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SC Rewind: Years Ago - 1970s

Published: December 7, 2019 10:30 am ET

Last Comment: December 13, 2019 3:01 pm ET | 11 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

This week's edition of 'Rewind' takes readers back to the decade of the 1970s in the monthly offering of Years Ago. Robert Smith has assembled a few old photos as well as some short stories on the people and happenings from back then.

1970 - Batavia Downs Celebrates 30 Years Of Racing

Back in September of 1970 Batavia Downs staged a special celebration to observe the 30th anniversary of its opening in 1940. They became just the second racetrack to stage night time racing featuring pari-mutuel wagering; only the famed Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury, N.Y. preceded them, also opening in 1940.

The week-long festivities included a number of functions, receptions and special races. On Tuesday evening each of the 10 races that night was named after a Canadian person who had played a part in forming the track's long and successful history. Many of those being honoured were in attendance and made post-race presentations.

One of the real highlights of the week was the return of the Downs' first race winning driver. That honour went to a then 83-year-old Canadian named "Orangeville Bill" Harvey. On opening night way back on Sept. 20, 1940 Harvey piloted a horse named Rip Harvester to a first-race victory in 2:16 and that's where it all began. At the time the story was told that there was no phone at the Harvey home in Mono Mills, a small community just outside Orangeville where Bill lived with his sister and brother Jack who was also a horseman. Horseman Jimmy "Red" Holmes of Milton, Ont. was asked by Batavia management to pay a visit to the Harvey residence and extend an invitation to the Raceway's commemorative gathering on their behalf.

Holmes decided to use a test of recognition. "Don't tell him who I am," said Holmes to Harvey's sister when he called on him. Harvey, who had just awakened from a nap, calmly strolled into the kitchen and said "Red Holmes what the hell are you doing here?" Holmes sheepishly replied "I came here too see you!" Don Clark, a horseman from Rockwood, Ont., was given the chore of driving the enthusiastic Mr. Harvey to Batavia. "I haven't been to the races in years but I'm really looking forward to it."

Note: I remember many visits with Jack Harvey, Bill's brother. He was a long-time caretaker and trainer who in later years worked in the Harold and Bill Wellwood stable while racing on the OJC tracks as well as Buffalo and Batavia. I believe in the earlier years he worked with Cliff Chapman Sr.

1971 - Rum Customer Becomes A Millionaire


Rum Customer (5) maintains a nose margin over Ghandi to become a millionaire at Aurora Downs in 1971 (Chicago Tribune archives)

Dec. 27, 1971 - As the year of 1971 closed out, the sport of harness racing welcomed its newest millionaire at Chicago's Aurora Downs. On this late December evening Rum Customer scored the final victory of his brilliant career by the scantest of margins as shown above defeating Ghandi. The six-year-old son of Poplar Byrd added another $2,500 to his lifetime total to up it to $1,001,448; just enough. I believe he was the first horse to reach the million dollar mark racing only in North America.

Rum Customer, owned by Louis and Connie Mancuso and Kennilworth Farm and racing out of the Wm. Haughton stable, was piloted to victory by catch driver Del Insko, the most successful Illinois horseman up to that point in time. The race which was called "The Millionaire Mile" marked the end of this great horse's career and the start of his stallion duties in Pennsylvania.

In 1968 Rum Customer became just the sport's fourth Triple Crown winner, joining Adios Butler, Bret Hanover and Romeo Hanover on that illustrious list. To this point in time only Cardigan Bay had won over a million dollars and he started his career in New Zealand. As a note of interest the lifetime earnings total of Rum Customer would be equal to about $6,455,000 in today's dollars.

1973 - Pacing In A Winter Wonderland


Medallion Lobell (6) and driver Marty Adler show at least a two-length lead over Creed Dancer (9) as they cruise to victory in 2:26 on a very snowy night at Wolverine Raceway back in 1973 (Abahazy Collection)

Mar. 16, 1973 - When fledgling owner Rozzie Warner, a turkey farmer from Alvinston, Ont., purchased his first horse he couldn't have imagined what his Baptism under fire would be like. As it turned out it was more like Baptism under snow. His trainer and driver Marty Adler entered his horse Medallion Lobell at Wolverine Raceway in Detroit as he was unable to get a start at a much handier Windsor Raceway. Apparently Windsor's race secretary Joe Defrank had a rule (perhaps unwritten) that in the last week of the meet he wouldn't allow a horse to start that had not yet had a start. A fierce late winter storm blanketed the Michigan track that evening and the new owner almost didn't get there to see the race.

After a treacherous drive on snowy roads, he finally made it; just in time to place a $20 win ticket wager. As the race was about to start a recall forced the entrants to regroup. In the second try Adler shot to the front and soon opened up a gigantic lead. As he reached the half in 1:06 Marty decided to glance back at the second-place horse. Due to the blinding snowstorm he could not see anyone and later found out why. He was 22 lengths ahead but not quite home and cooled out.

The tired pair finally reached the wire with two lengths to spare on second place finisher Creed Dancer but not after some pretty frantic urging. Time of the mile after a second half in 1:20 was a blazing 2:26! The mutuels showed a nice payoff for the new owner as the tote board lit up to the tune of $20.80, $13.80 and $6.60. Reportedly there was just one patron holding a winning quad ticket worth some $27,000. A gentleman named Johnny, also a patron of the Adler stable was apparently that lucky man. About a month later this same horse and driver were again winners at Wolverine; this time in a slightly quicker 2:06.


A group of happy folks gather in the Wolverine winner's circle after new owner Ozzie and Jack Warner are at the head of Medallion Lobell. At the far end is driver Marty Adler and a further part of the impromptu celebration that resembled a snow globe. (Abahazy Photo collection)

1978 - The "Banker" Pays Dividends

Banker Fretz was purchased as a yearling by horseman Garth Gordon at the Liberty Bell sale in 1976. He was selected from three possibilities being consigned by U.S. horseman Dana Irving. After viewing the trio the day prior to sale day Garth mapped out his strategy in his own mind. If the young fellow went for $10,000 or any less, he would be headed to a new home in Canada. As it turned out Gordon had the final nod at that amount. Soon after the sale a half interest was sold to Dr. Wm. Wright, a Dentist from Gordon's hometown of Cobourg, Ont. It would be the beginning of a long and successful journey.

When it was time to break the youngster in preparation for his two-year-old campaign it was soon found that breaking this fellow would be no easy task. Still a stud and a bit of a handful it became evident that he would not be raced as a freshman. Eventually through a lot of patience and hard work Banker Fretz was properly gaited and trained to launch his debut at age three.

After qualifying twice and finishing ninth in his first three starts in January, Banker finally settled into the racing routine. He scored his first lifetime win in early February and went on a tear winning seven out of his next eight starts, finishing second in his only defeat. He went on to make 35 starts, winning 14, finishing second eight times and five third-place finishes that season. He made a start in every month but December and ended the year with just over $115,000 in his 'Bank' account. His best clocking of the campaign was 1:58.3 and that came at the end of May at Mohawk.

By mid-October Banker Fretz had earned over $100,000 in his first year of racing. A major portion of his earnings came from several victories and high placings in the Can-Am Series which was popular back then.

Quote For The Week: The custodian of an online dating service posted the following about the possibility of achieving success on his website: "The odds are good and the goods are odd."

Who Is It?

The young fellow pictured above is celebrating a birthday tomorrow on December 8th. This one might be the all-time easiest to get correct so I have included a small add-on. To submit a correct answer you have to include his second name as well as the first and last. Happy Birthday from me too!

Who Else Is It?

1 - Can you identify this popular horseman from days gone by?

2 - Can you put a name on this fellow?

Make sure to stay tuned as the correct answers will be posted during the coming week.

December 13, 2019 - 3:01 pmI worked for Orangeville Bill

I worked for Orangeville Bill Harvey the Winter and Spring of 1954 - 1955. We wintered at New Hamburg fairgrounds in the upper barn. We called him Mr. Harvey. Other grooms were Harry and his cousin, whose name I cannot recall. Mr. Harvey was very strict and everything had to be done his way. He was a smart horseman though. All winter the stoves in our tack rooms had a mash cooking for the horses breakfast. Smelled good as I recall while sleeping. I took care of States Attorney, Castle Brooke, Danny Brooke M, Flower Brooke, and a big beautiful stud trotter (?) Dillon. The horses were owned by Louis Mack of Hamilton. Other that were stabled there were Mr. Bill Gillespie and Mr. Richard Scott. I spent many evenings in Mr. Gillespie's tack room listening to his stories and learning things from him. He and Mr. Scott were real nice to a young kid. In the Spring we shipped with Erhlich to Connaught. Arriving there the horsemen would not let us unload the horses. Mr. Harvey and his wife arrived pulling their trailer. He talked to the horseman and we went directly to Blue Bonnets. I recall a groom of Keith Waples was supposed to be jogging a pretty good filly and he turned her and ran over a set of spike harrows near the finish line. The filly was laying and thrashing on the spikes and I hollered at the groom to hold her head down. He couldn't understand me. I was jogging Castle Brook, so I tied him to the outside fence and went and jumped on her head. Mr. Waples showed up and it hit the fan. The groom took off with Mr. Waples hollering that he said jog her and not to turn her. I once knew how many stitches she needed and I can't recall ever seeing the groom again. I left Mr. Harvey later that Spring. He and most horsemen in that day wore the tan fedora and the tan trousers and the jodhpurs. Finally I have no idea what the issue was between Orangeville and Ancaster Bill Harvey but they sure didn't like each other.

December 12, 2019 - 3:08 pmThis week's three photos were

This week's three photos were as follows:
The first was of course Keith Gordon Waples who was celebrating a birthday this week. Not too much of a challenge here. Second was the well known and dearly loved Quebec horseman Albert Hanna as identified by several people. The third photo may have actually stumped the "experts" in the early going but John Hill was correct in identifying this fellow as Fred Lesenko. Fred, who at one time worked for Wm. Wellwood, won his first race in 1970. He started his career with the thoroughbreds aspiring to become a jockey but a car accident cut short his saddle career. A special thank you to Hector Clouthier for a very nice comment and also to Garth Gordon who gave some "depth" to my short dissertation on the memorable Banker Fretz. It might sound like a "broken record" but your comments really do count.

December 9, 2019 - 2:08 pmWho is #2 Fred Lesenko

John Hill SAID...

Who is #2 Fred Lesenko

December 9, 2019 - 8:00 amI bought Banker at the

Garth Gordon SAID...

I bought Banker at the Liberty Bell sale in Pennsylvania in 1976 for 10,000. I forgot my check book and had to get Archie Sopman to pay for him - he was Wes Coke’s big owner and was at the sale. Archie says I will pay for him in Canadian funds and save ourselves $200 - Canadian money was worth more than U.S. money at the time. Banker made his money the hard way racing mostly in overnights on the O.J.C. for purses no more than 11,500 and mostly for 9&10 thousand. With several bad drives he managed to make $560,000 winning the Invitation pace on the tough O.J.C. Circuit 6 years in a row and at 8 years old winning the Connaught Cup against the best horses in the country. Banker was the horse that got me started. Several times the week wouldn’t be going that well but Saturday would roll around and Banker would go out and win the Invitation pace and make racing all worth while. I would like to give a “Special“ thank you to Barrie and Debbie Bird who took Banker to their farm after he retired at the age of 10 and gave him a home and took very good care of him for 25 years. Banker lived until he was 35 years old. He is buried on their farm beside there foundation mare, Sutter Creek. I can’t thank them enough. The second picture is Albert Hanna not sure what nationality he was. He said he could speak 7 languages. I only heard him speak French and English. I remember him as a very likeable guy, talking a lot and very loud and liked to smoke the odd cigar. He was married to Theo Turcotte's oldest Daughter and I think they had a farm around Sherbrooke, Quebec near the U.S. border. The bottom picture I “Think” is the late Ted Huntbach. Ted was from Kingston, Ontario and brought a stable of horses to Mohawk several years back. Ted was killed in car accident not too long after he came to the O.J.C. Thanks again Robert for bringing back some great memories.

December 8, 2019 - 4:09 pmMy guess is Fred Goudreau for

My guess is Fred Goudreau for bottom picture.

December 7, 2019 - 3:11 pmGuess who is in winner's

Guess who is in winner's circle with Banker Fretz besides Doc Wright and Garth. Far left is Stan Martin (recently passed) and Pat Martin. We followed the Banker around the CanAm series.

December 7, 2019 - 3:06 pmKeith Gordon Waples

Joel Lustig SAID...

Keith Gordon Waples

December 7, 2019 - 2:41 pmBanker Fretz was iron tough

Banker Fretz was iron tough and so was his trainer /driver and co-owner Garth Gordon. There is no doubt in my mind Garth made The Banker! Garth knew when to handle The Banker with kid gloves and when to be stern with him. In my opinion Garth Gordon was one of the best, most able and certainly one of the hardest working horsemen of his era. He is a great role model for any young person starting out in the horse racing industry.

The Master's full name is Keith Gordon Waples and #1 in the who else is it? is Albert Hanna from Montreal fame.

Robert, thank you for your SC Rewind articles. They are much anticipated and much appreciated. Harness racing has a great historical past and your journalistic talent makes sure we remember the halcyon days of Standardbed racing!!

December 7, 2019 - 2:33 pm1) Albert Hanna. Albert

Sarah Imrie SAID...

1) Albert Hanna. Albert raced a large stable at the Montreal tracks for numerous decades and was married to Marie Turcotte, daughter of Theo Turcotte Sr., who also raced a large string during that period.

December 7, 2019 - 10:55 amKeith ___ Waples, Albert

Gord Brown SAID...

Keith ___ Waples, Albert Hanna not sure of bottom one but sure looks familiar.

December 7, 2019 - 10:51 amNo. 1 Albert Hanna

No. 1 Albert Hanna


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