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SC Rewind: Albatross At Greenwood

Published: November 18, 2017 10:15 am ET

Last Comment: November 23, 2017 8:59 am ET | 11 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith remembers the all-time great horse Albatross and recounts the day he came to Toronto's Greenwood Raceway and triumphed in the 1972 Canadian Pacing Derby. It is considered one of the greatest races of that era held at the famous old Downtown Track.

This week's Rewind introduces the first article in a new Rewind monthly feature called Golden Memories. This series of stories will profile special people and horses as well as recall some major events and happenings from years past. ​

Golden Memories - Albatross Comes To Greenwood

Smiles prevail in the Greenwood winner's circle following a thrilling victory by Albatross in the 1972 Canadian Pacing Derby. From left is Mr. Ed Daugherty, President of Liberty Bell Park and the H.T.A., Albatross and a member of the Amicable Stable, the owner, driver Stanley Dancer and on the right is Mr. E.P. Taylor, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ontario Jockey Club.​

Forty five years ago in 1972, the world of harness racing was captivated by one very special horse; his name was Albatross. Then a four-year-old and in his final year on the track, the son of Meadow Skipper out of Voodoo Hanover was a huge drawing card wherever he appeared. He didn't win every race in his three-year career but he was seldom out of range from the winning photo finish camera.

In an amazing career that was filled with highlights from start to finish, Albatross went to the post 71 times and returned to the winner's circle 59 times. This coupled with eight second place finishes and three times as the show horse, meant that his lifetime record was among the absolute best in the sport's long history. At the time of his retirement, Albatross had career earnings of $1,201,470.00. He logged 37 sub-2:00 racing miles, held seven world records and nine track records.

The 1972 season was a 'whirlwind' tour for Albatross as he blazed his way across the Continent thrilling huge crowds at every stop. His season that spanned a full 10 months started on March 11th at Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and ended on December 11th when he won the $100,000 American Classic at Inglewood, California. That season he went to the post 26 times and was returned a winner on 20 occasions, coupled with four seconds and one third. His only finish out of the top three was a fourth-place finish at Brandywine on July 22nd.

The trail of Albatross that season saw him race at 16 different tracks with multiple appearances at several. Listed in alphabetical order the places he appeared were as follows with bracketed numbers shown where he visited more than once. Batavia Downs, Brandywine (3) Buffalo Raceway, Delaware (Ohio), Freehold, Greenwood, Inglewood (2), Livonia (Mich.), Maywood Park, Liberty Bell (4), Roosevelt (2), Saratoga (N.Y.), Sportsmans Park (3), Vernon Downs, Windsor Raceway (2), and Yonkers Raceway.

​Albatross (5) and driver Stanley Dancer hold off Nansemond and Herve Filion to gain a victory in the 1972 Canadian Pacing Derby at Greenwood

On Saturday August 28, 1972 Albatross made a much-heralded visit to Greenwood for that year's Canadian Pacing Derby. It was the 17th start of the season for this horse that everyone wanted to see. This race was the Jockey Club's top money event and annually attracted most of the best aged pacing talent available in U.S. and Canada. It was a race rich in history, tracing its beginnings back several decades to 1936 when the first Derby was held at the small Waterloo County Town of New Hamburg, Ontario. After it was discontinued there in 1957 it was not held for several seasons but in 1965 the race was revived and held at Greenwood with great success. As most people know it continues to be part of the annual calendar of WEG events.

This was not the first time this great horse had raced at Greenwood, he had a very successful visit the year previous when he swooped into Town and took home top honours in the Queen City Pace. On that occasion the combo of Albatross and Stanley Dancer defeated High Ideal (Ron Waples) and Springfield (Jack Kopas) to earn the lion's share of the $24,800 purse. This is the race that eventually became the Pepsi North America Cup, the premiere event for three-year-old pacing colts and geldings in Canada.

The 1972 renewal of The Canadian Pacing Derby attracted a total of seven starters; Albatross was the obvious choice but he was not a 'shoo-in' by any means. His foes on many occasions were a pair of full brothers named Nansemond and Isle Of Wight, both racing for the great Herve Filion. Albatross had not lost many races in his career but both of these fleet pacers had beaten him on more than one occasion. This season in the five races prior to this appearance when Albatross did not win, the race winner had been Isle Of Wight three times and Nansemond twice. Just for the record, following this day "The Big Bird" as he was often called lost in just one of his remaining appearances and that time he was second to Nansemond in early October at Liberty Bell Park.

Two Hall Of Famers

When Derby Day took place at Greenwood it turned out to be an epic battle and one that people still recall. A huge Saturday crowd of 15,807 flocked to the downtown oval to get one last glance at not only one of the greatest horses of all time but also what was considered a field of superstars. As the seven-horse field swiftly left the post Hall of Fame horseman Stanley Dancer hustled his mount quickly to the top from his five hole starting spot. Nansemond and Herve Filion nestled into second closely followed by Rob Ron Robbie as the timer flashed an opening quarter in: 29.1. Still in command as the half was reached in 1:00.2, the first sign of a challenge came from the back of the field as Henri Filion and Isle Of Wight edged up to gain a spot alongside his own full brother and also his horse's full brother.

Albatross remained in the lead at the three-quarter station as 1:30.3 flashed on the teletimer. From this point on Nansemond gave his all as the two battled down the long Greenwood stretch but he was unable to overcome what many described as the "super horse". Time of the final quarter was a sizzling :27.4 with Nansemond making a tired break at the wire, from which he quickly recovered and was not set back. Kentucky, the defending Derby champion, was third for driver Bruce Nickells.

While Albatross was the story of the day, another element helped to make the race as thrilling as it was. Once again Herve Filion served notice that he didn't become the world's winningest driver by ever being content to race for second money. It was the 32-year-old French Canadian and the high-stepping Nansemond that made The Big Bird earn his accolades. He came within a neck of scoring his third upset of the sport's biggest performer.

The time of the mile was 1:58.2, a new Greenwood track record and stakes record. It also marked yet another record for Albatross as he bettered Bret Hanover's record of 31 miracle miles. The Canadian Pacing Derby had witnessed some great contests over the years and a quote from The Standardbred magazine said "It's doubtful that you could convince any of the spectators at the '72 renewal of the classic that there ever was a horse like Albatross, the super horse."

​An artist's rendering of Albatross signed by Stanley Dancer lists his career records and accomplishments [Courtesy of Robert E. Harris]​

Final Results - 1972 Canadian Pacing Derby - Purse: $59,400

1 - Albatross (Stanley Dancer)
2 - Nansemond (Herve Filion)
3 - Kentucky (Bruce Nickells)
4 - Isle Of Wight (Henri Filion)
5 - Horton Hanover (Joe O'Brien)
6 - Rob Ron Robbie (Keith Waples)
7 - Bye Bye Max (Jack Bailey)

Time: 1:58.2, New Greenwood Track Record and New Stakes Record

A piece of Greenwood Trivia - A Rewind follower recently contacted me to ask if anyone in the reading audience recalled the one-chair barber shop that was once located in the upper area of the Greenwood grandstand just outside the clubhouse. Anyone?

Where Is It?

Can you identify the location of this former track? The correct answer will be published during the coming week.

November 23, 2017 - 8:59 amThis week's "Where Is It ? "

This week's "Where Is It ? " was identified by several people as Orangeville Raceway, a very popular spot for many years .As far as I can determine that is correct although a few people seemed to think otherwise. This picture came to me identified as Orangeville

Historical records show that harness racing was held in this Town as far back as 1877, then of course as part of the annual fair. Thanks once again for your interest and participation.

November 21, 2017 - 8:14 pmJoe Cirasuola says this is

Joe Cirasuola says this is Windsor racetrack!!

November 20, 2017 - 7:09 pmTrack looks like Cloverdale


Track looks like Cloverdale half miler in BC.

November 20, 2017 - 9:38 amI have to agree with my

Karen Hauver SAID...

I have to agree with my brother. I don't know what track it is but I don't think it is Orangeville either.

November 19, 2017 - 9:18 amOne of my favorite tracks

norm files SAID...

One of my favorite tracks ever. Orangeville!!!

November 19, 2017 - 7:09 amI too, was a part of what I

Eric Sherban SAID...

I too, was a part of what I believe to be the largest crowd ever in Greenwood's history. Back in the day you read of these legendary horses' exploits in the newspaper. It was like the circus coming to town. They were celebrities. This race had one of the greatest stretch drives ever. Back and forth the length of the stretch. If Nansemond didn't break at the wire it could have gone the other way. This race is a memory I'll never forget.
Thanks Robert, for another great story. Keep up the good work bringing back more memories of a glorious time in harness racing history.

November 19, 2017 - 12:21 amTrevor Henry said... FOR SURE


November 18, 2017 - 10:39 pmI can see Charlie Lawson

John Sarino SAID...

I can see Charlie Lawson winning another race, Orangeville.

November 18, 2017 - 5:23 pmIt does look like Orangeville

gord waples SAID...

It does look like Orangeville but they never had that fancy of a hub rail.

November 18, 2017 - 2:25 pmLooks like Orangeville.


Looks like Orangeville.

November 18, 2017 - 1:09 pmGreenwood yes those were the

Gord Brown SAID...

Greenwood yes those were the days. Greatest harness track in the world bar none.I was there that night like a thousand other nights getting in the road in the stakes barn. The best times of my life until somebody dropped the ball and sold it. The bottom picture looks like Orangeville Races.

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