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SC Rewind: The Provincial Cup

Published: November 23, 2014 10:15 am ET

Last Comment: November 23, 2014 5:18 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls the once famous Provincial Cup that was held for many years at Windsor Raceway.

When Windsor Raceway opened its doors to winter racing back in October of 1965, it was anyone's guess as to just how successful the the new venture might be. Much, of course, was dependent upon how many people showed up to take in the show. Suffice it to say that the only way a track had of generating income of any volume in those days was to have large crowds, betting sizeable sums of money. Also back then there was a charge for parking plus an admission fee. My thinking was always that by the time you bought a program you were already "out" close to 10 bucks! and that was before you bet on the first race or the beloved Daily Double.

Well as the oft-quoted saying goes, 'The Rest is History.' We know with certainty that the new operation was pretty much an instant success. Within a few short weeks it was evident that virtually all of the potential envisioned in holding winter racing was going according to plan. The on-track competition was excellent and the grandstand was most often full, and as I vividly recall also full of smoke by midway through the evening.

The management at Windsor soon decided to establish a signature race. It would be set up to attract the best pacers available and would carry a substantial purse in order to draw from across the Continent. The name chosen was The Provincial Cup. It was an "Open" or "Invitational" event, not restricted to age or gender although in later years it did become an event for three-year-olds. The $15,000 purse was the largest offered by Windsor Raceway, which was just in its fifth month of operation. It would have been one of the largest offered in Ontario up to that time, almost equalling the purse for the Canadian Pacing Derby, revived in 1965.

The Provincial Cup Trophy, as it was displayed in a showcase near the Windsor Raceway Clubhouse (Author's Collection)

The First Cup Becomes History

On the evening of Wednesday, March 16, 1966 the very first Provincial Cup was staged. While I have relied on newspaper and other resource material to assemble this little story, I also have another slight bit of an edge. Among the reported crowd of 5,360 people was I, a much younger lad than I am today. I remember it well and recall that it was an exciting evening that thrilled every fan in attendance. I think that somehow I felt a small part of what it is like to be even a casual participant when history is being made. The long lines of cars which eventually translated into long and winding queues at the mutuel windows was quite a sight. When the horses paraded to the post, the place was buzzing. Canadian harness racing was truly in full bloom.

The race itself went pretty much as expected with Dancing David established by the large Wednesday night crowd as a heavy favourite. Driver Charlie Goins, a rather obscure horseman on the national scene, was as confident as the betting public. He sent his horse to the lead immediately from the 6th position and was virtually unchallenged other than an early lead taken by Bye Time driven by George Ursitti. Once the horse cleared, Goins retook the lead and maintained it the balance of the way. His mile clocking of 2:02 4/5 was just a bit short of the track record of 2:02.1, then currently shared by Barbara Johnston and Bobby Axland (who finished third in this race). A $2 win ticket was worth just $3.70, a pretty solid indication of his domination of the field.

The pedigree and background of Dancing David was not quite as "glamorous" as many Cup winners that followed him. He was referred to in the local Press as "The Horse With a Crooked Leg," a condition that lessened his value and dissuaded would-be buyers -- like top horseman of the day, Bob Farrington -- from originally buying him. While the Ohio horseman originally passed on him, he later purchased the then six-year-old gelded son of Famed Abbey. On the inaugural Cup night Farrington finished fourth and must have liked what he saw in the winner as he purchased him shortly after.

The first ever Cup was presented to the winning owner John Bianchi, owner of Big John Enterprises of Rochester, N.Y. in a trackside ceremony. The honours were handled by local MPP for Windsor-Sandwich, Ivan Thrasher, who was actually a thoroughbred owner and fancier. The huge appreciative crowd on hand were very pleased at what they had just witnessed and hoped it would be an annual event.

Results of Inaugural Provincial Cup; March 16, 1966
Purse - $15,000

1 - Dancing David (Chas. Goins)
2 - Torrid Lobell (Jack Bailey)
3 - Bobby Axland (Mike Novick)
4 - Dusty H Forbes (Bob Farrington)
5 - Adios Direct (Ray McLean)
6 - Meadow Russ (Robert Saul)
7 - Bye Time (Geo. Ursitti)
8 - Champ Tass (Brent Davies)

Mile Time : 2:02.4
Mutuel Handle - $362,045
Attendance - 5,360

Stan Bergstein (left) joins Wm. Rowe Senior V.P. (centre) and Raceway President Al Siegel (right) as part of an early year promotional picture on Provincial Cup night.

The Years That Followed

From this date onward, the Provincial Cup was held annually and with each successive year it grew in stature and popularity eventually becoming one of the major annual races held in Canada each year. The very next year, 1967, marked the first of two winning performances by the incomparable Cardigan Bay and Stanley Dancer. Their presence alone drew a huge following who were awed to even see this horse in a warm up mile.

In 1972 the first Cup winner to hit the sub-2:00 mile was Isle Of Wight, who paced in 1:59 flat for Herve Filion. The crowd that day of 12,057 I believe was the largest ever assembled at the border track. In 1982 the big race changed in format when it became a race for three-year-olds and the timing could not have been more perfect. That year Cam Fella was the toast of the entire sport and he continued his mastery once again winning that year's Cup in 1:55.4, handled as always by Pat Crowe.

First Local Driver Wins 1979 Cup

In the early years, Cup competitors were often from far away and local horse people were not usually a part of the race beyond filling out the field. However by the late 1970's, that began to change. In 1979 a local favourite and a 'graduate' of Windsor Raceway, Shelly Goudreau won that year's race -- the first to be held on the new spiral graded track that replaced the original tartan surface. He toured the new oval with Try Scotch in 1:55.4 to become the first local driver to enter the charmed circle. Goudreau was one of the large number of success stories that came from the early years of the Windsor track; many went on to national stardom as did he. Unfortunately in 1982, while racing in California he lost his life in a racing accident.

Local Trainer Wins Four Cups
When Windsor Raceway opened, a young aspiring horseman named Bob McIntosh who was then just 13 years of age had already begun his interest in harness racing. Learning at the side of his father Jack McIntosh of nearby Wheatley, Ont., young Bob envisioned the day when he would compete in the top races the sport had to offer. A couple of decades and many accomplishments later, that day would come.

In 1988 the Cup was truly a local affair as a then 36-year-old McIntosh teamed up with another youthful area driver -- Bill Gale, just 40 at the time -- to capture that year's event. After being shut out several times (seven to be exact) Gale hit the winner's circle with the McIntosh-trained Bond Street with Threefold finishing second. The weather was horrendous for early November with the final contested in the snow.

The next two years McIntosh chalked up another pair of Cup wins with Mystery Fund(Gale) and Camluck (LaChance), thus a natural hat trick. After a hiatus of eight years, he got his fourth and final victory in 1998 with Artiscape handled by Mike LaChance who was recording his own victory #3.

1989 - Driver Bill Gale and trainer Bob McIntosh hoist their second Provincial Cup in the Windsor winner's circle after Mystery Fund upset Goalie Jeff

The Provincial Cup Era Comes To A Close - 2006

Like all things worldly, the end eventually comes. After 40 years of existence the once popular annual Provincial Cup Race came to an end in 2006. The reasons were undoubtedly numerous but in the end the management of Windsor Raceway no longer chose to continue the race despite still being in operation. Today the track, as most people know, is closed. The once vibrant and busy property stands idle as the pavement in the once-filled parking lots crumbles and weeds grow at will. A huge pile of pulverized gravel is all that remains of most of the one-time state-of-the-art stables. The once grand property and the few remaining buildings are patiently awaiting their fate, which will in all likelihood be the wrecker's ball. The boarded up grandstand bears mute testimony to a day and time now almost forgotten.

A sign still standing that bears the words "A Roaring Good Time Everytime - See You Soon!" that was visible as patrons left the track each night reminds us of a gentler and simpler time in the history of Canadian harness racing.

November 23, 2014 - 5:18 pmYet another great story by

jim morgan SAID...

Yet another great story by Robert Smith.Does anyone know what ever happened to Bill Gale and his son Jason?

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