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SC Rewind: Match Races


Published: March 12, 2011 10:33 am ET

Last Comment: March 19, 2011 10:37 am ET | 8 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith reviews the old days when Match Races were occasionally part of the sport of Harness Racing.

The folklore of horse racing, both Standardbred and Thoroughbred, tell many tales of old time "Match Races". Traditionally a Match Race is a race between two competitors going head to head. Usually the terms and rules were laid out well ahead of time. From what I can gather the two participants most often each put up a sum of money with a third party such as a track sometimes also providing a portion of the "jackpot". Beyond the monetary aspect I suspect the "bragging rights" were the superior currency in the contest. In the very early days of racing, some match races pitted a trotter pulling a sulky against a trotter under saddle, with the latter believed to have the advantage.

Although I am not at all familiar with Thoroughbred racing I do know that some of the most famous of all match races involved "The Bang Tailers", as they are sometimes called. In 1878 a four-mile long race in Louisville, Kentucky pitted Ten Broeck against Mollie McCarthy and later inspired a song. In 1920 a famous duel in Windsor, Ont. saw Man O' War triumph over Sir Barton. In 1975 a tragic race between the colt Foolish Pleasure and Ruffian is said to have ended the appetite for this form of racing as the filly broke down during the race and had to be euthanized. Ruffian was buried in the infield at Belmont Park.

I have listed below five Match Races involving standardbreds spanning four decades, the most recent one in 1963. All involved pacers. This collection is at random and there certainly have been more (some I know of) that surely captured the headlines at the time. I have never personally seen a match race other than between a pacer and a human which is not included here. From my research I have found that it did not necessarily take a great or well known horse to be involved in a match, but more likely a couple of willing owners. Even today there is often talk of a possible match race against two horses who establish a heated rivalry, but usually these contests never progress past the talking stage.

Five Match Races

Renfrew, Ont.
September 16, 1938

Racing fans gathered here to witness a match race involving Lily Part, the great roan mare owned by the legendary Dr. Mahlon Locke - the world renowned foot specialist from Williamsburg, Ont., meet Bedford Grattan. The race consisted of three heats for a purse of $175. The outcome saw Lily Part driven by Cecil Champion win the first two heats in 2:12 1/2 and 2:11 1/2. In the third heat, Bedford Grattan came on to win in 2:10 1/2 for owner T.W. Fowler of Kingston.

Dufferin Park Toronto Ont.
August 21, 1946

Just one week after this year's Canadian Pacing Derby held at New Hamburg, Ont. a match race between the two main contenders took place at the Dufferin Park summer meeting. On August 14th Blue Again took the measure of The Count B at New Hamburg breaking his Derby winning streak at three in a row. Owner Warren Leatherdale of Windsor, Ont. was in the midst of a career year having won the sport's biggest race in California and then all three heats of the Derby. However today was a different story as The Count B driven by Cliff "Chappy" Chapman triumphed over Blue Again and pilot Harold Wellwood in 2:22 for the 1-1/16 distance. The purse of $500 went to Jas. Brown of New Liskeard, The Count's owner. I had the pleasure of a visit with Harold Wellwood about this event and from what I can recall he felt perhaps the start that day cost him a chance at winning as this was before the advent of the starting gate.

Yonkers, N.Y.
November 27, 1956

A match race was held between two Adios offspring - pacing mare Dottie's Pick, a four-year-old owned by The Armstrong Bros. of Brampton, and Adios Harry, a five-year-old stud owned by Howard and Luther Lyons (also the driver) of Harrington, Delaware. The purse was $25,000. The winner by open lengths was Dottie's Pick, driven by Delvin Miller in a time of 2:06. Both of these horses were winners of over $100,000 during the 1956 season.

Shannonville, Ont.
September 9, 1961

In a one heat affair for a purse of $45 Judge Moore, owned by Albert DeFosse of Trenton Ont. and driven by Harry Ingles, faced off against Don MacKay and owner driver Ken Kerr of Goderich. These two horses were not exactly "colts" in terms of age with Judge Moore aged six and Don McKay a 16-year-old veteran gelding. Judge Moore prevailed over his senior rival and the time of the mile was 2:16. While The "Judge" missed the first heat of the featured race that day, he was returned a winner in the nightcap for a two-heat winning day.

Western Fair Raceway - London Ont.
June 29, 1963

Following several winning efforts at the London track by both horses, a special match race was set up between Sonny Creed and Lochinver King. Reports at the time stated that the owners were anxious to settle who had the better horse. Owners Clarence Lockhart of Collingwood and Dr. A. G. Morris of London each posted $500 which was matched by WFR officials making a purse of $1,500 with the winner take all format. Unfortunately about an hour before post time, a heavy downpour made the racing surface extremely muddy resulting in a relatively slow time of 2:11.1. The horses were well matched at least on paper, as they were both six year olds, and had almost identical race records and earnings.

Sonny Creed won the race by one length driven by owner "Shorty" Lockhart and while Lochinver King's recent successes had been with "Jiggs" McFadden, I am told he was piloted in this contest by Wilfy Hughes(?) . There are undoubtedly a number of people around who recall this unusual encounter and have more details than I have supplied including the driver question posed above.

I can't help but think that a Match Race today if promoted properly might generate quite a bit of fan interest. How about two well matched horses, a few brats on the grill and a Mug of "Suds" for a Buck or Two each? I may need a designated driver for the trip home.

March 19, 2011 - 10:37 amI was also there that day

I was also there that day showing Roadster Horses. Judge Moore was in an accident the first heat of his race and did not race. Don McKay was also there that day but there was not a class in which he was eligible to race. At that time he was owned by Ken Kerr of Goderich but was driven and had been in the care that fall by Art MacDonald of Kingston. Art made it known that he and Don McKay would challenge anyone to a Match Race and after the accident with Judge Moore the challenge was taken up. If I remember correctly there was outside money entered in the hat from spectators for the race. Yes, Do n McKay was a good race horse. To quote my dad he was a "pretty", good race horse. No he was not banned from Centreville. Ken Kerr and his wife used to come to Creville the previous years with Don McKay and another horse named Highly Direct with a very crooked front leg. When at the Fairgrounds in Centreville Ken Kerr bought hay and grain from my father to feed these horses until he moved on to the next fair.

March 18, 2011 - 11:51 amOn June 6 2003 at The

On June 6 2003 at The Meadowlands there was a match race between 2 of the greatest mare of all time (Bunny Lake and worldly beauty). That was a very exciting race won by Bunny Lake by a head in 1.54.2 for 50,000$.

March 15, 2011 - 3:56 pmThanks as always for your

Thanks as always for your great comments ,they invariably add to the story . Just in case anyone goes back and looks I will answer a question or two and ask one or two.

Don McKay was listed as a "Chestnut" and he was let us say "lightly raced" as a young horse having begun his career in Saskatchewan, Humbolt to be exact.

The Lochinver name was used by Mr Morris of London(I believe he was actually Dr.)and beginning around 1960 he used the name with Scott,Rex,King etc. I believe as a reference to a Scottish town of that name .He stood a horse named Skaal at his farm and a number of his get bore that name.

I am wondering what the outcome of the Wes Coke -Baron VonRichtoven challenge was ??

Thanks again to Mr. Stewart for his "eye witness" reporting.

March 14, 2011 - 8:25 pmI was there that day and

I was there that day and there's a lot more to this story !!!

" Shannonville, Ont.
" September 9, 1961

" In a one heat affair for a purse of $45 Judge Moore, owned by Albert DeFosse of Trenton Ont. and driven by Harry Ingles, faced off against Don MacKay and owner driver Ken Kerr of Goderich. These two horses were not exactly "colts" in terms of age with Judge Moore aged six and Don McKay a 16-year-old veteran gelding

If I remember correctly this Match Race was set up because in the first heat of this race one of these horses stepped on a tire and put his leg through the arch of the bike of the other horse just leaving the gate. My memory doesn't tell me which way around it was but they both had to pull up and they had to take the wheel off the bike to extricate that horse! Now there wasn't a lot of love lost between Harry Ingles and Kenny Kerr anyway so this race actually developed as a sort of a Grudge Match!!! And it let them race a heat so they could go in the second heat.

I remember Don McKay very well - He was a big, rough, course looking bright bay, almost a chestnut, and he paced with no check and his head almost down between his knees, and the stories around eastern Ontario were that he'd come down from western Canada and never started racing 'till he was about 14!!!! But he was beating everything at all the eastern Ontario fairs and was eventually barred at Centreville or Lansdowne or some place, causing another big ruckus!

I assumed this edition of "Rewind" referred to real and priorily arranged Match races , like this one, and not to 2 horse "Race-offs" in stakes like the Kentucky Futurity or the Hambletonian, of which there have been many, or races with larger fields scratched down to 2 horses.

March 13, 2011 - 7:23 pmWes Coke in the 60s, took

Rick Moffatt SAID...

Wes Coke in the 60s, took offence to Mr Von Rich Thoven-jockey club v.p. who bragged that his trotter Varoca M was world champion under saddle. Wes bet him that his trotter Snow Switch was better.Greenwood matched their wager if i recall it.

March 13, 2011 - 12:50 pmAs always Robert, a great

As always Robert, a great story!! The only match race I have witnessed was an accidental one a couple of years back when on a snowy night a race at Western Fair was scratched down to just two, Borderline Gorgeous and Keltic Sarah. Win wagering only and of course I bet on the wrong horse. I note the name Lochinver King in your article. I remember well a horse named Lochinver Rex raced by a gentleman from Lucan. Any story to the Lochinver name?

March 12, 2011 - 4:04 pmIn 1985 there was a match

In 1985 there was a match race at Sackville Downs in the Halifax, Nova Scotia area. The two dominant Maritime horses were Winners Accolade (Emmons MacKay), and Waveore (Dave Pinkney). The purse I believe was $4000, with $3000 going to the winner and $1000 to the loser. Waveore won the race fairly easily for Dave Pinkney in 201/4. I think the large crowd was hoping for a sub two-minute mile but it didn't happen. Waveore just let Winners Accolade cut out the fractions and then passed him with ease beyond the three quarters.

March 12, 2011 - 2:36 pmIn October 1957, I witnessed

Rick Karper SAID...

In October 1957, I witnessed a match race which I remember as if it was just yesterday. It was a $10,000 winner-take-all at Montreal's Blue Bonnets Raceway between Mr Baldridge (Quebec champion 3 year old colt trotter who had won 12 of 13 that year) and Hoot Song (World champion 3 year old trotting filly). Hoot Song won fairly easily in 2:06.3.

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