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SC Rewind: Remembering Ross Curran

Published: October 24, 2020 11:50 am ET

Last Comment: November 6, 2020 10:54 am ET | 7 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of 'Rewind,' Robert Smith recalls the colourful and interesting career of horseman Ross Curran, who passed away recently. His piece includes a few old pictures from a bygone era and an interesting quote from a man who remembered 'Cowboy,' as he was affectionately known.

In this week's edition of Rewind Robert Smith recalls the colorful and interesting career of horseman Ross Curran who passed away recently. His piece includes a few old pictures from a bygone era and an interesting quote from a man who remembered "Cowboy" as he was affectionately known. His passing removes one more great horseman from an unforgettable era in the sport.

Winning driver Ross Curran casts a glance at the teletimer as he reaches the wire at Garden City in this 1975 photo.

The sport of Canadian harness racing just recently lost one of its most beloved citizens when Ross Arthur Curran passed away on Monday, September 13. His death occurred in Smith Falls, not too far from where he was born back in 1937. His many years away from the sport have done little to dim his memory to the many who knew him. His overall years in harness racing were relatively short due to illness but he used his time well. He was 83 and the news of his passing turned back the pages of time in the memory of many horsemen.

Ross decided at a very young age what his life's calling would be. At the tender age of about 13 he started to tend to horses being trained by the veteran horseman Sted Craig at the local Smith Falls track. At that time nearly all racing was conducted on the Ontario Fair Circuit. The season was short, the purses were small and the going was often "tough" but it seemed to be just what this youngster wanted. In later years despite his successes at the larger tracks "Cowboy" loved the fair circuit. Countless times he would drive in nearly every race at night at Connaught Park after toiling all day at a nearby fair. Often among his competition, just to keep him "honest" was his older brother Neil, himself a very accomplished horseman.

Stories told by Ross over the years say that he started driving at the age of 16 at the local fairs. By 1956 at just the age of 19, young Ross was "living the dream" as he began to showcase his talents as a skilled horseman. He was driving a horse that was already a legend in the sport and known by just about everyone who had ever seen a harness race in Eastern Ontario. The horse was Symbol Allen who had by then reached the age of 15 but was still noted for one thing; winning races.

A then young "Cowboy" was scoring two and three heat victories almost at will with this "old timer" owned by Les Ireland of Smith Falls. That season Symbol Allen faced the starter a total of 29 times and ended the season with 22 wins, most of them with this young phenom in the bike. Some of the places they visited that year included Kingston, Belleville, Gananoque, Lansdowne, Cardinal, Delta, Merrickville, Renfrew and South Mountain. I may have even missed the odd one. What was the money like back then? For all of his effort, travel, wear and tear Symbol Allen added $998.00 to his lifetime bank account!

Much of Ross's career preceded the big money era. He frequently raced for low purses and often competed over racetracks that were not the best. He was never afraid to take on a "project" horse. While that type of horse might have given the idea that he was mean and rough in his handling of these sometimes cantankerous equines, usually the very opposite was true. He possessed a special knack and knew how to handle these critters both on and off the track. He was a master at taking horses that may not have attracted others and turned them into "money makers", thanks to his special talents.

Cowboy was a master at winning races. Back in the day when a 200 win season was a major accomplishment the above photo was taken. His best year was in 1972 when he won more than 200 dashes and $275,000 in purses.

The nickname "Cowboy" might generally be considered a derogatory moniker for most people in harness racing but for Ross it was a term of endearment. This name was given to him early in his career as he showed an uncanny ability to handle unruly and misbehaving horses and turn them into useful performers. He handled a number of such critters over the years and I'm sure the list of those he "tamed" could be quite long. Just exactly who gave him that monicker may have a couple of answers. Recently I read that Kenny Carmichael had given him that unforgettable tag. A 1970's bio published by the Ontario Jockey Club read "He was nicknamed 'Cowboy' by Russ Caldwell for his ability to handle a tough horse." Whoever the original was matters not; the name has survived the test of time.

By the age of 30 Ross was among the top drivers in Canada and also North America. He is shown above in a photo taken in 1967 showing the money earnings of this elite list where he was very well placed, in fact he held fifth place in the top 10. Right: This caricature of Ross Curran the man affectionately called "Cowboy" was created when he entered the Smith Falls Recreation Hall of Fame in 1988

Back in the mid 1970's one of his "projects" was a horse named Skootch. The stories about this "bad actor" as such horses were usually called were legendary and many of them included episodes while in the Curran Stable. This fellow didn't like going the wrong way of the track nor did he like post parades. While perhaps slightly exaggerated it was said that Ross would wait in the paddock until the horses were already behind the gate. He would then jump on the bike and head out just in time for the start of the race. Despite his many antics and oddities, through it all this horse still often found the winner's circle, reportedly 58 times in his career.

Sadly and certainly unfortunately Ross had his career as a horseman cut short at a very early age. In a profession where people are able to still perform even at what might be considered almost "elderly", he was deprived of his good health. At the age of just over 40 he was stricken with a chronic memory disorder that pretty much robbed him of his mental activity, leaving him with much confusion. It has a clinical name but I can neither remember it or worse yet spell it. What I do know is that it prematurely ended the career of a fine horseman. He spent some 40 odd years in a long-term care facility called Rosebridge Manor located near Smith Falls.

A number of special honours have been bestowed upon this man and rightfully so. In 1988 he became an inductee in the Smith Falls Recreation Hall of Fame in recognition of his contributions to harness racing, both locally and further afield. In 2009 he was honored by the O.H.H.A. and was that year's recipient of "The Living Legend" award. The family were especially appreciative of the input of Keith Waples in promoting this honour. Throughout his brief but brilliant career he also brought home a number of trophies earned through his talented driving feats.

Several other members of Ross' family have been involved in the sport of harness racing down through the years. He was followed by his older brother Neil as well as two of his nephews Rick and Blake, Neil's sons. Son Chuck Curran has operated a stable specializing in training and developing multiple stake winners. His daughter Ann Curran is an excellent all-around horseperson who has been involved in various facets of the sport over the years. She has displayed at times that she can handle the reins when called upon. She was the recipient of the prestigious Cam Fella Award which she received in 2008 for her work in establishing the women's driving series. In a fitting gesture the series was named after legendary driver Mildred Williams (pictured below). Ross and his late wife Geraldine were also parents to son Doug and daughter Pattie.

Left: Ann Curran and Mildred Williams. Right: Ross is pictured here with his young son Chuck

Al Casselman, a long-time friend and former employee of Ross's, sent along a short reminiscence of his thoughts on his former boss. It goes as follows:

My dad, Mac, and I both worshiped Ross. He was a very talented man and I remember him telling me horse wisdoms such as “never break a horse's spirit”. He put equipment on horses that would not stop them from showing their talent. He controlled them with his talent! Ross had owners with unlimited funds that would buy privately or claim whatever he wanted including John Grant, John Bosworth, Luke Emard, Duke Yarmaluck, Ron Bestine, Paul Barkley, etc. He was not afraid to buy or claim from anyone!

Ross was likely to buy anything, up to and including a pet monkey. He kept the monkey on the backstretch at Greenwood for a time, but the excitement proved too much for the little guy so Ross had to make the decision to remove him to calmer climes.

Many years have passed since Ross made his last trip around the track in December of 1979 at Connaught Park but his memory has lived on. Over his many years of ill health old friends, relatives and acquaintances still kept in touch with him or inquired through social media. The stories he helped create are still told and passed on to others; the mention of his name still invariably brings a smile. He was loved by many and undoubtedly that will never change in the hearts of all those that remember him. Ross made his way into the memory bank of many of the people he met along life's way.

Who Is It?

Who all do we have here? I can identify the gents at each end of the picture, can you?

Who Else Is It?

Can you identify this well-known gentleman? You can lead a horse to water...

November 6, 2020 - 10:54 amLove the article and all the

Love the article and all the comments about Dad! In the pic is Duke Yarmaluk and his son can't remember son's name. Thank you, Pattie

October 30, 2020 - 11:22 amThis week's pictures were as

This week's pictures were as follows:
The Top picture was Ross Curran at the head of Skootch with Al Cassselman "Cass" holding the reins. I was hoping someone would name the other two individuals in the picture.
Lower picture was Bill Hicks watering Vidi Volo. Thanks as always for your input.

October 27, 2020 - 8:10 pmAl Casselman knows ALL the

Al Casselman knows ALL the stories about his dear friend Ross Curran. I fondly remember some of the fair races whenever Ross accompanied by Cass blew into town . They always had an extra stall for food and preferred beverages, if you know what I mean ! Never a dull moment whenever those two were around. Those were the halcyon days of harness horse racing and Ross was one of the very best. He was a superb talent as a trainer and driver.

Thanks Cass for your reflections!

That winning photo is typical of Ross and Cass ....changing positions and getting a chuckle from everyone. Bravo.

October 27, 2020 - 2:15 pmI first met Ross at Connaught

Bev Heywood SAID...

I first met Ross at Connaught Park in 1961, GREAT guy, never a dull moment . He had an old horse in his stable that he was racing only at the fairs. They were racing double heats. He said he had a habit of falling down in one of the heats, so if you bet him in the first heat and he wins, don't bet him in the second heat, but if he falls down in the first heat he'll win the second .... true story ?

October 24, 2020 - 3:22 pmAl Casselman and maybe Reg

Al Casselman and maybe Reg Gassien behind the horse.
Bill Hicks watering the horse.

October 24, 2020 - 3:03 pmI just wanted to put a quick

Dave Aziz SAID...

I just wanted to put a quick note in. About 8 - 10 years ago, I had occasion to meet Ann at Hanover Raceway when she and others were there for an autograph evening. I ask her if she was related to Ross as she was sitting there in red / green colours. Ann seemed mildly surprised that some one from about 2010 would remember her dad at Greenwood some 35 years prior.

October 24, 2020 - 2:08 pmRoss "cowboy" curran holding

Ross "cowboy" curran holding the horse
Al cassleman holding the lines
Mac cassleman

Bottom pic is bill hicks

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