In this week's Rewind Robert Smith takes a look back some 46 years to 1977 and recalls that year's Provincial Cup at Windsor Raceway. His recollections include some rather strange happenings in the race that quite likely affected the outcome. While anything can take place in a horse race (and usually does) this happening thankfully is not too common.
When Windsor Raceway opened in October of 1965 it marked the dawning of a new era in Canadian harness racing. The ultra modern track boasted several firsts. The first synthetic based racing surface pioneered by the 3M Company was one of the innovative features of the new project. It was guaranteed to be "ready to go" in all kinds of weather. No more muddy tracks and unsafe footing for the horses. The barns were climate controlled and the grandstand and clubhouse were "summerlike" regardless of the outside elements.
Early into the new venture track management believed they needed to establish a signature race. This was accomplished with the inaugural Provincial Cup race. The first edition of this soon to be popular race was held in early 1966. It was an instant success and organizers soon decided to stage it every year from then on. The purse of $15,000 for the 1966 Cup set a new high for a purse amount in Canadian harness racing.
In this week's Rewind I am going to recall some highlights from the 1977 edition which was held on the evening of March 24th. It turned out to be a bit of a strange affair.
PROVINCIAL CUP - 1977 EDITION
The 1977 race was the 12th renewal of the Cup and drew a field of nine. Only one driver in the field had ever won it before and that was Joe O'Brien who had accomplished it with Armbro Nesbitt, the first Canadian-owned horse to be victorious, in 1974. Leading up to Cup night the signature event at the border oval for much of its existence, observers for the most part were viewing the field as fairly wide open. There were no Albatrosses or Isle Of Wights, or even a few other similar pre-race favourites in this field.
Armbro Ranger, a four-year-old, was highly regarded after a slightly less than spectacular three-year-old season but observers were figuring him for a big year this time around. On this night thanks to a bit of good fortune for him — and a not-so fortunate happening for another horse — he came home a winner. In a pre-race interview O'Brien was quoted as saying "Aw I've gotta bring him up to Canada sometime you know" alluding to the fact that he was owned by J. Elgin Armstrong, kingpin of the Armstrong outfit from Brampton, Ont.
Another possibility to take the big race was local favourite Greg Wright, who had never had a Cup winner and in fact had experienced very little luck in four previous tries. This time he had the drive behind Flying Eagle, who had just turned in a blistering 1:57.1 mile at The Meadowlands the previous week. Maybe this would be the year.
Armbro Ranger (5) leads the field at the finish line to capture the 1977 Provincial Cup (Windsor Star Archives)
The 8-5 favourite Armbro Ranger came home a winner but it was not quite as easy as it appeared. In the early going the Armbro horse was well placed but not in command. J M Jupiter with Lucien Fontaine in the sulky was leading and to many observers was in a very good position to take home the victory. At the three-quarter pole the leading horse suddenly darted sideways out from the rail allowing clearance for the canny O'Brien to slip in with his horse along with another contender Fly Fly Solly. Apparently J M Jupiter spotted something on the track which caused his sudden miscue.
When J M Jupiter veered wide he not only allowed other horses to advance, he also impeded the progress of two or three other trailers. Included in those was Greg Wright and Flying Eagle. Greg told a Windsor Star reporter after the race that he thought he had a real good chance as his horse "was still full of pace and ready to challenge." A post-race review of the race revealed that someone in the race had inadvertently dropped a towel on the track. Apparently it had dropped shortly after the start of the race and there it stayed until the field came round again. Apparently no one was too eager to lay claim to the wayward towel that apparently caused the bizarre happenings.
"Loosh" (short for Lucien) Fontaine, who had not raced in his native Canada for the past 15 years, was perhaps the most upset and disappointed driver in the race. "I guess my horse saw it way before anybody else, including me." Despite his disappointment he said "I feel terrible about it but I'm just glad nobody got hurt." Winning driver Joe O'Brien was very candid about the outcome and said "I don't think we could have won it with a rough trip and the way things were going it was turning out that way." He felt badly that others had some bad luck but it played well into his hand.
Presiding judge "Blackjack" Stewart summed up the race from an official's perspective. "Before reviewing the film after the race we were ready to slap a fine on Lucien Fontaine after the way he moved out...Then we saw the films and the towel laying on the track. There was nothing else to do but chalk it up to the breaks of the game."
It is quite likely that few in the huge crowd of 7,275 people on hand to see the race had any idea that a towel decided the outcome of the race.
Dr. Glen Brown (left) representing the Armstrong Bros. owners of Armbro Ranger joins driver Joe O'Brien in the Windsor winner's circle. Also in the photo is track security officer Tom Doiron who was quite well known at the time. (Windsor Star Archives)
The following is an excerpt from some Windsor Raceway historical facts I found in researching this event. It referred to the 1977 Cup race.
"Proving one should never throw in the towel, Armbro Ranger is boxed in behind leader J M Jupiter coming down the stretch, but J M Jupiter is spooked by a towel on the track and opens up just enough room for O’Brien to guide Armbro Ranger home and pick up his second Cup triumph."
Quote For The Week: More of a short story today. I have at times mentioned that my late father ran a sawmill for many years and a lot of interesting people were employed there. He had a young fellow, fairly new on the job, and he said to him, "Cecil, I'm going to buy you a plug of tobacco and a pair of suspenders; every time I look at you you're either hitching up your pants or lighting a cigarette." Note: I spent a lot of time there too.
Who Is It?
Can you identify this chap receiving a pretty special trophy piece? Let us know who you think he is.
Who Else Is It?
Let us know who this fellow is. No clues given.
This week's pictures were ....
Who Is It ? - That gentleman on the left is Marcel Barrieau receiving the coveted Gold Cup And Saucer trophy from P.E.I. Lieut. Gov. Doiron following his victory in the 1983 race at Charlottetown Driving Park with Silent Class. And that was 40 years ago!
The "Who Else Is It ? " photo was correctly identified by several as trainer extraordinaire Larry Remmen as so eloquently explained by Hector Clouthier elsewhere in the Comments section. He was a big part of the three brother act along with Ray and Gord.
Thanks so much for the comments, they continue to be important.
1977 Provincial Cup
The grooms would fold up a towel a certain way and put it under the back pad of the harness. If you didn’t fold it properly under the back pad it would fall off in the race and most times horses would jump over the towel or shy away causing and accident. I could never fold the towel properly and most times the towel would fall off. I am quite sure they put a rule in place where you couldn’t use a towel. Then they came out with back pads with Velcro on them so you could strap them on properly. They the made back pads in different colours. Who is it is not Ron Waples. His cousin Keith didn’t wear gloves and Ronnie didn’t either. I am going to say it’s Charlie Goins. Who Else is it is Larry Remmen, one of the nicest guys you could ever meet.
Who is it? Marcel Barrieau…
Who is it? Marcel Barrieau winning the Gold Cup & Saucer. Thank you Mr. Donnie Rankin.
Who else is it? Larry Remmen likely holding the 1990 champion 3 year old & horse of the year Beach Towel.
Who Is It? Marcel Barrieau winning the Gold Cup and Saucer.
Who Else is it? Larry Remmen, who along with his brother Ray operated one of the most successful stables in the history of The Meadowlands. Hall of Famer Ray was the driver but Larry was always behind the scenes making sure everything was done right. He wa , without a doubt an indispensable member of Team Remmen!!
Who is it Ron Waples Who…
Who is it Ron Waples
Who else is it Larry Remmen and Shark Gesture
Who is it: Ron Waples Who…
Who is it: Ron Waples
Who else is it: Larry Remmen