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SC Rewind: Glory Days Of Montreal

Published: April 11, 2021 11:15 am ET

Last Comment: April 15, 2021 2:20 pm ET | 7 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind Robert Smith takes readers back to the "Golden Age" of harness racing at the two major Raceways in Montreal. The weekly action, the intensity of competition and the level of talent both human and equine was virtually without parallel. He recalls some special happenings from way back when, and hopes this rekindles memories for those who remember and also shows what a great racing mecca both Blue Bonnets and Richelieu Park once were.

This week's piece takes the form of three separate short stories from the circa 1960 era along with a few old photos that accompany each one. These recaps help to illustrate the high level of racing that was being conducted in Montreal at this time and for many years following.

Belle Acton

Belle Acton appears with her young trainer and driver Billy Haughton

One of the great early performers raced by the super horseman Billy Haughton was a mare named Belle Acton. Purchased as a yearling in 1954 for just $1,600 by her owner George Landers of Kittery, Maine, the daughter of The Widower was the absolute best of her generation. At this time Canadian harness racing was not accustomed to seeing horses of this calibre other than on very rare occasions. Haughton, her trainer and driver, loved racing in Montreal so much he made numerous trips during the 1958 season to both Blue Bonnets and Richelieu Park to race Belle Acton and others. When he had a horse (or horses) entered it immediately became a very big day.

While racing in Montreal Belle Acton was forced to race against the top male horses in nearly all of her outings. In late October Belle Acton made her last appearance of the season at Montreal. It was the third and final leg of the $48,000 Canada Pace. Based on her victory in one previous leg, an extra big day drew out a Sunday afternoon crowd of 8,400. After Bay State Pat had won the first round Belle took the second. Many in attendance, along with track management were hopeful that Canada's first 2:00 mile was in the offing.

As it turned out Belle Acton did win in convincing fashion with Bay State Pat and Frenchie Leboeuf second while Keith Waples took third with Ezra Dean. The mile was in 2:01.4 and while it was the fastest of the series it still fell short of the "miracle mile" that was anticipated. Her season's earnings after this race were right at $140,000 leaving her just about $9,000 short of the record for seasons earnings set by Adios Harry.

In 1959 Belle was retired after four and a fraction seasons, at the time leading the entire sport in career earnings with $353,039 to her credit. Many veteran Montreal racing fans still recall the excitement and enjoyment she brought to them back in the day.

Belle Acton spent several weeks stabled in Montreal during the summer of 1958. In the above photo presiding judge Floyd Milton went for a morning stroll with Belle Acton and one of her adversaries Ozark Chief accompanied by their handlers (Montreal Gazette)

Margie Eden

This headline from the Montreal Gazette was a familiar sight to racing fans at the Montreal tracks

Back in 1958, horseman Russel Caldwell of Kemptville, Ont. may have made the single best deal of a lifetime. He secured the then three-year-old trotting bred (Lusty Song - Miss Ella) but pacing filly named Margie Eden from George McQueer of Hammond, N.Y. In 1958, her first year of racing, she took a mark of 2:08. I am not aware of the actual details of the acquisition but would have to believe that whatever he paid for this young miss turned out to be a pretty good investment. I believe she was always listed as being owned by Jean Caldwell, Russel's wife.

Margie Eden appears in the Richelieu Park winner's circle with trainer / driver Russ Caldwell and his wife Jean who was the mare's owner. (Photo courtesy of Caldwell family archives sent by Allen Caughey)

In those days there was not sufficient competition available for "mares and fillies only" and thus throughout her career Margie raced almost solely against the boys. By the age of four she had reached free-for-all or Invitational status and raced on many a Sunday afternoon against the best that Blue Bonnets and Richelieu Park race secretary Georges Giguere could find. I doubt that she ever faced an easy field. Listed among the very good horses of the day that she defeated regularly were the likes of Sir Winston Pick, Dares Direct, Hal Frost, So Longs Prince, Mighty Regent and many more top flight performers.

At the age of four she took a lifetime best of 2:02.3 over the Richelieu track in early August. She went on to a five-win season and earnings of $15,524 which raised her lifetime bank account to over $30,000. While most of her successes occurred at the Montreal tracks, she did also race at Batavia one year. By the age of seven, Margie was retired and by then had lifetime earnings of almost $50,000 which in today's dollars equals about $440,000. Quite a career accomplishment.

In the 1970's the Blue Bonnets track started a number of stakes races to remember great performers of the past and each bore the name of a former star. Margie Eden was so honoured when a race for Canadian-owned four-year-old pacing mares was established in her name.

Closing note: I believe that Jean Caldwell is still with us and may be around the century mark which is quite amazing to say the least.

1960 Continental Trot Produces Dead Heat World Record At Blue Bonnets

Sunday, June 19, 1960 - With the Continental Trot as the main drawing card, a season record crowd of 9,067 fans saw history in the making at Blue Bonnets on this date. They also saw a happening that would likely never again occur in the sport of harness racing. The historic event was a world record for a dead heat which saw the two trotters, Steamin Demon (George Phalen) and Silver Song (Howard Camden) hit the wire together in a time of 2:02.3.

The feat that would never likely happen again was the fact that these same two horses had finished in a dead heat for win just nine days prior to this at Yonkers Raceway in New York. Their time then was a tick slower at 2:02.4. Although this was a world record for a dead heat it still only tied the current track record set three years prior to this by Trader Horn.

Trader Horn was a rather famous horse of the day in the 1950's and had a lot of followers including many in Montreal. He competed in several International Trot races carrying the green and white Haughton colors representing the U.S.A. He is shown here at Roosevelt being visited by a rather young admirer who even carried a pistol for the occasion.

This field had some big name trotters of the day racing for the purse of $15,000, not an everyday amount back then. Favourite in the field was Tie Silk at 6-5. For most of the event it appeared as though veteran Trader Horn and Billy Haughton would win as they turned back every foe until almost at the finish line. The eight-year-old veteran just finally ran out of gas as two fast closing horses passed the leader and created the dead heat. Interesting to note that all of the horses in this race with the exception of Philip Frost were flown in from New York on the Thursday prior to race day.

Whenever Trader Horn came to Montreal it was a big event. Pictured here feeding a bit of hay to the trotting star from the Billy Haughton stable are the Svoronos twins, Marlene and Harlene (you guess which is which). The twins were Miss Canada contestants at the time this photo was taken. (Montreal Gazette photo)

Results: 1960 Continental Trot

Steamin Demon (Geo. Phalen) - 1dh
Silver Song (Howard Camden) - 1dh
Trader Horn (Wm. Haughton) - 3
Tie Silk (Phil Dussault) - 4
Darn Safe (Bill Rouse) - 5
Philip Frost (Jim Weiner) - 6

Quote For The Week: "A new broom sweeps clean, but an old broom knows where the dirt is."

Who Is It?

Can you identify this once well-known horseman? He used to visit the Montreal tracks on occasion.

Who Else Is It?

The above photo appeared in the Montreal Gazette during the 1958 season to show the top performing drivers at Richelieu back then. Can you identify all three? Sorry about the less than perfect photo.

Memory Lane

Can you put names on this quartet?

Stay tuned right here for the correct answers to this week's photos. The answers will appear in the comments section.

April 15, 2021 - 2:20 pmThis week's pictures were as

This week's pictures were as follows:  
Who Is It? was George Phalen, a very accomplished horseman who raced at numerous U.S. tracks throughout his career. Remembered as a great catch driver for many of the great horsemen of the day such as Wm. Haughton, Joe O'Brien and Delvin Miller he passed away in August 1991.
The three Richelieu drivers pictured were from left to right: Ron Turcotte, Keith Waples and Robert "Whitey" Frame
"Memory Lane" shown below:
Members of the Cantario Farm management confer at the 1985 Harrisburg Sale with books in hand. From left: John MacDonald is joined by three generations of the Burgess family -Bob, his son Blair and on the far right Bert Burgess, the family's senior member.
Thanks to everyone who joined in with their answers.

April 12, 2021 - 11:57 amWhile the picture with the

While the picture with the young boy visiting the stall of Trader Horn was not part of this week's Quiz I did receive an interesting note from Don Daniels, a man who knows quite a bit about old pictures and he said: "Hey Robert, the boy with the pistol is one of Billy Haughton's sons."
Thanks Don.

April 11, 2021 - 9:20 pmWho Is It? GEORGE PHALEN

Who Is It?


April 11, 2021 - 4:09 pmIt’s always nice for me to

Garth Gordon SAID...

It’s always nice for me to hear about the stories from Richelieu Park. I remember Margie Eden, owned by Jean Caldwell and driven by her husband Russell. She was a top F.F.A. Pacer racing against and beating the boys. She wasn’t quite as good as Belle Acton but not far behind. I am quite sure “who is it“ is related to your Continental Trot story. I am guessing it is ether George Phalen or Howard Camden. Although I have never met either one, just heard of them, I am going to guess George Phalen. “Who Else Is It” Is Ron Turcotte, Keith Waples and Ned Galentine. And “Memory Lane” is the late Bob Burgess with his son Blair. The gentleman looking at the book I think was Bob's partner - I can’t think of his name. And the other gentleman may be Bob's father.

April 11, 2021 - 2:15 pmMaurice Pusey????? Ronnie

Maurice Pusey?????

Ronnie Turcotte, Keith Waples and Del Mactavish Jr.

Note: I well remembered Mr and Mrs Russ Caldwell, they were wonderful people.

April 11, 2021 - 12:52 pm2. Ron Turcotte, Keith

Sheldon Rose SAID...

2. Ron Turcotte, Keith Waples, Bob Frame.
3. John MacDonald, Bob and Blair and Bert Burgess.

April 11, 2021 - 12:27 pmThe first picture? The second

kent benson SAID...

The first picture?
The second picture is Keith Waples in the center.
The third picture is Bob and Blair Burgess in center.

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