes from Arthur, Ontario.

January 25, 2020 - 11:59 amThe man in the first photo is

kent benson SAID...

The man in the first photo is Rex Hughes from Arthur.

January 25, 2020 - 10:01 amBonus: maybe Curly Smart and

Gord Brown SAID...

Bonus: maybe Curly Smart and his brother - just a guess.


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