view counter
view counter

SC Rewind: Years Ago - 1950s

Published: March 5, 2016 8:40 am ET

Last Comment: March 8, 2016 1:55 pm ET | 9 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind, Robert Smith takes a look back at some of the personalities and events from the decade of the 1950s in the ongoing feature Years Ago. Also included in today's Rewind is a 'Mystery' photograph from this time period which he has asked for possible identification.

1952 - Thorncliffe Park Racing in Full Swing

Racing returned to suburban Toronto for the third straight summer as Thorncliffe Park opened its gates on July 5th. On opening day nine heats of racing were staged as seven races were featured. The feature race of the afternoon was a Class 20 Pace for $750 that attracted a bulky field of 12 to face starter Cliff Bradley. In the opener Belle Dexter a nine-year-old mare paced home in 2:12.1 for driver Bill Habkirk. In the second heat Irene Frisco was home first for owner driver Jack Mehlenbacher. In the only trotting event Dr. John Findley showed the way with his own mare Sheila Lee as she topped a field of seven in a mile clocked in 2:14. In the third race, Keith Waples scored his first victory of the meet behind Mr. Cash. Racing continues here until August 25th.

A few of the other stables at this meeting included those of Wilbur Apthorp, Jack Baker, Cliff Chapman, Marcel Dostie, Harvey Fleet, Elmer Fritz, Sonny Geisel, Wm. & Jack Herbert, Gerald Hess, Cliff Hie, Wilbert Hopkins, Harry Ingles, Dick Johnson, Garnet Kirkpatrick, Roy Lawson, Vic Lutman, Jim McIntyre, Harold McKinley, Hugh McLean, Pete Miller, Allan Pacey, Gordon Ramsay, Hon. Earl Rowe, Percy Robillard, Les Slack and Lloyd Turvey.

Miss Mary Lou O'Connor of Warwick Downs, Rhode Island had a small but productive stable and did all of her own training and driving. Another young lady in the driver's colony was Miss Jean Sharpe of Beechy, Sask. who also did some driving registering a victory with Waskada Lad. This horse was named after a small settlement in Western Manitoba near the Sask. border. On the afternoon of August 7th, these two young misses accounted for three wins on the nine race card.

Peggy Lee M, owned by A.R. McDonnell of Hamilton appears in the winner's circle following a victory at Thorncliffe Park. In the sulky is Wm. Habkirk, one of the meeting's busiest drivers. [Michael Burns photo]

1953 - Richelieu Park Hosts National Pacing Derby

Sept. 28, 1953 - This season's top aged pacers faced off today to decide a champion. The event was raced in two elimination heats and the top five finishers from each returned for the final. A total purse of $7,500 was the lucrative offering. In the opener Dr. Holman was the winner for owner Karl Wells of Aultsville, driven by Percy Robillard in the quick time of 2:05.3. In the second heat Mighty Cox, an eight-year-old son of Volomite driven by Wm. Harvey for owner Wilbur Thompson of Weyburn, Sask., prevailed over a field of seven stopping the clock in 2:06.4.

A 1953 view of Richelieu Park on a Sunday afternoon.

In the final, 10 horses duelled it out and Bandleader was the winner for owner Lucien Dugre of Sherbrooke, Que., with young Jimmy Larente in the bike. His third-place finish in the heat race qualified the seven-year-old for the final. Following the winner home was Mighty Cox in second with The Black Prince taking show honours. The other heat winner Dr. Holman finished a disappointing sixth.

1954 - Clint Hodgins Visits Stratford

A full house is on hand at the Stratford fairgrounds to enjoy an afternoon of racing. World famous horseman Clint Hodgins appears in the winner's circle after a victory with Now. [London Free Press]

August 2, 1954 - The huge Civic Holiday crowd on hand for a day of races at the Stratford track received a special treat on this day. The great Canadian-born horseman Clint Hodgins made a trip home from his busy U.S. racing schedule to drive in the afternoon's races. While a couple of colt races -- especially the three-year-old Supertest Trot -- were the top events, all eyes were on the 47-year-old Hodgins whenever he appeared on the track. He did not disappoint the fans and in the Junior Free For All he was victorious in both heats behind Now, a six-year-old stallion owned by Robert Hales and David Pinkney of Stratford. His best time of the afternoon was 2:12, perhaps a bit slower than the miles he was accustomed to logging on a daily basis at "The Big Apple" where he spent much of his time.

The annual races at the Town's fairgrounds were organized for many years by Dave Pinkney who also owned the Queen's Hotel in Stratford. He was a long-time friend of Clint and they often collaborated on the ownership of horses. Undoubtedly his appearance on this day was done as a favour for the genial Mr. Pinkney.

In other action this afternoon, the Supertest three-year-old trot winner for a purse of $3,100 was Lee Harvester Jr. for the Berry Bros. of nearby St. Marys with Harold Berry in the sulky. Each of the three heats went in 2:16 flat.

1955 - Haughton Stable Also Plays Basketball

Famous horseman and amateur basketball coach Wm. "Billy" Haughton in a training mile. Any good team needs a capable coach and this team has one of the best. Billy Haughton not only knows quite a bit about training and driving a horse, he also is capable of coaching a pretty keen game of basketball. I guess in those days it was still OK to smoke a Camel cigarette from time to time.

The largest stable currently wintering at Ben White Raceway in Orlando, Fla. belongs to Wm. R. "Billy" Haughton. His roster, which numbers about 100 head, includes a lot of green prospects along with a solid slate of aged performers. It is difficult to look out on the training tracks and not see a Haughton pupil; often one sees multiple representatives from his barn. Needless to say the training staff includes a lot of grooms and several second trainers.

A couple of times a week, long after the training and grooming chores are done, a group of Haughton employees head down the street to a local gymnasium. Their purpose is to participate in a local basketball league. Towering above the group is trainer Dick Vaughn, who clocks in at a rather tall 6'4" and has been known to show some pretty good moves when he gets near the basket. He may be best known as the caretaker of Charming Barbara.

1957 - Maywood Park Opener on National T.V.

In the above picture nationally syndicated Chicago Sun-Times columnist Irv Kupcinet (center), who served as the Midwest M.C. for the top rated television program, is shown at the racetrack going over last-minute script updates with two NBC production staffers.

Back on the evening of March 29, 1957 when Maywood Park in Chicago opened their season, NBC cameras captured much of the action and beamed it across the continent. The popular coast-to-coast "Tonight Show" sent in a 15-man crew with three cameras to provide coverage of two races and also conducted several interviews. One camera was at trackside and another two were on the rooftop. Such coverage of harness racing was certainly not common at that time.

During this era Harry Burright was the perennial driving leader along with other popular teamsters such as Del Insko, Glen Kidwell, Joe Lighthill, Tom Wilburn, Stan Banks, Don Busse, Lou Meggitt and Billy Shuter to name just a few.

Some Time in The 1950's?

Can anyone identify the driver in the above photo? It came to me a few years ago without a date or any other identification other than the fact that it was taken at the Old Woodbine track in Toronto. The year would be sometime between about 1954 and 1958 as the old soft hats were replaced by helmets at about that time. I believe also that when Old Woodbine first opened in 1954, children were not admitted to the grandstand area.

March 8, 2016 - 1:55 pmThe picture of Richelieu

Garth Gordon SAID...

The picture of Richelieu Raceway brings back a lot of memories for me... talk about big crowds. Sat. and Sun. 12,000 to 15,000 people. Everybody would go to church on Sunday morning then come to the track in the afternoon dressed to the nines. It's hard to believe it is not there anymore. I could talk for hours about Richelieu and the great horsemen and horses that were there... maybe for another time. My dad, Jack Gordon went to Montreal in the fall of 1954. I was 10 years old and raced there every year until 1964. When I would get out of school for the summer I would get on the train in Cobourg and go there - could not get me home until about two days before school started. I drove my qualifiying race there in May 1961 when I was 16. And I won my first race there with a horse called Country Lad in July, when I was 17. Those were the day's my friends, those were the day's!!! I can relate to most of your memories since I started going to Thorncliff with my dad and Cliff Hie in 1952 when I was 8. I always look forward to your next story. Thanks for taking the time Robert.

March 5, 2016 - 6:12 pmAnd the winner is???????

And the winner is???????

March 5, 2016 - 5:41 pmRobert, Kendra and I had

Robert, Kendra and I had lunch with Dick Vaughn and 18 others at "The Ben White Reunion" on Thursday. He sat next to me and shared wonderful stories and pictures about his time with Billy Haughton. He said he was doing well but had lost most of his sight in his right eye. That is not good for basketball !!

March 5, 2016 - 4:25 pmGarth Gordon respectfully

Garth Gordon respectfully disagrees with Mr. Burns.
He believes the driver is Vern Waddell.

March 5, 2016 - 12:36 pmGreat stories and memories as

Great stories and memories as usual! I didn't recognize the "Mystery" driver but I sure was interested in the picture of "Peggy Lee M". She was the maternal grandam of a trotting mare named "Belmont Iris" that I bought from Alex McDonnell out of one of the mixed sales held in the CNE's old Coliseum. Iris wasn't much of a race mare and she sure could pull pretty good but she was the dam of "Quinte Heather" who was a decent race mare for those days especially at the fairs and one-day meets although she raced OK at Kawartha Downs and Belleville.

March 5, 2016 - 11:25 amMr. John Burns says this

Heather Reid SAID...

Mr. John Burns says this picture is Ross Johnston and one of his daughters either Janice or Judy Johnston. And you know - Mr. Burns is always right!

March 5, 2016 - 11:08 amI am almost positive it is

Jim Brown SAID...

I am almost positive it is Frank Safford. Hope this helps. He was a successful harness driver and won the Little Brown Jug in 1948 with Knight Dream.

March 5, 2016 - 10:21 amTed McFadden sent the

Ted McFadden sent the following:

Bob, I think that picture is Vic Lutman

March 5, 2016 - 9:04 amJack Williams?

Gord Brown SAID...

Jack Williams?

view counter

© 2018 Standardbred Canada. All rights reserved. Use of this site signifies your agreement and compliance with the legal disclaimer and privacy policy.

Firefox 3 Best with IE 7 Built with Drupal