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Rewind: Records Set At Blue Bonnets

Published: October 21, 2017 11:03 am ET

Last Comment: October 25, 2017 11:33 am ET | 8 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith travels back to a much earlier time as he recalls several events at the Blue Bonnets track in Montreal. All of his short reminiscences involve the setting of new track records at this ​once very famous track.

Above is an old artist's sketch of Blue Bonnets track done in the mid 1950's. It was the scene of many great moments in Canadian harness racing (Harness Horse)​

This week I have chosen to recall a few of the many memorable moments recorded at the old Blue Bonnets track in Montreal. For several decades it was the greatest racing spot in Canada along with its neighbouring sister track, Richelieu Park. More often than not when great things happened in harness racing, this was where it occurred.

One of the oldest (maybe thee oldest) cliches in sports history says that Records are made to be broken. True, and most records are broken sooner or later, usually sooner but occasionally one hangs around for quite a while.

Back in 1959 a rather unusual record was set at the Blue Bonnets track in Montreal and this record erased one that had been on the books for over 35 years having been set in 1924. Just whether or not anyone had attempted to eclipse this record during all those years and failed I do not know. ​That year an Ingersoll, Ont. horseman named Elmer Cunningham for whatever reason decided​​ to attempt to set a new record for Yearlings...Yes, a yearling! As virtually everyone knows, most yearlings spend their time grazing and relaxing, unaware that "harder" days lie ahead. ​This filly was on a little different schedule. ​​

The yearling chosen for this momentous occasion was named F E Scott, a bay filly sired by Direct Scott G. out of a mare named simply Reta. She was owned by Effie Cunningham and trained and driven by​ her husband​ Elmer Cunningham, a well-known horseman of this era. I believe this man also made sulkies and jog carts.

Her record breaking time trial at Blue Bonnets on October 30, 1959 was her second attempt at the record. On September 17th that year, a special event was staged as part of London's Western Fair races which at that time spread over three days. This was a couple of years before racing under the lights began so it was just a part of the regular annual Fair races. The event was listed as "To Beat 2:24 2/5 Pacing" and the filly accomplished her task in 2:22 1/5. The track offered a purse of $75 which ended up being her official total season's earnings. Not much money but she was probably "The Top Money Earning Yearling of 1959"!

​A view of the apron overflow crowd which was common at Blue Bonnets in the glory years (Harness Horse)​​

Record Set At Blue Bonnets

On October 30th at Blue Bonnets the second time trial was held just prior to the start of the regular 10 race card. It was listed as "To beat 2:22 1/5 Pacing" based on her earlier record and this time No purse was offered. On this day she toured the Montreal half-miler in a swift 2:15 2/5 thus setting a world record for a yearling filly which was previously held by Lady Patch who paced in 2:18 1/4 in 1924. The driver of Lady Patch was listed as O.M. Powell, a U.S. based horseman.

​A view of the Blue Bonnets track as a full grandstand takes in Sunday afternoon action (Harness Horse)

The First Two Minute Mile At Blue Bonnets

George Sholty the "pint-sized" reinsman originally from Indiana who scored the first ever sub-two minute mile at Blue Bonnets Raceway is shown checking a piece of racing equipment. Sholty, who was listed as weighing only 117 pounds, was one of the sport's all time smallest drivers but also one of the best ever. (Hoof Beats)

In July of 1959 one of the great milestones in Canadian harness racing history was recorded when Mighty Dudley and Keith Waples scored the first ever sub-2:00 mile in Canada at Richelieu Park. It took another five years before the neighbouring Blue Bonnets track hung out their first miracle mile. The event and the horse's name and driver while important, never quite resonated like that of the Mighty Dudley event.

The honour of scoring Blue Bonnets' first sub-2:00 mile went to a couple of U.S. invaders. On the afternoon of Sunday, October 18, 1964 Bengazi Hanover and driver George Sholty scored the track's long-awaited milestone by virtue of a mile clocked at 1:59.4. Sent off as the betting favourite among the large crowd of 11,931 on hand that day, driver George Sholty overcame his poor post position which saw him score from the number nine spot in the trailing tier in a field of eleven.

Raced as the featured event of the afternoon, The Trans Canada Pace for three-year-olds carried a purse of $16,700 the richest event of the season for sophomore pacers in Canada. The large field of 11 consisted of 10 Canadian-foaled youngsters and one lone U.S. entrant, Bengazi Hanover who became the eventual winner. The speedy son of Tar Heel came into the race as the heavy favourite and paid just $3.10. Earlier in the season he paced to his current record of 1:57.4 which gave him the edge over the great Canadian colt Timely Knight who had just completed a streak of 13 straight wins.

Sholty raced his colt covered up for much of the mile making his move at the three-quarter station. He showed plenty left in the tank and paced away from his rivals showing a five-length margin at the wire. His winning time obviously set a new track record for Blue Bonnets bettering the mile set a year prior to this by Country Don, a Canadian-foaled horse who was timed in 2:00.3. This was a great day in the long history of the Blue Bonnets track. While many swift miles had been logged over the years, no horse had ever gone this fast before.

For his efforts Sholty was presented with a cheque for $500 as a bonus by the Blue Bonnets management. A track representative said "He deserves every penny of it and if anyone can beat the 1:59.4 mile, we will raise the bonus money to $1,000! (Adjusted for inflation this would be equal to about $4,000 today)

As a matter of interest here is the balance of the field that record-setting day. I have listed the order of finish and drivers as best I can. Timely Knight (2) Roger White; Angelic Wick (3) Dr. John Findley; Senator Burton (4) Jean Jodoin; Singer (5) Frank Baise; Two Lumps (6) (Keith Waples); Empires Haven (7) J.L. Vilandre; Monseiur Richelieu (8) Benoit Cote; Stoney Burke (9) Bud Gilmour; Drummond Chief (10) Claude St. Jacques; Cloverland Direct (11) Dun MacTavish. The Drummondville Stable had a three-horse entry which included Singer, Two Lumps and Drummond Chief.

July 4,1982 - Arndon Trots To New Record at Blue Bonnets To Celebrate Driver's Birthday

Arndon and driver Delvin Miller

A large Sunday afternoon crowd came out mainly to see if the trotting sensation Arndon could continue his unbeaten streak and the 8,883 fans on hand saw him do just that. A large field of 10 starters including a four-horse entry faced the starter; all with the hope of ending Arndon's winning ways at nine straight. Purse for the event billed as "The Montreal Trot" for three-year olds was $143,000. It was not to be and driver Delvin Miller, who was celebrating his 69th birthday made sure of that. Miller of Meadowlands Pa. who also owned and trained the trotting phenomenon, headed straight to the front from sixth position and made every post a winning one. They cut out fractions of :29.1; :58.1; 1:27.4; crossing the wire in 1:57.2 and in so doing set a new Track, Canadian and World record.

Ironically the previous Track mark of 1:58.2 set in 1979 belonged to Speed In Action, another Miller pupil. Finishing second was Speed Bowl for Tommy Haughton while Incredible Nevele (Glen Garnsey) a part of the entry got up for third place money. The large crowd pushed $984,170 through the mutuel windows on this Sunday afternoon, many collecting on a $3.50 win ticket on 3-5 Arndon. Following this victory, Arndon's season's winnings totalled just over $207,000.

The picture of Arndon that accompanies this post was given to me personally by Delvin Miller. Delvin was an incredible man who despite his lofty accomplishments and extremely busy schedule, always took time to be in touch with people who he knew were eager to learn about the sport's past, and its rich history. We corresponded for many years (back in the days when people actually wrote letters) and I was fortunate to visit him a number of times at his winter quarters in Florida. We lost this great man in 1996 at the age of 83.

Who Is It?

Can you identify this gentleman? The correct answer will appear during the coming week.

October 25, 2017 - 11:33 amThe answer to this week's Who

The answer to this week's Who Is It ? is Ray Gemmill originally from Cobden Ont. located in Renfrew County, but many years a resident of B.C. Ray will be remembered for many things and one is the fact that he won the first race at what was then called Cloverdale Raceway in 1976 driving Guy Dominion owned by a bunch of Vancouver Canucks hockey players. Ray took an 'early retirement' in 2014 at the age of 84. To those who sent in comments, thanks for your interest.

October 25, 2017 - 4:01 amRay Gemmill, I'm as sure of

gord waples SAID...

Ray Gemmill, I'm as sure of that as I was that Innocent Bob would win! Ray your press coverage never ends, keep it going!!

October 22, 2017 - 9:19 amI think it's Ray Gemmill

John Hill SAID...

I think it's Ray Gemmill

October 22, 2017 - 8:48 amMy friend Ray Gemmill.

My friend Ray Gemmill.

October 22, 2017 - 7:28 amGreat article Robert. I have

Great article Robert.
I have many great memories of racing and watching races at Blue Bonnets.
A world class racetrack at its time and unfortunately doesn't exist anymore.
Keep up the great work. You write tremendous stories that bring us all back to the grassroots of our racing days.

October 21, 2017 - 5:36 pmI was there the night F.E.

Garth Gordon SAID...

I was there the night F.E. Scott time-trialed. I raced many times at Blue Bonnets in front of big crowd. Great memories. I think the person in the mystery photo is Johnny Atmore.

October 21, 2017 - 3:31 pmThank you Mr. Smith this does

Thank you Mr. Smith this does bring back good memories of the past, once again you came through.

October 21, 2017 - 2:57 pmRay Gemmill

Bill Gemmll SAID...

Ray Gemmill

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