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SC Rewind: Years Ago - 1950s

Published: March 7, 2015 8:24 am ET

Last Comment: March 9, 2015 12:02 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind, Robert Smith takes a look back at some of the events and people in the sport during the decade of the 1950's in the ongoing monthly feature Years Ago.


A view of the huge Northville crowd on hand for a Saturday evening's races. (Harness Horse photo)

1950 - Michigan Governor's Cup Trot Won by Canadian Entry

For the second year in a row the good trotter Grattan Volo has captured Michigan's most coveted trotting prize held at Northville Downs. The annual event, which offers a $10,000 purse, attracts some of the top aged trotters from across the continent. Owner Leo Charlesworth of Sarnia, Ont. was again the recipient of the winner's share and a handshake from then Governor G. Mennen "Soapy" Williams. This year's event did not come easily as a huge rainstorm completely wiped out the Friday night card, which included the big race. Top driver John Simpson flew in to drive Deanna but returned to Roosevelt when the card was cancelled.

On Saturday night, almost perfect weather conditions allowed for a great night of racing. Driver Harold Wellwood drove Grattan Volo to a two-heat victory, winning his elimination heat and then the final in 2:06 flat. In the absence of driver John Simpson, another top driver, Gene Pownall, flew in to handle Deanna but had to settle for second place in the final after capturing the first elimination. Two other Canadian invaders, Duke Volo (LaRochelle) and Morris Mite (L'Heureux) failed to make the final.


Trotter Grattan Volo and driver Harold Wellwood power through the Northville stretch to win the $10,000 Governors Cup Trot (Harness Horse photo)

1951 - $283.60 Harness Price At Thorncliffe Park

The headline shown above undoubtedly appeared in a number of newspapers across the land when it happened. This one I copied from an old issue of the Montreal Gazette.

Toronto - July 31, 1951 (CP) - A Canadian record for a pari-mutuel payoff on harness racing was claimed today at Thorncliffe Park Raceway when Exeter Lady won the 5th race and paid $283.60 for a $2 win ticket.

Exeter Lady, owned by Jack Morrissey of Crediton, Ont. also paid $68.50 to place and $9.95 to show. Piloted by Lloyd Turvey, she was favoured by good racing luck. She managed to get to the front when the odds-on choice Judge Miller stumbled entering the stretch on the first round and broke pace badly. He regained his footing but could do no better than third. (end of CP article)

While some 64 years have passed since this event it is amazing that several participants back then are still represented in the sport today. The Morrissey name is among the sport's oldest and while he was not mentioned, 28-year-old Keith Waples was the driver of Judge Miller.

1955 - Canadian Horseman racing at Magnolia Downs

Far from the ravages of Canadian winters, blizzards and frozen water pails, Canadian horseman Floyd Milton is trying a new form of "winter" racing.

He has his modest outfit of mainly trotters stabled at Magnolia Downs in New Orleans, Louisiana for their second annual meeting. It seems wherever racing is held, Canadian horseman will be present. One of Milton's top performers is the nice trotting mare Dixie Tass, now six years old and the owner of a record of 2:04.4. At about this time Mr. Milton gave up racing and training and became a judge, a position he held for many years.

Harness racing was introduced here in 1954 but failed to catch on with the local fans. By 1959 it was discontinued and the track was renamed Jefferson Downs, catering only to the runners. Its entire history was plagued by bad luck which culminated in its near destruction in 1965 when Hurricane Betsy came through.

1956 - Horse Owner Settles Lawsuit

Dec. 8, 1956 - Based on proceedings held in a Kitchener courtroom, Windsor-based horse owner Warren Leatherdale accepted an out-of-court settlement, thus settling an ongoing lawsuit. In a rather strange set of happenings at the 1955 Canadian Pacing Derby in New Hamburg, Ont., the well-known horseman launched a $30,000 lawsuit against nine persons. Named as plaintiffs were seven members of the new Hamburg Turf Club and a couple from London, Ont.

Leatherdale was on the track in a warm up mile behind the pacer Uhl Fingo, when a car driven by Mrs. Lottie Elliott of London was in collision with his horse. One of the attendants was said to have signaled the lady to cross the track and park in the infield and a collision occurred. The horse was not injured and, in fact, was a double heat winner catch driven by Keith Waples. Cited as a possible contributing factor was the fact that the band was playing at the time, creating confusion on the track. His award in the amount of $5,000 was approved by Justice James L. McClelland. This sum added substantially to Uhl Fingo's bank account for that season.

1959 - Gilmour Stable at Old Woodbine

Bud Gilmour, perennial leading driver at Batavia and Buffalo for many years, has sent a portion of his large stable to Toronto. A number of horses previously racing on the New York circuit are now bedded down at Old Woodbine. George Gilmour, younger brother of Bud is in charge of the contingent and will do all of the driving. Included in his staff is Dresden horseman Glen Tiffin and his wife Marlene. This contingent of the Gilmour stable is made up of both Canadian and U.S.-owned horses.

The summer meeting at Old Woodbine, which later became Greenwood, lasted about two months -- opening to coincide with the July 1 holiday, and ending at about Labour Day. It is interesting to note in the picture shown below that this race did not conclude until almost 9:00 p.m., the final event of the evening. At this time Ontario did not allow night racing so without lights it was rather dark by the time the evening concluded.


Driver George Gilmour welcomes owners Mr. and Mrs. Wilmer Scott of Clandeboye following a victory at Old Woodbine by their mare Shirley Harvester.

March 9, 2015 - 12:02 pmHi Robert, I enjoyed your

Joseph Carr SAID...

Hi Robert,
I enjoyed your latest Rewind about the Fifties! Your postings always bring back great memories. I remember well the era of the time when Northville Downs was one of the prominent raceways in North America! I also remember Leo Charlesworth and Grattan Volo as the great horse was buried on our farm which we bought from Leo in the Fifties . He was quite a character. I have a great picture of Leo and his great horse which I'd like to share with you some time.
All the best! Joe


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