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SC Rewind: The Connaught Cup

Published: November 17, 2018 11:00 am ET

Last Comment: November 29, 2018 10:20 am ET | 6 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of 'Rewind,' Robert Smith looks back at a once rather famous race that was part of the annual calendar of events for top class pacers. First held 50 years ago in 1968, The Connaught Cup has a long and interesting history. As the name would indicate these races were held at Connaught Park located in Aylmer, Quebec, just across the Ottawa River from our nation's Capital. His piece reflects on the early years and talks a bit about the winners of those annual classics. A number of pictures are included.

Shown above is a list of winners of the Connaught Cup during its first fifteen years of competition.

The inaugural Cup race was held on July 16, 1968, an even 50 years ago. The first edition drew a rather short field of just five starters which meant that each horse to finish the race would receive a portion of the $7,500 purse. The winner of that first of many Cups was the ten-year-old trotting-bred stallion Replica Herbert from the London, Ont. based stable of Wm. and Jack Herbert. At that time due to the size of their stable they at times sent their second trainer with a horse that was racing in a stake race. The winning driver on this occasion was Paul Radley of Woodbridge, Ont., stopping the timer in 2:01.3 which set a new track record at Connaught.

Driver Paul Radley accepts the inaugural Cup for the Herbert stable from Mrs. Tommy Gorman as Replica Herbert looks on. Mrs. Gorman represented the family that were longtime owners of the Connaught track.

In the second year of competition the victor was undoubtedly one of the most popular horses in the race's long history to grace the winner's circle. Local favourite and a horse near and dear to all Ottawa valley fans, Earlylakes John won the 1969 version. His time of 2:05 was enough to secure the victory for owner Earl Lake of Elgin, Ont., and also to please many in attendance that closely followed his career. This horse went on to win over $108,000 lifetime which was quite an accomplishment in that era of much lower purses.

A very happy Earl Lake holds the cup as his popular performer looks on. Mrs. Gorman was again on hand to present the trophy.

In 1970 the much-heralded Super Wave took the Cup back to London for owner Dr. George Boyce. With Jack Kopas in the driver's seat Super Wave downed Little Jerry Way and Commander Del in a very swift 2:00.2 erasing Replica Herbert's track and stakes record set two years earlier.

With the Connaught tote board in the background Jack Kopas proudly displays the Cup won by the great Super Wave in record time (Harness Horse)

In year number four Canny Choice, the rugged son of Painter, again scored a popular victory for his local owners The Consolidated Stables of nearby Arnprior, Ont. The winner had to overcome a track deluged by rain but managed a mile in 2:05 for driver Dr. John Findley. This horse had an amazing record in this race as he competed on four occasions recording a win, a second, a third and a fourth place finish.

Gordon Pepper, then C.T.A. Publicist on the far left, presented the Cup to Dr. Findley and the many connections of this accomplished horse.

As a tribute to the stature of this annual race in 1972 the great U.S. horseman Stanley Dancer made the trip to compete in Cup number five. Silent Majority did not disappoint the huge crowd as he parched the Connaught track in 1:58.4. This stunning race by the only three-year-old to win the Cup went into the record books as the greatest performance in the 20-year history of standardbred racing at Connaught Park. This horse too had local ties as he was owned by Aline White, the widow of Roger, who shared ownership with Irving Liverman of Hempstead, Que.

Silent Majority and Stanley Dancer winning the 1972 Cup

Fast forward eight years to 1980. That year a truly amazing horse named Tijuana Taxi, again with local ties, put on a great show for the fans in attendance. Owner Mel Barr of Ottawa decided to treat the local fans and also assembled quite an entourage of his own for the 13th Cup. He apparently was not superstitious at all as he passed up a higher pursed event at Buffalo to bring his 1979 Horse Of The Year for local fans to see. The results were even beyond his expectations as "The Taxi" set a new track record of 1:57.4 erasing the one that had been set by Silent Majority and had stood for eight years.

Tijuana Taxi and driver Jim Miller, 1980 winner.

This horse won handily and his win payoff of $2.70 was an indication of his stature in the race. Finishing second was J J'S Metro with Hector Clouthier Jr. in the bike who stated even before the race "We're just along for the ride; we're not in Taxi's class." Miller, very mindful of the possibility of a new track record, went to the whip in the final strides and once across the wire he held the whip high in the air much to the delight of the crowd of 3,223 screaming fans.

In 1981 the Cup went to a horse who would go on to establish a unique record for this rather famous race. That stalwart performer was Banker Fretz, then a six-year-old gelded son of Harold J. Garth Gordon shared the joy of owning this fine performer with Dr. Wm. Wright, a dentist from Cobourg, Ont. With Gordon doing the training and driving, this combination won an unprecedented three Cups in a row. Gordon, who was originally from the Cobourg area, selected this horse at a U.S. auction as a yearling and had him throughout his long and successful career.

Banker Fretz is shown following his second straight win in the 1982 Connaught Cup. From left is Jacques Blouin, co-owner Dr. Wm. Wright, Sue Lipophar -- caretaker from 1980-1984, Banker Fretz, driver, trainer and co-owner Garth Gordon and Dave Gorman of Connaught Park.

By this time the speed revolution was happening with horses going much faster than in the earlier years. In the 1981 renewal The Banker equalled standard of 1:57.4 set in 1980. The following year a rain-soaked track yielded a time of just 2:01.2 in the mud. In 1983 Banker Fretz scored an unprecedented third Cup in a row this time in 1:56.4. By this time the purse hit a tidy $40,000. In a span of three years, the team of Banker Fretz, Garth Gordon, and the Wrights rewrote the history of this great race.

With the demise of so many of our old tracks in the past couple of decades so goes much of the history written at these once famous spots. Back in the day each track had its signature event and it was always a special time. Gone but not forgotten are those many who competed and especially those who won the Connaught Cup.

Who Is It?

Can you correctly identify the driver pictured above? Stay tuned for the correct answer during the upcoming week.

November 29, 2018 - 10:20 amThe following note was

The following note was received from David Gorman a gentleman long associated with Connaught Park .I have reprinted it with his permission .
Robert, your story on the Connaught Cup brought back a flood of memories. Some wonderful horses and some great people associated with them made the Connaught Cup a huge event in the Ottawa area. Your research was terrific... thanks so much.

David Gorman

November 21, 2018 - 11:40 amThis week's photo was

This week's photo was correctly identified as Allan Waddell. He spent many years in the sport following the lead of his father Vern. Allan at one time was an accomplished hockey player in the junior ranks and later a top driver on the tough O.J.C. circuit.

November 21, 2018 - 10:56 amHopefully you never stop

Gord Brown SAID...

Hopefully you never stop Robert! But if you do I'm thinking Double G would take your spot in a heart beat.

November 18, 2018 - 4:05 pmThe Connaught Cup was always

Garth Gordon SAID...

The Connaught Cup was always raced on the Monday of the May 24th weekend in the afternoon. They treated the owners and the families of the horses racing in the Cup very well. They had a section in the grandstand set aside just for them. They were treated to a smorgasbord and refreshments - all free. They always had a packed grandstand. The first two cups I won with Banker were easy. He had the rail in the first one and cut the mile getting everything his own way. And the second one was much the same. The third one was a challenge. They phoned me and asked me if I would bring Banker back for a third cup. I said "no not this year but thanks for asking". I said he is 8 years old now and has been cracking splint bones and has just cracked another one. And I just had it frozen like I did with the other three. So I thought about it for a couple of days. Then I phoned Dr. Ruch. What do you think he said? He said "Banker is tough as nails - GO”. So I phoned the race office and said I have changed my mind and will come. The race secretary said we have just made the draw and have six horses. If you want to come you will have to take the 7 hole. 7 hole on a half mile track is not good but I will come. So being 8 years old with four cracked splint bones the 7 hole and me driving him, Banker had his work cut out for him. Fred Gillis and I were talking about this race this summer at the hall of fame banquet. I didn’t leave with Banker that day just sat on the outside and just as we were heading down the backstretch I was neck and neck with Happy Hoot and Fred Gillis, and like Fred told me you just yelled at Banker and he just took off. Took off he did, winning by three lengths and lowering the track record. Great Memories. Thanks again Robert.
Gord Brown is right that is Allan Waddell.

November 17, 2018 - 6:12 pmI agree

I agree

November 17, 2018 - 11:17 amAllan Wadell

Gord Brown SAID...

Allan Wadell

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