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SC Rewind: Remembering 1966

Published: October 28, 2017 11:31 am ET

Last Comment: November 1, 2017 10:36 am ET | 5 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind, Robert Smith takes a rather nostalgic look back at the year of 1966 and recalls some of the names of the people and the horses that were in action that year on the Ontario Jockey Club Circuit. This year marked the longest and most active year in Ontario's harness racing history and numerous records were set as a new era began.


Late in the 1966 season The Valedictory Pace was the featured event on the Mohawk card of Saturday, December 4th. With the Circuit's leading driver Ronnie Feagan in the sulky the five-year-old Stoney Burke was home a winner for his fifth victory of the season. Shown in the winner's circle are the horse's owners, all members of the Certified Stable. From left: Bill Sokoloff, Sam Sperling, and Jack Hernick joining the winning horse and driver. On the far right is Sid Pratt, Ont. Racing Supervisor presenting a trophy. (Harness Horse)

As we reflect on what might be considered the proverbial Good Old Days it is doubtful that the year of 1966 would be among the candidates for our pondering. If it isn't there yet, it may well be one day. It was a great time in the history of our sport and to slightly paraphrase the old Ethel Merman song Everything Was Coming Up Roses. Two new tracks recently opened (Mohawk - 1963 and Garden City - 1964) were showing successes anchored by the venerable old Greenwood track in Toronto.

What would then be the longest racing season to date on the Ontario Jockey Club three-track circuit began on the afternoon of February 26th at Greenwood. A nine-race card launched the earliest start date ever. The opening race winner of the then new "winter" schedule was Spencers Pride C with Clarence Hilliard driving. Other winning drivers on opening day included Wm. Wellwood, George Hawke, Allan Waddell, Ross Curran, Wes Coke, Yvon Demers and Jimmy Holmes. With the racing strip conditioned for winter racing, the best time on the opening card was 2:10.4 turned in by George Volo who won the $3,000 Invitational for Dr. John Findley. The balance of the field behind George Volo included J J Wann (2), Sonny Creed (3), Lochinver King (4) and Perennial (5).


Flanked by a rather snowy background the 1966 Ontario Jockey Club season got underway at Greenwood in late February. Among the winning horses that afternoon was the twelve-year-old gelding SVJ, shown here with open lengths on Hi Acres Averill his nearest pursuer en route to a win in 2:11.1. In the sulky was 22-year-old Wes Coke, one of the large crop of young proficient horsemen that were part of the backstretch personnel on each OJC track. Why the name SVJ? It stood for Stan, Vince and Joe Dunham, the horse's original owners and breeder.

In 1966 new records were set in virtually every department imaginable. In total $244,614,907 was wagered on Canadian harness racing. Ontario for the first time ever led all other Provinces in wagering as a record $126,289,102 went through the machines. The dominance was predictable as Ontario boosted the number of racing days by 173 to get its increase over 1965, bringing the total to 708 days. This total was 209 more than the 499 days raced in Quebec where $101,221,146 was bet, which obviously enjoyed a much higher per capita average.

Of great significance during 1966 was the fact that betting on harness races for the first time forged ahead of the total bet on running races. The margin was about $60 million. The advent of night-time racing in 1961 in Ontario along with the building of three brand new tracks between 1962 and 1965 was having a profound effect. The three Jockey Club tracks over the course of the long season played host to almost 1,120,000 paying customers who wagered close to $63,000,000. Attendance was up at all tracks led by an increase over 1965 at Greenwood of just over 20 percent while both Mohawk and Garden City had healthy gains as well. To put it mildly, it was a dream season.


On the afternoon of December 10, Ontario's longest ever racing season came to a rather joyous end. With a crowd of 4,748 on hand at Mohawk Raceway, the 245 days of harness racing at the three-track circuit closed for the Christmas and New Year's break. Following the seventh race Jolly Old Saint Nick sat in the winner's circle and passed out gifts to all of the children in attendance for the nine-race card. Santa reportedly put smiles on the faces of over 300 youngsters. One horseman apparently absent from the trackside fun was long time owner and trainer Jack Kenney of Ancaster, Ont. A few astute bystanders somehow detected quite a similarity between Mr. Kenney and the Jolly man dressed in red.

With a festive spirit and snow falling, the matinee crowd warmed up to the occasion by betting $321,021. The honour of winning the last featured event of the season The Au Revoir Pace, went to J R Spencer with Keith Waples in the bike for young owner John Burns of Collingwood. The victory was accomplished by a late charge in the last few feet that edged out Lynden Almer and driver Brian Webster. Who else was in the race? Finishing third was Stoney Burke, with Eagle Armbro 4th and Gentry Yates 5th.

Driver Ron Feagan just 24 years of age made racing history in 1966 when he scored two wins on the final day of racing to bring his season's total to 218, five better than he scored in 1965 which was then a record. He easily won the Mohawk meeting's win category with 45 trips to the charmed circle. In the percentage race Keith Waples led the way with .454, followed by Feagan's .415, then came Percy Robillard, Rheo Filion, Wm. Wellwood, Allan Waddell, Harold Wellwood, Everette Norris, Gary Campbell and Carman Hie rounded out the top ten.

This was an era of the emergence of a large number of young budding horsemen. Of note was the fact that this season saw Wm. Wellwood open his own public stable following a lengthy apprenticeship working with his uncle Harold Wellwood. Bill, who turned 26 in July of that year, went on to a stellar career which saw him excel in every area of the sport. I am proud to have known him from the time he entered the sport back in 1957.


One of the young competitors from 1966 was 22-year-old horseman Brian Webster of Brantford driving the very successful Romola Adios. The three-year-old Adios filly chalked up five victories for the stable of Maxwell Webster's Lynden Hill Farm. This Adios filly was part of a talent-laden group made up of homebreds and auction purchases racing on both sides of the border for the Webster stable.

 


Another youngster from the Webster stable Rough Sketch (8) scores a win at Mohawk for driver Brian Webster. In the upper portion of the photo second place finisher Galens Boy (5) and Ross Curran partially obscure the winner closing on the outside.

 


A win by SVJ on opening day at Greenwood provided an opportunity for ​owners Hilda Coke (at the horse's head) and Dorothy Maddock to have their picture taken. This 12-year-old turned in a lot of good performances in 1966 and despite his age racked up 11 victories in 32 starts, good for $6,000 in earnings.

Who Is It?



Can you correctly identify this person? The answer will appear during the coming week.

November 1, 2017 - 10:36 amThe answer to this week's

The answer to this week's 'Who Is It?' was correctly identified by several people as Stanley Dancer, in a very young, soft-hatted version. Thanks again for your participation.

October 28, 2017 - 8:47 pmStanley Dancer

Stanley Dancer

October 28, 2017 - 5:37 pmStanley Dancer

Stanley Dancer

October 28, 2017 - 3:39 pmGreat article Robert. My

Joel Lustig SAID...

Great article Robert. My family was very good friends with Seymour Sokoloff, he had many horses over the years, the best being Sokys Atom.

My father-in-law, Louis Civil also owned many horses, it would be great to see an article on Happy Hoot, one of the best claims ($22,500) in the late 1970's, a 69-timewinner with earnings in excess of $450,000.

October 28, 2017 - 2:16 pmA very young, one-and-only

Gord Brown SAID...

A very young, one-and-only Stanley Dancer


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