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SC Rewind - The Perfect Year

Published: October 19, 2019 10:18 am ET

Last Comment: October 24, 2019 9:27 am ET | 7 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind, Robert Smith recalls the great filly Handle With Care and her undefeated season of 1973 that saw her go 17-for-17. His piece also remembers her owner the late Irving Liverman. Both this world-class filly and her owner are enshrined in the Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

Fifty years ago in 1969 began one of the great stories of Canadian harness racing's modern age. A Montreal business man Irving Liverman happened to meet a leading Montreal trainer Roger White through mutual acquaintances. Soon into their friendship White asked if he would like to partner with him in the purchase of a young horse. Liverman who already owned and operated a very successful appliance business called Super Electric was enthusiastic but cautious about the offer. He was quoted many years later in a racing journal about his start in the horse business.

"I said okay, I was making a good living by then and wouldn't deprive my family of anything by spending money on a horse but I didn't want to spend any more than $5,000." The horse White purchased for them, for $4,000, was called Keystone Wish. She was ordinary, but provided enough thrills for Liverman to agree to a second purchase in 1970. This time, he upped the limit to $10,000. White spent $9,500 to bring back a yearling called Silent Majority, who started his career with eight straight wins in 1971 and soon developed into one of North America’s leading pacers. The rest of that story is for another day.

When Liverman followed up the Silent Majority acquisition with a $12,000 purchase called Handle With Care, who won her first 24 races and would twice be named Canada’s horse of the year, he got a new nickname; Lucky. This filly, a daughter of Meadow Skipper out of Lady Emily is the subject of today's story.

When Handle With Care started off the 1973 season on May 16th at Lexington, the results of her effort were encouraging to say the least but of course one race doesn't a season make. She won her first start for a $500 purse in 2:05.3. Racing out of the talent-laden Wm. Haughton stable, having a green horse debut with a winning effort wasn't exactly a rare occurrence, but a good start is always the way to go. Soon the visits to the winner's circle began to pile up for Handle With Care and with each passing week it seemed she got better and usually went a little quicker than her previous start.

In late August Handle With Care earned win number 10 in a row and did it closer to home than many of her triumphs. On a sunny Sunday afternoon the Loto Perfecta Stakes for two-year-old fillies was held at Sherbrooke Raceway. It was a big day as it coincided with the annual Sherbrooke Fair. Prior to this day no one had ever arrived at this track in a helicopter. When it did happen it was none other than Billy Haughton there of course to drive Handle With Care. His trip was a short one as he was in Montreal to attend the retirement festivities for Silent Majority.

Handle With Care made starts at 12 different tracks that season and of course was victorious at each one. Mr. Liverman was proud that his wonderful pacing filly was able to compete at five different Quebec locations, thanks to the popularity and success of the recently created Loto - Perfecta Series for young horses. The tracks visited were Blue Bonnets, Exhibition Park Sherbrooke, Quebec City, Jonquiere and Connaught Park. When she raced at Jonquiere, Mr. Liverman hired a small plane to take him along with several friends to see his champion in the making.

At the end of September Handle With Care made a start at Blue Bonnets that was different from all of her other engagements during the 1973 season; she had a new driver. With regular pilot and trainer Billy Haughton absent due to his drive behind Keystone Smartie at Lexington, a top local reinsman was called upon. Gilles LaChance, a Montreal-based driver who was in the midst of a banner year, got the assignment. A Saturday crowd of 8,824 was on hand to see the latest chapter of history unfold.

While the outcome was yet another win, the trip was perhaps the most difficult of the season for Handle With Care. Leaving from an undesirable post seven in the nine horse field Lachance attempted to take the lead on leaving but was unsuccessful. He then retreated to the back of the field. On the backstretch he started his move but was forced three wide, finally reaching the front at the three-quarter pole in 1:32.1. From here Handle With Care showed her class as she coasted to the wire again a winner. Sent off at 1-5 she rewarded her throng of backers with a win payoff of $2.40. Keystone Sandra, owned by John Ferguson and handled by Benoit Cote, took the place spot with River Circle Sue finishing third.

A proud Irving Liverman poses with his super filly Handle With Care holding one of her many trophies.

In mid-October Handle With Care scored her 15th straight and this time it was again on home turf at Montreal's Blue Bonnets track as she paced a mile in 2:02. The filly had by now faced various racing and weather hazards and this time had to overcome rain and a strong head wind. She surprised even her veteran driver Haughton who said "I just had to speak to her once and she took off. I also poked her right at the end of the mile despite a nine-length lead. I don't want her to get in the habit of letting up." He recalled how the great filly Belle Acton had lost a race that way many years prior to this and he didn't want a recurrence.

Now with just two more wins needed to set the all-time record for consecutive victories and also money won in a season by a two-year-old filly, Haughton began to be asked more and more about her chances. "She's got a good chance but she will be meeting up with an awful lot of good fillies and Joni's Time is one of them. Handle With Care is easier to race than Belle Acton was but I haven't had to race her too hard which makes a difference."

In her following two engagements, the La Paloma at Yonkers and the Hanover Filly Stakes at Liberty Bell, Handle With Care was victorious in both and thus ended her perfect season. In the last start of the season on November 2nd at Liberty Bell, Handle With Care took her two-year-old record of 2:00.2 over their five-eighths mile course. She had scored wins at numerous tracks and despite the shipping schedule finished the season in excellent shape. Ontario fans had just two looks at the champion, and that was in late June at London and again during Grand Circuit Week in July at Greenwood when she took a division of the Miss Vera Bars stake for two-year-old fillies.

In addition to her consecutive win streak Handle With Care established a number of other records. Her season's total of $141,124 eclipsed the old mark set by Romalie Hanover and her speed tab of 2:00.2 lowered the previous best by a freshman filly. She was named "Canada's Horse Of The Year". Above all, wherever she raced she made many new friends.

In April of 2017 Mr. Liverman passed away at the age of 94 at his home in Hampstead, Quebec. Despite a severe stroke in 2011, he continued to maintain a keen interest in the sport of harness racing, especially the members of his own family stable then guided by his son Herb. He had lived an extraordinary life beginning his successful business career after leaving the Air Force at the end of WWII. He began by selling light bulbs from the back of his car and eventually founded a large business enterprise that became hugely successful. Despite his successes and affluence he never forgot those in need and helped countless people, always asking that his generosity and assistance be kept quiet.

The story of a great horse and a most remarkable man.

Quote For The Week:

"You have to do your own growing up no matter how tall your grandfather was." - Irish Proverb

Who Is It?

In April 1982 Lewiston, Maine held a driver's competition involving some pretty talented reinsmen. The winner was a Canadian-born driver who was at the time very successful at several U.S. tracks. He is shown above; can you correctly identify him?

Who Else Is It?

Can you put a name on this young lad? If you can, send in your answer and be sure to stay tuned during the upcoming week for the correct answers.

October 24, 2019 - 9:27 amThis week's photos were again

This week's photos were again correctly identified. In the upper photo taken at Lewiston, Maine was Norm Dauplaise, a Montreal born driver who started his career on the Quebec circuit and later moved to the big U.S. tracks. In the lower photo was "Super Mario" Baillargeon as dubbed by Wm. O'Donnell in a slightly younger pose. Thanks again!

October 19, 2019 - 5:40 pmNorman Duplauise Super Mario

Norman Duplauise
Super Mario

October 19, 2019 - 4:38 pmThe last one is Mario

The last one is Mario Baillargeon

October 19, 2019 - 4:10 pmRajean Daignault, Freddie

Gord Brown SAID...

Rajean Daignault, Freddie Grant

October 19, 2019 - 3:11 pmTop photo possibly Norman

David Darocy SAID...

Top photo possibly Norman Dauplaise and the bottom photo, possibly Fred Grant due to his involvement with Handle With Care.

October 19, 2019 - 2:11 pmBottom picture looks like Tom

jim morgan SAID...

Bottom picture looks like Tom Strauss

October 19, 2019 - 11:40 amSecond picture, Fred Grant.

Joe Wright SAID...

Second picture, Fred Grant.

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