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SC Rewind: Waples Goes 8-For-8

Published: December 3, 2016 10:32 am ET

Last Comment: May 10, 2021 12:34 pm ET | 9 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind Robert Smith recalls a very special two-day performance by an amazing driver who dazzled the large crowds at Montreal's Blue Bonnets track back in 1956. At the end of this offering he also passes along a special greeting to this revered horseman.

Sixty years ago most of Canada's harness racing happenings were taking place in one city and that was Montreal, known at times as "The City of Saints" or "La Metropole", French for "The Metropolis". In 1956 the racing season began on April 27 at the Blue Bonnets track and lasted until late November when the final day of the season was concluded at Richelieu Park. Certainly all of the action was taking place on Quebec soil, but a young fellow from neighbouring Ontario was making a lot of the headlines.

​Barney Diplomat reaches the wire a winner for driver Keith Waples and owner Hector Clouthier of Pembroke. This horse started off the record-setting two-day performance for driver Keith Waples on June 16, 1956 (Clouthier Family archives)

While this season experienced many thrilling races stories and events, there may have been no single happening more exciting or incredible than what happened on Saturday, June 16 and Sunday, June 17. The following excerpt from the Montreal Gazette written by famed racing scribe Hans Grottke sets the stage for today's Rewind.

Montreal, June 18, 1956 - "Records toppled in many directions as Blue Bonnets Raceway closed out its spring meeting during the weekend but the thing that stood out most was a driving feat unequalled in the sulky sport in Canada. Keith Waples, an unassuming little guy from Phelpston Ont. confounded the experts and delighted his fans by winning eight consecutive races over a two-day period."

In a recent look back to a time sixty years ago I was not too surprised to find who just happened to be foremost in the headlines of the Monday morning sports page. Yes, it was a then 32-year-old sulky sitter by the name of Keith Gordon Waples. He was no stranger to the winner's circle but on this particular weekend he was there a lot.

Starting with the fifth race on Saturday evening June 16, Waples began to wear a path to the winner's circle. His first win of the streak came behind Barney Diplomat, a six-year-old pacer owned by Hector Clouthier of Pembroke, Ont., who was scoring his first of seven season's victories. The winning time of 2:05 flat was not only the quickest of this card, it ended up being the fastest of the entire spring meeting at Blue Bonnets. This horse was a favourite among Montreal patrons for several years as he often competed in Invitationals and other featured races, many occurring on Sunday afternoons.

Barney Diplomat one of the top performers in the Keith Waples stable during the 1950's is shown in one of his many trips to the winner's circle. Pictured from left to right are unknown at horse's head, Keith Waples, Molly Clouthier, Nel Clouthier, Margaret Clouthier and Hector Clouthier Sr. (Clouthier Family archives)

In the next race he was home first with Mr. Bobby Henley for owner James Baskin of Renfrew, the man who started Rideau Carleton. Then in the eighth, he was again a winner with Pontiac Abbe for Hugh Proudfoot of Fort Coulonge, Que. In the ninth, the evening's featured Invitational Trot for a purse of $2,500, he once again had his picture taken with the outstanding Ben Boy owned by Mrs. Ruth Wray of Schomberg, Ont.

Bettors in the crowd were beside themselves guessing whether he could do it one more time or perhaps they were trying to figure when the streak would end. Many patrons who were on hand Saturday evening rushed home just to get ready for a return the next afternoon.

On the following Day which was Sunday, Mr. Waples was back at it and scored four more consecutive wins, stretching his total unbeaten streak to an amazing eight in a row. On the Sunday card his winners started in the third when he won with Mighty Phyllis for owner Archie Cummings of Atwood. He was right back in the fourth with Phyllis Brook, owned by Mrs. Margaret Sheppard of Coldwater. Then came the natural "hat trick" in the fifth behind pacer Laurel Chips to the delight of owner Carson Mewhinney.

His fourth consecutive of the day and eighth in succession over two days was behind the trotting mare Coramine Volo. She was owned by the husband and wife team of Marion and John R. Reid of Ailsa Craig, Ont., both of whom worked with the Waples stable for many years. Many in the crowd feared that Coramine would "jump" as she was often known to do but on this day she stayed "flat" and rewarded her backers at $7.90 to win. Her winning time of 2:10 shaved a full four seconds off her lifetime best taken the previous year.

Coramine Volo and driver Keith Waples trot to the wire on Sunday afternoon at Blue Bonnets with Miss Mary Van second. This victory gave Waples his eighth consecutive win on two cards on the weekend of June 16, 1956. (Harness Horse)

Thus ended the streak of eight consecutive races won on back to back days....not a bad two day's work. What makes this feat even more spectacular is that Waples had just nine drives over the two programs. After finishing out of the money in Saturday's fourth race, he was unbeatable thereafter. While records of such things are pretty "sketchy", some so-called experts believed with certainty it was a first, and thus a record.

All of this occurred on a record-setting weekend as some 25,000 fans attended the three days of racing Friday and Saturday under the lights, and Sunday afternoon ending the spring Blue Bonnets meeting. The three day/night betting handle of $750,000 established single and three-day records for both thoroughbred and standardbred racing in Canada. On Sunday a crowd of over 6,000 wagered a record $269,899.

To top it all off this late surge gave Waples the driving title with 31 wins as he edged out Bill Harvey, who finished second with 26 tallies. From here virtually all of the competing horsemen moved on to Richelieu Park. It is interesting to note that at least four other drivers competing as drivers on this weekend are still with us. They are Real Bardier, Jimmy Larente, Benoit Cote and a then 16-year-old Herve Filion.

Final Drivers Standings - Blue Bonnets Spring Meeting, 1956

Keith Waples - 31 wins
Bill Harvey - 26
Wm. Habkirk - 19
Gerald Hess - 16
Theo. Turcotte - 15
Homer Harp - 12
Clarence Lockhart - 12

A trio of great drivers from the 1950's Montreal scene shown here holding cheques they received as driver's awards. From left; Keith Waples, Percy Robillard and Phillipe Dussault.

The life and times of Keith Waples have bridged the ages. He started his driving career before he reached his teens and raced at many places where a purse of $30 for three heats was common. His path took him wherever racing was held. The small one-day meets, the old time country fairs and eventually to winters spent at Toronto's Dufferin Park. From here he climbed the ladder of success one rung at a time until he eventually ranked among the sport's foremost drivers.

Throughout his long career Keith won numerous driver's awards. He is shown here around 1968 receiving a trophy from the Carling Brewery representative at Greenwood in Toronto.

Always known as a high-percentage driver, his services were sought after wherever he went. His low-profile attitude and his quiet demeanor have served him well. Never one to talk about his own accomplishments, he has offered a refreshing modesty that has forever been his trademark.

Waples enjoys the thrill of a lifetime as he sips from The Little Brown Jug following his Jug win in 1972 with Strike Out. Co-owner and trainer John Hayes Sr. is at left with the Shapiro Bros. at right holding the Jug silverware. Peeking through, just to the right of Keith is Wayne "Curly" Smart track man extraordinaire and the winner of the first ever LBJ.

It is not every day that you can wish Canada's all-time favourite harness horseman Keith Waples a Happy Birthday but this coming Thursday, December 8 you CAN!

This much-loved gentleman will be observing Birthday No. 93 or perhaps as he might explain it, he is turning 31 for the third time.

While a few close to him may have already beat me to being able to congratulate him, I will be the first on this post to say those words -- HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

May 10, 2021 - 12:34 pmI had the pleasure of

Rod McGrath SAID...

I had the pleasure of accompanying Keith to Montreal in 1998 to race at Blue Bonnets. He had entered Emery Flight in an Invitational Race. After winning it, it was unbelievable all the people that came up to him for his autograph. I knew he was a legend, but in Montreal he was still remembered as the greatest and a memory I will not forget.

December 7, 2016 - 12:24 pmHappy Birthday Keith, May you

Dale Leiska SAID...

Happy Birthday Keith, May you have many more happy years!!!!

December 7, 2016 - 10:15 amAs great a driver as Keith

murray brown SAID...

As great a driver as Keith Waples was and he was indeed great.
He was and is a an even better person and teacher. Keith does and did not teach in the normal fashion by standing on a platform or podium.
He taught by example by showing people not only his great horsemanship, but also he his great qualities as a human being.
Happy Birthday number 93 Keith. I hope to be around for number 100. I know you will be.

December 7, 2016 - 10:05 amCongratulations to Keith on

John Findley SAID...

Congratulations to Keith on his 93rd birthday. He does not like to admit that he is older than me, it makes my day.

December 6, 2016 - 10:25 amIn front of the restaurant at

Garth Gordon SAID...

In front of the restaurant at Richelieu Park there was a stand there halfway around the first turn overlooking the race track. I stood there many nights when I was a young lad from 1956 to 1960 watching Keith out smart the other drivers. That's where I was standing when Mighty Dudley broke the two minute barrier. Happy Birthday Keith, hope you have many more!

December 4, 2016 - 8:56 amI worked for Keith three

John Hill SAID...

I worked for Keith three times over the years and remember when we were stabled at Orangeville. We would ship to Greenwood to race and Keith would tell me stories of days gone by, I felt as though I were getting private history lessons. Truly a great person and who would have excelled in whatever business he chose, fortunately for us he chose racing. I am honoured to have had the pleasure of knowing Keith for many years and call him a friend. Happy birthday Keith and I wish you many more.

December 3, 2016 - 10:40 pmWhat more can be said then

What more can be said then what Hec and Cass have stated about the LEGEND "KEITH WAPLES".
Keith is indeed a legend and a gentleman. He has a great wit that matches those great hands.

Happy Birthday Keith. Keep up the great work Robert.

December 3, 2016 - 5:36 pmA quote I have always

A quote I have always remembered by Mr. Waples : " you better talk to people on your way up because you won't have time on the way down" This is how Keith has lived his "93' years. Still has time for everyone, and is still at the top. I wish he had wrote a book about what he has done in his life, because he sure never told anyone how GREAT he was. "Happy Birthday Keith".

December 3, 2016 - 4:57 pmThe master lives on! Keith

The master lives on! Keith Waples who is recognized as the greatest horseperson Canada ever produced is a testimony to hard work, intelligence, vision and stamina. Keith has a unique ability to make others feel important when they are interacting with him. His self deprecation is legendary. Keith always downplayed his skills but everyone knew that this remarkable driver was in a class by himself when he drove trotters or pacers. The racing community should count our blessings that Keith is still with us.

Happy 93rd Birthday to a fabulous man!


Hec Clouthier Jr.

P.S. Thanks Robert for being a vital link to the past history of our sport. You do a fantastic job .

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