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SC Rewind: Windsor...Cancels?!

Published: March 10, 2018 10:16 am ET

Last Comment: March 25, 2018 9:37 pm ET | 9 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith takes readers back to December 1, 1974 when the cancellation of an evening of racing at Windsor Raceway made the headlines, and in a major way. The practice of cancelling racing that is now commonplace certainly was not back then.

"String Runs Out at Raceway" was how the Windsor Star Sports Page headline read back in early December of 1974. A huge snowstorm had finally forced the management of Windsor Raceway to cancel a card of racing. It was a long time in coming and broke a streak that was extremely impressive. The track had operated for nine full seasons and part of the 10th before "Old Man Winter" intervened.

A very early Windsor program cover showing a horse equipped for winter time racing

When the Windsor Raceway operation opened in late October of 1965 they literally meant business. The racetrack that was designed and built to stage winter racing had no intention of ever cancelling a card of racing unless some pretty harsh conditions intervened. Finally after a run of 1,470 consecutive live programs the inevitable happened...but it did take a snowfall of 19 inches!

The track had cancelled on a couple of previous occasions but not because of inclement weather. In 1968 a power outage forced the cancellation of a single program and in 1973 a horsemen's boycott created the only other interruption. Despite some pretty sizable snowfalls they had somehow managed to weather the proverbial storm. The last snowstorm that came close to this one in terms of volume had occurred in February of 1965, a few months before the track had opened.

One of the major factors in locating a racetrack designed mainly for winter racing in the Windsor/Essex County area was its normally small annual snowfall and warmer winter temperatures. Often dubbed "The Sun Parlor of Canada" it is definitely not a snow region. Despite this being backed up by decades of meteorological data there was still the chance of some pretty major snowfalls; this one was just a bit too much. For the benefit of everyone concerned the drastic move was made.

"The cancellation was necessary," said President and General Manager Bill Rowe, "for the safety of the patrons driving in hazardous road conditions and also for the safety of the horses and horsemen." The announcement was made early in the afternoon when it became apparent that the storm was not about to let up. The plan was to hold the same card on Tuesday evening since the track did not have racing on Monday nights. The programs printed for the Sunday card would still be used for Tuesday. This was of course subject to the weather cooperating.

Track work crews laboured most of Monday and all day Tuesday to remove the mountains of snow that had accumulated at the west end oval. Clearing of the track, parking lots and entrances was a monumental task. A number of local contractors were called in and work proceeded at a feverish pitch, employing the largest equipment available. They scarcely beat the deadline as Tuesday evening's patrons began to arrive. At one point the crews were barely clearing the parking spots as fast as they were filling up. Finally the task was completed and the night's racing went on as planned with an eight o'clock post time.

In a statement following resumption of regular action Raceway President Wm. Rowe said "Considering the amount of work it took and the state of the highways in the area, it was a highly satisfactory recovery." Although the crowd was about 500 below the Tuesday night average for the fall meet Mr. Rowe was all smiles as things returned to normal.

R​acing Returns

Following the short hiatus an appreciative crowd of race goers were happy to be back at the track. The 10-race card went on without any difficulties as a crowd of 3,598 fans wagered a respectable $378,000. The featured event of the evening, the $4,000 Spitfires Trot went to the converted pacer Wonderful Gene owned by Donald Morritt of Thorndale, Ont,. and driven by Gerald Aiken. Just 16 months previous to this the five-year-old had been converted from being a pacer to a trotter, a change that had seen him blossom into one of the area's top performers. In 45 starts he had earned almost $48,000 at the altered gait.

Headlining the return of racing action local trainer and driver Greg Wright bagged his 35th win of the meet (in just 31 nights) to lead all drivers. His evening's work saw him win three races including the co-featured $3,200 Pace with Supreme Gold. He picked up right where he left off on Saturday night when he also scored a hat trick to add to his lead in the driver's race. He ended the week with a lead of nine wins over Shelly Goudreau and Lew Williams and his season total was at 249. Wright, a Windsor regular for many years, was born and raised near the track and recorded many of his first 1,000 wins there in the early years.

As a matter of interest other winning drivers on the Tuesday evening that racing resumed included Pat Crowe (2), Ken Hardy, Ray Remmen, Bev Kingston, Dale Dufty, and Walter Weese. For nostalgia reasons I have also included a partial list of other drivers driving that evening (or the next) but not getting to the winner's circle. Marty Adler, John Campbell, Richard Carroll, Tom Clark, Keith Crawford, Norm Desserault, Jerry Duford, Larry Eaid, Butch Elliot, Ray Flis, Randy Fulmer, Bill Gale, Richard Hackett, Paul Harrison, Geo. Hawke, Geo. Hewitt, Bev Heywood, Brian Hodgson, Cliff Lilley, Mike Novick Jr., Bert Madill, Neil McRann, Orwell Morrissey, Gary Payne, Keith Quinlan, Herb Swinhoe, Mel Turcotte, Randy Winger.

​In Windsor's first 20 years in business they cancelled only about five cards of racing. Truly an amazing statistic. ​ Another interesting fact about Windsor Raceway is that in 1996, according to historian Don Daniels, they were the first harness track to activate a website.

Who Is It?

Can you correctly identify this duo? Clue = father and son. The correct answer will be given during the coming week.

March 25, 2018 - 9:37 pmI remember when the races

I remember when the races were cancelled in Windsor, and when they rescheduled the program. My Dad's horse Wonderful Gene won the trot that night. Thanks for all the great stories. Such a shame that Windsor Raceway is gone now. I have lots of good memories from the years I worked there as a groom and a trainer.

March 15, 2018 - 9:13 amThis week's picture featured

This week's picture featured the late Ron McGee of Goderich Ont. While Ron is remembered by many as a long time O.R.C. Judge, a position he enjoyed for some 20 years, he began his career in the sport as a trainer and driver. Many of the horses he drove were owned by his father Reg McGee an automobile dealer in Goderich, shown at the horse's head. Ron's greatest single day in the sulky came in September of 1959 when he piloted 7 winners out of 8 drives at Goderich including that year's 3 year old Supertest Pace winner Poplar Flash C. Ron passed away at the age of 75 on December 7, 2010.
Thanks to all who participated this week. Kudos to Bev Heywood.

March 14, 2018 - 2:35 pmLooks like more help is

Looks like more help is needed. Hint = Three well known,long serving judges came from Ronnie Feagan's hometown. You only need to name this one - he's sitting on the sulky.

March 14, 2018 - 2:19 pmMy guess is Reg and Ron

Bev Heywood SAID...

My guess is Reg and Ron McGee.

March 14, 2018 - 12:44 pmCould it be Fred and Lorne

Could it be Fred and Lorne Tolhurst?

March 13, 2018 - 3:51 pmLooks like folks could use a

Looks like folks could use a further clue?

I won't rush to "judge"ment just yet but "judging" from the responses so far I would "judge" this week's picture is a a bit more challenging. You be the "judge!"

March 12, 2018 - 12:10 pmNice try Carman but my friend

Nice try Carman but my friend Cass is right... Al would need a Clydesdale between the shafts to pull him around the track. LOL. Actually, Al was a good horseman and second trainer for his Dad's TDF Stable.
The man holding the horse looks like the late Jim Brown but I do not know if Dr. Glen Brown drove in his younger days.

March 12, 2018 - 8:57 amThanks Carman, but I think I

Thanks Carman, but I think I was bigger than that guy when I was born! lol

March 11, 2018 - 9:33 amIt's just a wild guess, but

Carman Hie SAID...

It's just a wild guess, but it might be Al Casselman in the bike with his Dad, Mac at the head.....

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