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SC Rewind: Years Ago - 1950s

Published: March 9, 2019 2:18 pm ET

Last Comment: March 11, 2019 3:15 pm ET | 5 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

This week's SC Rewind covers some topics of interest from the decade of the 1950's in the monthly edition of Years Ago. Robert Smith recalls a number of names, events and happenings from various years 1950 thru 1959. This was an extremely exciting time in harness racing as new racetracks were being built in the U.S. and the sport was growing by leaps and bounds in its first full decade after WWII. Midway through the decade saw the closing of one very popular old Canadian track.

1952: Michigan's Newest track - Wolverine Raceway

A view of the very modern Wolverine grandstand in 1952. That may be a Studebaker car in the foreground. (Harness Horse)

In 1952 Wolverine Raceway, on the outskirts of Detroit, Mi., was one of the sport's newest and most modern harness racing plants in North America. First opened in 1950, it was a true showplace and a sign of the modern era of the sport as it entered its third year of operation. On opening night of their 54-night meeting, the Inaugural Trot with a purse of $5,000 was the featured event. Two horses with Canadian connections each won a heat before a crowd of 5,107 paying customers.

In the opener it was Waywise owned by Lucille Fleming and driven by her husband Jimmy who was the winner. Jimmy was the son of the famous Canadian horseman Vic Fleming originally of Dundas, Ont. In the second heat Risen Sun driven by Canadian-based horseman Harold Wellwood scored a two-length victory with Waywise taking down second spot. For many years Wolverine was a favourite spot for Canadians to race and attend as spectators. It eventually closed in 1998 but did not host harness racing for several years prior to that.

Risen Sun sports a new blanket while driver Harold Wellwood holds the trophy after winning the Inaugural Trot at Wolverine in August of 1952. Also in the winner's circle next to the driver is Pat Sheppard, her father U.S.T.A. President Lawrence Sheppard and track owner Frederick Van Lennep. The man at the horse's head was unidentified (Harness Horse)

1953 - Canadians Excel

The following is an excerpt from the Harness Horse magazine which summarized the accomplishments of Canadian performers during the 1953 season. The season of Ontario's top performer is highlighted.

Ontario's top horse of the year was undoubtedly the four-year-old Bob Lee pacing gelding, High Lee Baldwin. He started out the season with a mark of 2:11 and wound up his 1953 campaign with a mark of 2:05, earned in the $5,000 Invitational Pace at Richelieu Park, Montreal. In this event he drew eighth position in the first heat and still won in 2:05 from Dr. Holman, Mac Bingen, Harold Abbe, Cax Brooke,Royal Pointer, States Attorney and Victorious Guy. The second heat was in 2:05 1/5 and he was again a handy winner for owner Lafe Morgan of Chatham and driver Marshall Moore.

In the Canadian Pacing Derby at New Hamburg he split honours with Argyle Grattan p,2:03 2/5h, taking a photo win the first heat in 2:06 and just being nosed out the next in 2:06 2/5. Among his Western Ontario wins were scores at Petrolia, Alvinston, Rodney, Ridgetown, Dresden, Parkhill, Strathroy and Kincardine. Other good wins were a 2:06 2/5 Thorncliffe triumph along with the Richelieu victories. His season's earnings reached the goodly sum of $11,019.

He's the first foal of White Sox H., by Baldwin p, 2:02 1/2, a son of Lee Harvester 3, 2:16 1/4. He was bred by Ellis Dell of Becher Ont. and later sold to Mr. Morgan. During his local appearances the veteran Joe Daugherty handled the driving chores before Marshall Moore took over in his Montreal outings at the end of the season.

The write up ended by saying "these are only a sampling of the good ones that kept interest high among the harness horse followers of our northern neighbour."

1955 - Dufferin Park's Last Year

This what the famous Dufferin Park in Toronto looked like in 1955 its final year. Looks like a runner out on the track (Courtesy of Toronto Public Library)

The following is a description of this legendary spot that once captured the fancy of racegoers both of the standardbred and thoroughbred variety, courtesy of Torontoist.

Affectionately known in the Toronto press as “Little Saratoga,” Dufferin Park appears to have been a favourite track of the local sports writers. Describing opening day in 1955, the Star’s Jim Proudfoot wrote that Dufferin Park looked like “the Podunk county fairgrounds, and probably [owes] much of its tremendous popular appeal to that very fact.” Gordon Sinclair wrote that it “has a public and a smell and a type of fun all its own, and if you wander up there this afternoon late enough they’ll let you in for nothing.”

The Star’s Milt Dunnell called Dufferin “cozy,” and describes an atmosphere rich with a sense of local community, punctuated by the personalities who frequented the track. These include a man known as “Wee Willie Russell,” described by Dunnell as “the unofficial Mayor of Dufferin.” He also fondly recalled “Centre Field Willie,” further nicknamed “The Merchant of Venice,” known for salvaging equipment at the track, refurbishing it, and selling it on. According to Dunnell, “Centre Field Willie can sell a horseman almost anything from a rattrap to a broodmare.”

1958 - Jerry Does It The Hard Way

Following the 1957 season, Colonel Dan MacKinnon's fine column "Down the Back Stretch" in the Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island newspaper The Guardian made for an interesting read. In it there was an extended resume of the racing career of the stalwart trotting gelding, Jerry A. Hanover 4, 2:06 1/5.

He was the son of Spud Hanover and the noted daughter of The Laurel Hall, Jochebed 3, 2:07 3/4. Thirteen-years-old that season and credited with lifetime earnings of $62,272, Jerry A. Hanover had won no less than 129 career dashes. He was last owned by Roy Bevan of Charlottetown. Previously the bay gelding raced for a number of seasons as the property of Joseph Cauchon of Quebec City after crossing the border, then being raced mainly by Jules Giguere.

This horse had the honour of being listed as a "FFA" (Free For All) trotter for the past few seasons by virtue of his lifetime earnings in excess of $50,000 which was then the standard. While other horses on the list such as Hoot Song had won their way onto the list by winning some $115,000 during that season alone, Jerry A. Hanover had to do a lot of his work the hard way. Many of his starts were for low purses and he also had to compete in a lot of ice races while in the Maritimes. During the 1957 season which was his final one, he went postward a total of 37 times and was returned a winner on eight occasions. He added a total of $1,337 to his already impressive bank account.

Many noted horses of the past spent their "senior" years racing on the Maritime circuit where they were adored by their many followers.

1959 - Action At Blue Bonnets

As the 100-day fall meeting at Blue Bonnets kicked off, a sparkling performance was turned in by a locally-owned mare named Chief Maid. As the only female entrant in the headline $10,275 Henry Volo Pace, the five-year-old mare showed the Friday night crowd that she was equal to the task despite her all male foes. Handled by young reinsman Benoit Cote, Chief Maid followed the early leader Great Adios until the three-quarter mile marker. The pair set out to overtake the pacesetter and once in front she prevailed by two lengths with Champ Volo and Del MacTavish a close second and Captain Wright third for Harold McKinley. Time of the mile was 2:02.4, just four-fifths of a second off the existing track record set by Duane Hanover and Billy Haughton in July of 1957.

At this time harness racing in the Province of Quebec had reached new heights. The two large Metropolitan Montreal tracks conducted world class racing seven days a week and attracted the best talent on the Continent. The crowds they attracted were the envy of the entire sport.

Pictured from left: Raymond Lemay, Hubert Soucie, driver Benoit Cote (just 25 years of age), Chief Maid, owners Mr. And Mrs. Cleremont Vellieux and far right Paul Dansereau. (Harness Horse)

Equally impressive was the performance by the young trotting mare Dalyce Blue who set a new Canadian record for three year old trotters. With owner Dr. John Findley in the bike she toured the Blue Bonnets oval in 2:04 3/5 to erase the former mark of 2:06 set last year by Homestead Dan (Jack Gordon). This would have been the season's mark across the sport except that Sara Black trotted in 2:04 1/5 at Roosevelt just a few days previous to this. The two are expected to meet at Suffolk Downs in Boston in a few short weeks so all eyes will be on that event. (Courtesy of Harness Horse)

P.S. - Dalyce Blue was the winner at Suffolk Downs.

March 11, 2019 - 3:15 pmI knew your friend Clayt

I knew your friend Clayt Robinson quite well and I believe that picture was taken a bit before he entered the horse business. He was probably back on his farm near St. Marys Ont. working on his first million. For many years he looked after a good trotter named Kintoo Colby that Harold and Bill raced for Wib White. The horse in that picture was Ohio-owned, and a catch drive for Harold so the unidentified man was probably linked that way.
Thanks for your input Cass, it is always appreciated.

March 10, 2019 - 8:51 amRobert, To complete, I shoud

To complete, I shoud had say that Mr Bombardier was inducted to CHRHF IN 1986, the same year as Mr Gabe Trahan, two great gentleman that I know very well. For your knowlege, Mr Bombardier was the uncle of Pierre Lévesque, prominant owner of Angus Farm in Bedfrod, Québec.

March 9, 2019 - 9:11 pmHi Robert: Wondering if the

Hi Robert: Wondering if the man at the horses head in the Harold Wellwood photo would maybe be Clayton Robinson who worked for both Harold and Bill Wellwood and was related to them. He was quite a character and I spent a lot of time with him when I worked for Ross Curran and we were in the same barn.Surge Hanover came back to Greenwood after winning a big race somewhere and Bill rushed to the barn to see his horse. The trucker dropped the ramp and out rolled the groom, Clayton ahead of the horse. Those long trips were hard on grooms. lol

March 9, 2019 - 7:35 pmThank you Pierre for pointing

Thank you Pierre for pointing that out and bringing it to my attention. I like to have the proper ID on all photos; my apologies.

March 9, 2019 - 4:07 pmRobert, The man on the left


The man on the left in the last photo is not Mr Raymond Lemay but Mr Lucien Bombardier, very well known person who did almost everything in the business as an administrator.

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