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SC Rewind: Madawaska Mile, Pt. 2

Published: March 31, 2018 9:56 am ET

Last Comment: April 5, 2018 9:53 am ET | 5 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

​In this week's Rewind Robert Smith concludes the two-part story started last week concerning the Madawaska Mile Race held back in 1958 at Connaught Park. His piece covers the details of the actual race and includes as many details as could be found after all these years.

​When race day arrived for the much-heralded Madawaska Mile, fans were concerned that a recent weather event might alter the plans. A major rainstorm on Friday evening had cancelled that night's card of racing at Connaught Park but an immediate announcement was made that Saturday's program would proceed as planned with the Friday card delayed until Monday. Crisis averted.

Saturday night's card of racing was a thrilling one from start to finish and saw several new records set in the process. The Connaught operation, then in its sixth season of presenting harness racing, was experiencing its finest hour. Harness racing was a growing sport and the people in the Ottawa-Hull vicinity were loving it. On the backstretch, many of the fine horsemen from the Ottawa valley region were able to race their stables close to home, truly a bonus.

In the evening's opening race, the first elimination heat of the night's big race, the winner was Galawin owned by Geo. Alguire with John Zeron driving, second was Maybe C for Allan Pacey and third spot went to Red Sails H with Ken Thompson in the sulky. Also qualifying for the final which would go as the sixth race was V W R handled by owner Clarence Hilliard of Schomberg, Ont. Time of the mile was 2:13.1.

In the second elim Nathan Hanover was home first for owner Wib Slack of Hagersville, Ont. and handled by Ken Thompson. Taking down second spot was Pot Of Gold C for Don Cox and third was Sadie Sue owner driven by Dr. John Findley. Taking fourth and thus earning an entry into the final was Simcoe Grattan driven by Ross Curran. The winner paid $11.20 to win and covered the mile in a faster time of 2:11.2.

In the third and final which turned out to be the most exciting of the three elims, Leezoff took down the top spot for owner and driver Dr. John Findley -- the man who spearheaded this entire event. Finishing second was Lockvale Ginny, catch driven by Johnny Zeron with the show spot going to the heavily favoured Baroness Atom with Curt Baker up. The final entrant became Ima Direct S. piloted by 18-year-old Herve Filion. Time of this mile was the fastest of the three, 2:09.4. With Baroness Atom having to score from the No. 10 spot in the second tier, she just could not make up enough ground on the leaders and had to settle for third spot. Her main aim was to get in the final of The Madawaska; mission accomplished.

When the 12-horse field paraded for the final in the sixth race, the huge crowd was really into the moment. In the race just preceding this one, a dead heat for win had occurred in the Invitation when Dusty Brook and driver Bud Fritz and Sally Sue with John Findley up arrived at the wire at the same time. The judges posted a dead heat, always an exciting happening. The crowd on hand, numbered at just over 5,000, was the largest ever assembled at Connaught to that point in time. The fans were also in a betting mood as they established a new high for Connaught as they sent $73,217 through the machines, bettering the existing mark of $70,736 and they did it in one less race!

In the Madawaska Final, the script played out much as many in the huge throng had envisioned. Baroness Atom, scoring from post four, was sent away quickly by driver Curt Baker (right) and immediately grabbed the lead. Believing that the best horse should be on the front end Baker was taking no chances. He led throughout the mile and at the wire held a two-ength advantage over his closest pursuer Lockvale Ginny and driver Murray Waples. In third spot was Pot Of Gold C for Don Cox. Time of the mile was 2:09, a couple of seconds shy of the track record.

It was believed that the mare had a good shot at setting a new track record based on her recent very fast mile in 2:08 a couple of weeks prior to this night. The existing record of 2:07.1 set a couple of years earlier was shared by Frank Brook and Hal Baker. On this night it was not to be, perhaps the track was slowed a bit by recent heavy rains. In any event she went fast enough to win the race and that was all that really mattered. The wagering public had things figured correctly as the winner paid just $4.70 $4.40 and $3.20 across the board.

Undoubtedly the happiest person at the racetrack that evening following the sixth race was a gentleman named David Behan from Pembroke, proud owner of Baroness Atom. He had purchased her as a yearling from another man in attendance that evening: Perry German, who had made the long trip eastward from his home in Paris, Ont. Originally purchased as a trotting prospect she had shown little on that gait and at the persuasion of current trainer Curt Baker she was fitted with a pair of hopples. The results were nothing short of spectacular.

Mr. German was a interesting gentleman from what I have been able to learn. He had some rather different theories on raising and training horses and apparently had a pipe organ in his barn which he played for the benefit of the horses. A number of notable performers came from his rather small breeding operation located near Paris, Ont.

Mr. Behan was summoned trackside for a short winner's circle celebration, much to the delight of the huge crowd. He was presented with a beautifully lettered cooler inscribed with the words Madawaska Mile Stake 1958. The presenter was Miss Adele Grace of Arnprior who had been selected as Miss Ottawa Rough Rider the previous year. A number of dignitaries were on hand including Mr. George Gelly, Director of racing for the Province of Quebec. Other notable guests included Mayor Scott Burchell of Perth, Mr. Jas. Baskin M.P. for Renfrew, Alex Caron M.P. for Hull, Dr. Rudolphe Leduc M.P. for Gatineau. Also present were delegations from Ogdensburg, Massena and Watertown, N.Y.

Special congratulations were extended to Dr. John Findley who instituted and facilitated the transfer of this race to Connaught Park. Dr. Findley supervised the move from Arnprior and did a great job of it. In connection with the Madawaska race Cliff Bradley acted as Associate Steward.

For those horses not qualifying to compete in the final, two consolation races were held. The winners were Happy Con owned by Colborne Hess and driven by Herve Filion, and Miss Angus driven by Vic Lutman for owner J.J. Stewart. The format of this race meant that nearly every entrant went home with a cheque.

The 1958 season proved to be a thrill of a lifetime for owner David Behan, his trainer and driver Curt Baker and for his great mare Baroness Atom. Starting the season as a "green" performer, the then six-year old daughter of Mighty Atom out of Audrey Van closed out her season winning a total of 16 races in 21 starts, good enough for earnings of $3,793. Later that season she was taken to Richelieu Park and on October 8th she took a very respectable mark of 2:05 with Baker driving as usual.

Mr. Behan, who owned horses strictly as a sporting interest, had a great year. His interest in sports extended beyond horses as he also coached the Pembroke Little Lumber Kings to a championship victory in 1937 winning the title for Ottawa and District which was quite an accomplishment.

Closing notes: It is interesting to note that at least five drivers either mentioned or active at this time are still with us today despite the passage of some 60 years. Dr. John Findley, Murray Waples, Bud Fritz and the brothers Curran, Ross and Neil. My special thanks to Dr. John for his indepth recollections of this race and the times in general and for his sharing them with me.

Wouldn't it be something to have the kind of enthusiasm today that existed 60 years ago?​

HAPPY EASTER to the readers of Rewind!

Who Is It?​

This picture is closely associated with today's story. On the right is racing official Alex Mellon shown chatting in the Connaught Park paddock with a popular driver of that time period. Can you name the driver? The correct answer will be given during the coming week.

April 5, 2018 - 9:53 amThis week's picture featured

This week's picture featured Vic Lutman - a familiar figure from our sport's past. He and his wife Wilda were participants at many Canadian and U.S. tracks in days gone by. I believe they headquartered near Monticello in later years, where some family members may still reside. Thanks for your participation.

April 4, 2018 - 12:01 pmThe last clue is that the

The last clue is that the horse who was named after the pictured gentleman was called VL. Hope that helps.

April 4, 2018 - 7:49 amI think the mystery photo is

Garth Gordon SAID...

I think the mystery photo is Vic Lutman.

April 3, 2018 - 10:49 amLooks like a clue or two may

Looks like a clue or two may be in order. The pictured gentleman was a fairly well known driver many years ago at Ontario, Quebec and New York State tracks and eventually moved to Monticello. When Old Woodbine opened for harness racing he shared the leading driver award with Hughie McLean that first season. In the 1950's one of his owners named a horse after him; it was just two letters which were his initials. He passed away in 2004 at the age of 87. His son who has also passed on, later became a horseman.

March 31, 2018 - 11:19 amYoung MIKE LACHANCE, one of

Young MIKE LACHANCE, one of the best.

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