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SC Rewind: Montreal, 50 Years Ago

Published: December 14, 2019 10:27 am ET

Last Comment: December 19, 2019 9:52 am ET | 8 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of 'Rewind,' Robert Smith takes readers on a journey back to the glory days of harness racing at one of the great Montreal tracks, Blue Bonnets. His choice for this reminiscence is from 1969; an even 50 years ago. Today's piece also includes a bit about professional hockey and its close connection to Montreal harness racing.

In March of 1969 the front cover of Hoof Beats magazine featured a picture of the Blue Bonnets track and its background showing St. Josephs Oratory, a Montreal landmark. At the time of this picture this track was among the elite racing centres in all of harness racing. (Hoof Beats)

Roger White Takes Five At Blue Bonnets

On Sunday June 1, 1969 Roger White gave quite a driving performance before a crowd of 11,506 on hand at Montreal's Blue Bonnets Raceway. White became the first driver of the season to pilot five winners on a single card at either of the two big Montreal tracks. White, originally from Quebec City, was never a stranger to the winner's circle but to appear there five times on one program was quite a feat. What made his accomplishment even more spectacular was that he did it with just six drives and barely missed his sixth winning trip to the winner's enclosure by a 'whisker'.

White started out his productive afternoon early as he took the first race with The Egyptian, a three-year-old trotting prospect making his first start. This youngster was clocked in 2:05.3, a pretty impressive mile. His next trip to the winner's circle came following the third race as he reined heavy favourite Candios to victory in the excellent time of 2:01.4 to take the $7,000 Preferred Pace. Win number three immediately followed in the fourth race as White piloted the trotter Shamokin Hanover to his eighth straight victory as he edged out Lauries Mon (MacTavish). In each of these three events White's winning horse went postward as the favourite, this one paying $5.20.

After sitting out the the fifth Roger barely missed his fourth win of the afternoon in the sixth but only by a nose as he finished second with pacer Magnolia. Gilles Lachance won that one with Adios Byrd, who was the bettors choice. After another short breather in the seventh, which was won by Scotts Dominion in rein to Keith Waples, White was right back on the winning trail as he took the eighth with Lullis in 2:01.3 to post his fourth win in just five tries.

Driver Roger White reaches the wire a winner behind Timely Knight (4) to score his fifth win of the afternoon at Blue Bonnets (Montreal Gazette photo)

In the ninth race of the day the featured $10,000 Invitational, White put the proverbial icing on the cake as he scored win number five behind Timely Knight, who was getting his very first win of the season. In gaining the victory White's star pupil paced in 2:00.4 as he defeated Coral Ridge (McGregor), Mr. Galophone (Waples), Jerry Gauman (Filion ) and Gerry Mir (Gendron).

Timely Knight and driver Roger White are joined in the winner's circle by the horse's owner Allan Leblanc of Quebec City. This horse provided White with his fifth winning drive at Blue Bonnets on the afternoon of July 2, 1969 (File photo)

The Sunday crowd of over 11,500 wagered $669,449 on the 10-race card.

Saturday, the day previous to this, did not witness a five win driving performance but it did feature an afternoon and evening of great races and entertainment. Earlier in the day Blue Bonnets staged its annual "Open House Go Go Races". Blessed by beautiful weather the event attracted an estimated 15,000 spectators. The proceedings included an eight-race card for amateur drivers from the track's personnel and members of the communication media. They learned first hand just how difficult a driver's job can be.

One event included a race between three National Hockey League stars. Those competing included John Ferguson and J.C. Tremblay from the Stanley Cup Championship team Montreal Canadiens as well as Carol Vadnais from the Oakland Seals. The winner in this one was J.C. Tremblay driving the trotter Newport Rocket with Ferguson finishing second with Bethel Mar Mic with the show spot going to Vadnais and Sargeant Rum.

While the afternoon events were free and the crowd just estimated, the evening gathering was recorded as 13,154 and they pushed a whopping $713,497 through the mutuels.

The top event held under the lights on Saturday evening was the ninth race feature "The Jacques Cartier Pace" for three-year-olds. It attracted a compact field of just five starters and carried a purse of $8,840. The winner was Byron Dares, the choice of many in the betting audience. He raced much of the mile covered up in third place until the head of the stretch when driver Del MacTavish Sr. took him out to challenge for the lead. From here he costed to a 4-1/2 length margin pacing his mile in 2:02.1.

Byron Dares, a son of Meadow Gene owned by the Maplewood Stable of Montreal earned just his second win of the campaign after racing in several high profile events in the U.S. including the prestigious Messenger Stake. Others in the field listed in order of finish were Bare Foot Boy, Boot Hill, Fly Test and Prestwick second in the betting odds finishing fifth.

For many years the happenings on Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon at either Blue Bonnets or Richelieu provided Montreal racing fans with the absolute best that harness racing had to offer. By the end of 1969, just 32 race miles in 2:00 or less had been recorded at Canadian tracks; all within the past 10 years following the first one in 1959 at Richelieu Park by Mighty Dudley and Keith Waples. Of those 32 a total of 21 had been set at Blue Bonnets; a rather amazing statistic.

A view of the Blue Bonnets track as a full grandstand takes in Sunday afternoon action (Hoof Beats)

Note: Be sure to see the hockey related picture quiz listed at the end of today's Rewind.

John Ferguson (right) a member of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team during their glory years was associated with harness racing for several decades in various capacities. Here he is shown with hockey icon Jean Beliveau who also loved to attend the races at Blue Bonnets and Richelieu Park and often participated in promotional events.


Left: J.C. Tremblay, a star defenseman on numerous Montreal Canadiens teams, enjoyed harness racing and competed in a special sport's star race on this day. In addition to his great heroics on the ice, on this day he was also able to enjoy the thrill of being the winning driver in a harness race. Right: Carol Vadnais, a long time N.H.L. star, competed in a special day of racing at Blue Bonnets.

Quote for the week: "They say you better get up and moving in the morning because if you lay in bed too long you'll get flat on one side!"

Who Is It?

General manager Gaston Valiquette, third from right, a Montreal native and former Canadian sportswriter, hosted several members of the Montreal Canadiens hockey team recently. Can you identify each of these five young hockey players from 1979? One bit of help, the gent second from left was Ed Palchak, the team's equipment manager. (Hoof Beats photo)

Who Else Is It?

Can you correctly identify this youngster?

Don't forget to tune back during the upcoming week to see the correct answers to the little Quiz.

December 19, 2019 - 9:52 amThis week's photos posed no

This week's photos posed no serious problems in guessing the identities. Looks like there are plenty of Habs fans in the reading audience. The Montreal photo was from left to right Mario Tremblay, Ed Palchak (Equipment Mgr.), Serge Savard, Guy LaPointe, Gaston Valiquette, Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson . Thanks to Kent Smith (maybe my long lost cousin) for supplying the nicknames. The lower photo was a slightly younger version of Steve Condren. Thanks again.

December 16, 2019 - 6:50 pmSeeing that picture of the

Garth Gordon SAID...

Seeing that picture of the horses behind the starting gate at Blue Bonnets brings back a lot of memories for me. The back drop of the St. Joseph’s Oratory is in all my father's win pictures. I was there to see the 10,000 to 15,000 fans show up every Saturday and Sunday. And to see the backstretch that housed 800 horses. The trainers took great pride great pride on how there stables looked... Maplewood Stable, Del Rosa Farm, Del MacTavish, Roger White just to mention a few. I would like to add to Leon Siple's remark about no shadow roll or head pole. I will say that Roger's horses wore no knee boots or shin boots ether. Thanks Robert.

December 15, 2019 - 7:31 amMario Tremblay (aka) The

Kent Smith SAID...

Mario Tremblay (aka) The Bionic Blueberry #14, Serge Savard (aka) The Senator #18, Guy Lapointe (aka) Pointu #5, Jacques Lemaire #25, Larry Robinson (aka) Big Bird #19. Being an avid Habs fan I remember them all quite well.

December 14, 2019 - 5:09 pmI'm guessing that Roger White

Leon Siple SAID...

I'm guessing that Roger White trained every horse he drove that day and that not too many of them wore shadow rolls or head poles.

December 14, 2019 - 12:15 pmNice story. My best guess of

Joe Wilkie SAID...

Nice story. My best guess of the others L-R would be Mario Tremblay, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Jacques Lemaire & Larry Robinson

December 14, 2019 - 11:55 amMario Tremblay, second one no

Gord Brown SAID...

Mario Tremblay, second one no clue, Serge Savard, Guy LaPointe, no clue, Jaques Lemaire, Larry Robinson. Bottom photo Steve Condren.

December 14, 2019 - 11:53 amMario Tremblay, Serge Savard,

Mario Tremblay, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson

December 14, 2019 - 10:50 amBottom photo: Steve Condren

W Doug HIe SAID...

Bottom photo: Steve Condren

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