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SC Rewind: Sixty Years Ago (Pt. 2)

Published: March 21, 2020 11:15 am ET

Last Comment: March 27, 2020 9:30 am ET | 11 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

This week's edition of 'Rewind' is a reminiscence from 60 years ago and is the second in a series remembering some events from the season of 1960. This piece recalls some happenings mainly from the Old Woodbine track in Toronto which was then Ontario's one and only extended race meeting site.


Racing action at the legendary Old Woodbine which later became Greenwood. This is how the track looked in 1960.

As the decade of the 1960's dawned, Ontario had yet to introduce racing under the lights. Despite the fact that this form of presenting harness racing had been in vogue since it was first introduced at Roosevelt Raceway in 1940, the Provincial Government had refused to allow this major step. Repeated lobbying efforts and other similar attempts to change this policy had fallen on deaf ears. Thankfully this turned out to be the final year of the ban as night racing did come to be in May of 1961. The long awaited day, or perhaps more correctly stated "the long awaited evening" finally arrived.


A view of the long stretch and huge seating area at Old Woodbine as it existed in 1960. Driver Almer Holmes is in the lead with the young pacer Baron Atom from the stable of Max Webster of Brantford, Ont. who was among the many people becoming active in Ontario harness racing as a new era was just beginning.

The only extended race meeting being held in Ontario by 1960 was an approximate two-month session at Old Woodbine, a rather antiquated racing facility that had been around for parts of two centuries. This was the seventh consecutive year that the Standardbreds had appeared, first starting there and joining the thoroughbred meetings in 1954. Each year following that had shown a steady growth in attendance and mutuel handle but a meeting of just two months per year was far from what the horsepeople needed to survive.

The 1960 season at Old Woodbine started on Monday, July 4th with a card of eight single-dash races. The co-features of the day were each called "The Inaugural Pace" and drew a field of nine for the first and one with eight starters for the other and carried a purse of $2,000, which was of course the highest of opening day. The classification system using the A through C format was in use at this time. The track was a three-quarter mile course with a starting chute which meant faster times than the standard half-mile oval that most harness races were contested over back then. Ontario harness racing was finally starting to gain some momentum but there was a lot of catching up to be done.

OPENING DAY RECAP

The winner of the first feature was Sun Princess, a mare owned by Victoria and Chas. Armstrong of Brampton with Harold McKinley -- resident trainer and driver for the Armstrong's outfit -- in the sulky. In the second co-feature the victor was Argyel Duke from a very small but also formidable stable headed up by Duncan Campbell of Ailsa Craig, Ont., who owned and drove the winner. Other winners on opening day included Lena's Girl (Ron McGee), Bonny Tell and Sam Direct both driven by Jimmy Holmes, Full Swing (Will Smith) Primrose Woolen (Almer Holmes) and Miss Star Chief, owner driven by Osler Burrison of Cobourg, Ont. The meeting was off to a fine start.


Ron McGee was a winning driver behind Lenas Girl on opening day at Old Woodbine in 1960. He is shown here with his mother at the horse's head in the winner's circle. Ron went on to become a judge in later years after campaigning for a number of years at various Ontario tracks.

BIGGEST DAY OF THE SEASON

On Saturday, August 27, the biggest card of the entire meeting took centre stage as the annual Canada Cup Pace was held. Several horses that had been competing on the U.S. circuit were shipped back to Toronto to take a shot at winning a piece of the $12,900 purse (equal to approx. $112,000 today). This was the largest purse ever offered for a race in Ontario, thus the huge interest. The field drew a total of 10 entrants, all Canadian-owned I believe.

On race day a huge crowd of 7,403 paying customers were on hand to witness what everyone had anticipated would be a great contest. This was a two-heat race with the winner to be declared by the best standing. In the opener Rocky Hal Can cut out all of the early fractions but eventually gave way to Armbro Express, the race winner and heavy favourite at 3-5. The finish of the race saw the Armbro horse make a slight bobble in the final strides and it was believed prior to viewing the film that interference with Andy Byrd (Harold Wellwood) and Senator Spangler (P. Dussault) had occurred. As the film was reviewed, restless fans booed McKinley but the judges ruled him the winner with Andy Byrd second and Senator Spangler third.

In the second heat Howard Rosecroft, in from Batavia Downs with co-owner Bud Gilmour in the sulky, immediately took command and led a good part of the mile but faltered badly in the stretch and finished sixth. Again the winner was Armbro Express with Andy Byrd second and Argyel Duke (Dunc Campbell) third. In the first heat the winning time of 2:00.4 set a new track record, erasing the one set just one week prior to this by Howard Rosecroft. In the second heat Armbro Express again lowered his own record when he paced in 2:00.3 to set yet another new track record which would carry into 1961.

THE MAPLE LEAF TROT - 1960

On August 20th the top trotting event of the season "The Maple Leaf Trot" was held for the ninth time since its introduction at Thorncliffe Park in 1950. The winner was Selka Song owned by Victoria and Chas. Armstrong and driven to victory in both heats by Harold McKinley. Second was Mr. Baldridge (2-2) two-time winner of this event in 1958 and 1959 and this time driven by Marcel L'Heureux, with the show spot going to Legal Prince (3-5) handled by Peter Thibaudeau. One horse that was expected to be among the favourites leading up to race day was Homestead Dan who shipped in from Montreal but unfortunately came up lame and had to be scratched. The winning time of 2:07.2 was well off the stake record of 2:02.1 set in 1958 by Mr. Baldridge for Phil Dussault.

NEW DRIVER BECOMES INSTANT FAVOURITE

A young up-and-comer William "Bill" Wellwood, who was just 19 when the Old Woodbine meeting, started proved that he was ready to compete on the highest level Canadian racing had to offer. Despite having just driven in his first race in the fall of 1959, the youngster appeared at the Old Woodbine summer get together with all the poise and ability of a seasoned veteran. He was in charge of a small but quality based stable which he trained and drove for his Uncle and mentor Harold Wellwood. Throughout the two-month meeting he was a consistent winner with stock from his own contingent as well as attracting catch drives from trainers who soon learned of his ability.


(Montreal Gazette Photo)

Young Bill had a big day midway through the meeting when he won both heats of that year's three-year-old trotting Futurity sponsored by the C.S.H.S.. That day he piloted Kintoo Colby, a sometimes erratic trotter who was known to switch to the pace at times, but on this occasion he was on his best behavior. This horse was owned by Wib White of St. Marys, Ont. and in later years became part of a pair of top Invitational performers for White along with Ardee, a half-brother.

At the conclusion of the Woodbine session three drivers were honoured and received presentations from the Carling Brewing Co. First in the win parade was Harold McKinley with 50 wins during the 51-day meeting. Second was veteran horseman Levi "Jiggs" McFadden of Dresden who garnered 27 wins. In third spot with a total of 26 wins was a then just turned 20-year-old William Wellwood. Immediately following the conclusion of the Toronto meeting Bill headed to Richelieu Park where he remained for the balance of the 1960 season.

WEEKLY INVITATIONAL EVENTS

Each Saturday the top event of the week took place. Listed below are the winners by week.

Sat. July 9 - Invitation F.F.A. Pace - Winner: Stormy Volo (Jiggs McFadden)
Sat. July 16 - Invitation F.F.A. Pace - Winner: Royal Aileen (William Wellwood)
Sat. July 23 - Invitation F.F.A. Pace - Winner: Armbro Express (Harold McKinley)
Sat. July 30 - Invitation F.F.A. Pace - Winner: Captain Wright (Harold McKinley)
Sat. Aug. 6 - Invitation F.F.A. Pace - Winner: Captain Wright (Harold McKinley)
Sat. Aug. 13 - Invitation F.F.A. Pace - Winner: Hi Acres Rudy (Walter Grant)
Sat. Aug. 20 - Invitation Handicap Pace - Winner: Howard Rosecroft (Bud Gilmour)
Sat. Aug. 27 - Canada Cup (covered elsewhere)

Today it seems that the Old Woodbine/Greenwood era of Canadian harness racing holds a special nostalgic spot in the hearts of many of the true veteran racing fans still left. From the sight of the huge old grandstand that seemingly went on forever to the picket fence visible in the background of many photographs, it just seems to have been a special place in a special time. We can never go back in time beyond doing so in one's own mind but I think it would be a trip taken by many if ever it were offered.

Quote For The Week: This one is more of a short story than a single quote. Many years ago a man wrote to columnist Ann Landers with a question. He said "I don't drink, smoke, swear, go out with women, stay out late at night, eat fatty foods, or anything else that is bad for you. Will I live to be 100? The reply from Ms. Landers was, "NO but it will seem like it!"

Who Is It?

Driving suits come in different sizes and so do the people that wear them. Can you correctly name both of these gentlemen, one the owner and trainer the other the driver? (Abahazy Photo Collection)

Who Else Is It?

Can you name this chap from yesteryear?

Be sure to stay tuned during the coming week as the correct answers to today's pictures are revealed.

March 27, 2020 - 9:30 amThis week's pictures were

This week's pictures were again identified by our knowledgeable reading audience. In the top photo was driver Trevor Ritchie along with owner and trainer Howard Dinning while his son John is at the head of H H Vigor following a 1981 victory at Wolverine. Howard, a career military veteran, was a "late bloomer" in the racing business, first starting in 1975 and remained involved in various capacities including serving as race secretary at Leamington in the 80's. I am told he is still on the go.
In the lower photo was Dr. Russ Furness, a Vet and long time participant as a trainer and driver who hailed from Vernon, P.E.I. 
Thanks for the nice comments and your caring, always very much appreciated. Thanks to Bill Harris for the mention of the great old movie "Home In Indiana" and indeed Clint Hodgins was a central figure as I recall. Vance Cameron must have some pretty neat ties; I just hope he doesn't drop as much food as I do! 
STAY THE COURSE.

March 25, 2020 - 1:54 pmThe movie "Home in Indiana"

The movie "Home in Indiana" was based on a novel called "The Phantom Filly" by George Agnew Chamberlain. Pat Boone's 1957 movie "April Love" was based on the same novel!

March 23, 2020 - 3:18 pmRon McGee was by far one of

Ron McGee was by far one of Ontario's best racing officials and a pleasure to work with and could he ever make a perfect windsor tie knot. I had Ronnie tie many of them for me and some 35 years later some still hang in my closet.

March 23, 2020 - 8:47 amEvery Saturday morning I tune

Bill Harris SAID...

Every Saturday morning I tune into this string to learn more about the history of this great sport and I thank you Mr. Smith for your excellent articles. Much of it is before my time but I am aware of many of the players being written about. During these difficult times a diversion such as this is most welcome. To that extent, a few months ago I was sitting a home channel surfing and landed on TCM. A movie was just beginning called Home In Indiana so I settled in and watched to the end. It was made in 1944 starring Walter Brennan. And it used harness racing to tell its story around. I was quite taken with the cinematography. It was impressive for the era. I think Clint Hodgins was in it but didn't receive any credit. So I suggest that anyone able to download it give it watch. If nothing else it will be a diversion for a couple of hours.

March 22, 2020 - 9:51 amYou’re right John, Ron McGee

Karen Hauver SAID...

You’re right John, Ron McGee was definitely one of the best. I always enjoyed working with him. A real gentleman.

March 21, 2020 - 1:38 pmRonny McGee, one of the best

john crake SAID...

Ronny McGee, one of the best judges I ever worked with, what a gem he was

March 21, 2020 - 1:11 pmTop photo- driver Trevor

David Darocy SAID...

Top photo- driver Trevor Ritchie standing beside the owner/trainer Howard Dinning and Howard’s son John at the Horses head, photo taken at Hazel Park Raceway. No idea on bottom photo.

March 21, 2020 - 12:35 pmWho is it: driver Trevor

John Hill SAID...

Who is it: driver Trevor Richie
Who else is it: Dr. Russ Furness

March 21, 2020 - 12:27 pmTop picture the driver is

Tom Foley SAID...

Top picture the driver is Trevor Richie, trainer?

March 21, 2020 - 12:15 pmTrottin Trev, bottom Dr. Russ

Gord Brown SAID...

Trottin Trev, bottom Dr. Russ Furness

March 21, 2020 - 11:52 amHi Robert Who is it, Trevor

Hi Robert
Who is it, Trevor Ritchie and Howard Dining
Thank you for giving us something else to think about
Stay safe
Lori Mckelvie


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