SC Rewind: Northville Closes Forever

SC Rewind: Northville Downs
Published: March 30, 2024 11:29 am EDT

In the latest edition of Rewind, Robert Smith discusses the recent closing of one of the sport's oldest and longest existing racetracks. Northville Downs, located near Detroit, Michigan, held the last night of racing in its very long history on Feb. 3, 2024.  He has included a number of old photographs from the track's bygone "glory days."

Northville Downs

Sadly the sport of harness racing in North America said goodbye to one of its oldest tracks that was part of the great movement that saw night harness racing become a major sport over 80 years ago.  When Roosevelt Raceway became the first track to stage racing under the lights in 1940,  it started a long and steady stream of racetracks that followed.  

Included in that early surge was Batavia Downs, also in 1940 followed by Saratoga,  Northville Downs and Maywood Park in Chicago. Many others followed.  On Aug. 4, 1944, Northville opened as Michigan's first nighttime harness venture.  From its very early days numerous Canadian horse people joined in and many were successful.  The track was popular with race fans and many of the sport's top horse people raced there.  It was said to be the first successful track to hold nighttime racing outside the State of New York. 

1952 Motor City Pace

Early in the track's history, Northville Downs management introduced two annual feature races with higher than normal purses.  The Motor City Pace carried a $10,000 prize and attracted many top horses.  Pictured above following the 1952 edition is the winner Royal Blackstone and driver Harold Wellwood. Also in the photo, left to right: Orlo Owen, Publicity Mgr.; Mrs. Brown, wife of the owner Wm. Brown, and John Carlo, Northville Mgr. (Harness Horse Photo)

Harold was among the most successful drivers during the early years and also won the companion trotting event called The Governors Cup. He won it on at least two occasions with Canadian-owned Grattan Volo and also catch drove the great mare Proximity to victory. 

A Personal Memory 

In that first year of racing (1944) at Northville my father and his then partner Russell Miller of Dutton, Ont. raced a horse called Argot Dillon and they were quite successful.  Their trainer and driver was Alfred Moore of Sarnia, a man who raced a lot in Michigan in those early days. Many people had never experienced pari-mutuel betting previous to this time and when a big payoff lit up the tote board, the crowd invariably went wild!! 

Argot Dillon lights up the toteboard

In what turned out to be a strange happening, Argot Dillon was involved in a rather bizarre payoff that was recorded in the following day's Detroit paper.  Going off at odds of 24-1 he paid $5.70 more to place than to win. The odd numbers were $50.00 to win; $55.70 to place and $32.20 to show.  My father often recalled the story that someone from the Northville management team told him that this event was one of the key items that helped to get night racing underway in a successful direction. (He also wondered how many other people they told that tale to!) The badly yellowed copy is shown here and I hope it can still be read. If you can't, it says that one patron had 18 $5 tickets on Argot Dillon, cashing in $2,250!!! An obvious question...was my father a recipient of any of the nice payout?  To quote a saying he often used "The story didn't tell." He was definitely NOT the person who had the 18 big winners. 

Northville Picture Gallery 

Northville Downs paddock tent

When Northville first opened a tent was used as a paddock.  Material shortages related to wartime activities limited track operators from building certain new structures.   (Harness Horse Photo)

Northville Downs

The photos above and below show a partial view of the huge crowds that once attended racing at Northville.  Their highest attendance was recorded on June 15, 1950 when 9,610 fans were on hand. The record for wagering was set on March 28, 1986 when $935,067 was bet on this date.   (Harness Horse Photo)

Northville Downs

Northville's grandstand (Harness Horse Photo)

Northville Downs

 A panoramic night time view of an early race night at Northville.  

training at Northville Downs

A horse and driver make their way down the Northville track in this 1949 photo.  A view of the grandstand and paddock tent can be seen in the background. 

Johnny Brown

1953 - John Carlo, executive manager and Dr. L. W. Snow, president of Northville Driving Club, present a trophy and blanket to driver Jimmy Fleming after a victory with the trotting gelding Johnny Brown.  Fleming was one of the sons of the great Canadian horseman Vic Fleming.  Both Jimmy and his wife Lucille often drove at Northville. (Harness Horse Photo)

Scotch Valley and Lord Steward dead heat

In 1954 Northville witnessed a record performance when Scotch Valley (7-Jack Ackerman) and Lord Steward (Dick Williams) dead heated in 2:03 1/5. It was a new world record for a dead-heat on a half mile track for trotters.  (Harness Horse Photo)


On Feb. 3, 2024 Northville Downs held its last card of racing.  A large crowd of well wishers gathered to "mourn" the passing of this iconic track. Many in the crowd recalled the great racing history that belonged to this spot. Shown above is the winner of the last ever race, Freds Nightmare piloted by Marc St. Louis, Jr.   (Renae Parsons Photo)

A story in the local Detroit News carried the following short note. "For many horse enthusiasts, the Feb. 3 harness racing event marked the end of an era."

Quote For The Week: "Your past mistakes are meant to shape you, not define you. Learn from them and keep moving forward." -- Charles Osgood 

Who Is It?  

Who Is It photo question

Can you identify the drivers of No. 2 and No. 5?  Here are a few clues.  This was at Batavia Downs in about 1960 and involved two outstanding trotting mares, both Canadian bred,  owned and driven.  The winning driver of #2 passed away fairly recently and the #5 is still with us.  They are both extremely well-known (both horses and drivers)  and members of the Hall Of Fame.  The driver of #2 was often known by his nickname which was a reference to his profession. (Harness Horse Photo) 

Who Else Is It?  

Who Else Is It photo question

Can you identify anyone from this winner's circle photo from many years ago at Wolverine?  I can see there are at least a dozen people and one horse and my guessing limit ends at identifying one person, the driver.  Let us know if you see anyone familiar looking (Photo from Abahazy collection)



Our experts prevailed once again and solved both photos. In the first photo the winning horse and driver was Peaches Atom with "Doc" John S. Findley driving ( Good eye Garth ). Second was Helen Brooke K handled by Tara, Ont. native Clint Galbraith.
In the Who Else Is It? photo was driver Pat Crowe and the winning horse was Show Kin Do taking a new lifetime best of 2:00.1 for owner Norman L Clements, who was identified as wearing a light blue shirt about midway in the pack. Reportedly son Dan was in there somewhere . Photo was taken at Wolverine Raceway in Michigan. 
Thanks folks for your participation. 

Who is it is Peaches Atom number 2 winning the race with Dr John S Findley driving and Helen Brooke K finishing second with Clint Galbraith driving.

#2 Doc Findley # 5 Clint Galbraith - Helen Brook K, think 3rd place Levi Harner who else Pat Crowe

Finishing 2nd definately Mr. Niatross, first looks like a female. Pat Crowe, Norm Clements, Peter Houch second from end. I also see Dan Clements.

Who is it? Dalyce Blue with driver “Doc” John Findley winning and Helen Brooke K with Clint Galbraith finishing second.
Who else is it? Pat Crowe and Norm Clements in light blue shirt.

Dr. John "Doc" Findley - Dalyce Blue
Clint Galbraith - Helen Brooke K?
Champions all.

Pat Crowe

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