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Rewind: The First Summer Pacing Classic

Published: April 13, 2019 10:36 am ET

Last Comment: April 17, 2019 12:45 pm ET | 7 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of "Rewind," Robert Smith goes back in time some 51 years as he recalls the first ever Summer Pacing Classic race which eventually became the famous "Prix D'Ete" held for many years at the old Blue Bonnets track in Montreal. It was a day to remember and just one of many almost "once in a lifetime" race days held in the city of Montreal which for many years was the harness racing capital of Canada. It also became part of the glorious sports history of this great City.

A view from the Blue Bonnets grandstand (Hoof Beats)

Sunday afternoons, huge crowds, exciting racing...It sounds a lot like what regularly took place at the old Blue Bonnets track on Decarie Blvd. in Montreal. If we could turn back the proverbial hands of time to Sunday, June 16, 1968 all of the above and more were in full force. Early in the afternoon a near record crowd of 20,626 eager fans were squeezed in wherever there was a square inch to stand or, for the luckier ones, a place to sit. It was the inaugural of a very memorable and famous succession of races.

Scheduled as the ninth race of the day was the first edition of a new race called "The Summer Pacing Classic." It was a much hyped by the then-vibrant Montreal press as the highlight of the year. Of course many in attendance still had the previous year's big race to celebrate Canada's Centennial Year fresh in their minds. On that day the world famous horseman Billy Haughton thrilled the crowd and the racing world with his drive of Romulus Hanover. It was a day for the ages; many pages of the record books were rewritten that day.

In this year's big headliner an identical purse of $50,000 was again on the line. Perhaps due to the strength of the competition, only six entrants were up for the challenge. It had been hoped that Romulus Hanover, the star of the previous year's race would be back for another thriller. Unfortunately a soundness issue prevented his return and greatly diminished the track management's pre-race hopes. Thankfully Billy Haughton was able to supply yet another strong contender in Nardins Byrd who quickly assumed the role of at least co-favourite or the top pick among many of the pundits. It was truly big time racing as five of the entrants arrived at Blue Bonnets via a chartered airplane while the local Blossom Time had been in town for the past 10 days. (Note - The purse of $50,000 in 1968 adjusted to current values is approx. $363,500)

It was Canada's richest race day in history as it offered purses that totalled $90,400. Never before had such a large amount been up for grabs on a single program. The big race carried a $50,000 prize while the three-year-old pacing fillies went for $9,600 and an aged trot had a sizable pot of $7,000. Track handicapper Leon Bouchard selected both Nardins Byrd and True Duane as "too close to call " while others offered their opinions. Georges Giguere, Richelieu's Race Secretary, along with drivers Duncan MacTavish and Charlie Poulin saw Nardins Byrd as the winner while drivers Benoit Cote, Don Gillis and Gilles LaChance favored True Duane. A headline in the Montreal Gazette the day before the race read Classic Looms As Wide-Open Event.

Graphic artist's rendering, courtesy Montreal Gazette archives

As the horses left the gate local hopeful Blossom Time quickly headed for the front, taking the field to the quarter in 28 seconds flat. Prior to he half way marker driver Chris Boring moved the heavy favourite and eventual winner True Duane to the lead with second choice Nardins Byrd tucked in second. As Golden Blend faded slightly, Song Cycle moved up for the show spot and this is the way the race ended. At the wire, True Duane showed a margin of three-quarters of a length over a challenging Billy Haughton and Nardins Byrd.

Driver Chris Boring raises his whip as he steers True Duane to the finish wire a winner holding Nardins Byrd and driver Billy Haughton at bay. (Montreal Gazette photo)

It was the second fastest mile ever recorded in Canada 1:58 flat, and the handle was also the second largest at $1,000,807 just $61,000 short of the previous high set on the Centennial Pace day. It marked just the second ever mutuel handle in excess of $1 million on a single card. True Duane, a $1,600 yearling purchase by Ohio owner Richard Oldfield, was just 4/5 of a second off of the all time speed record set the previous year by Romulus Hanover at 1:57.1. His victory was obviously sensed by the betting crowd as he went off at odds of 4-5 and paid a small $3.60 for a two-dollar investment.

Winning driver Chris Boring of Adrian, Michigan was just 27 years of age at the time of this victory driving True Duane. He was already a very seasoned horseman having grown up in a harness racing environment in his native Michigan. His father Leon was a first class horseman by any standard. He drove in his first race at the age of 16 and upon graduation from High School he joined his father's stable on a full-time basis.

The track was in razor sharp condition for the big day and the mile times recorded throughout the afternoon were amazing. In addition to the 1:58 clocking by True Duane another sub-2:00 score was achieved by Blaze Pick in the third as Keith Waples steered the chestnut speedster home in 1:59. Other fast miles belonged to Zip Tar in 2:01.3, also driven by Keith Waples for the same owner Russel Miller of Dutton. Drummond Hanover scored in 2:01 for Benoit Cote as did Blossom Time with Marcel Dostie up. In all, six of the day's winners sped to new lifetime records.

That year True Duane was plagued by soundness problems that limited him to just 13 season's starts but he sure made the best of them. His three wins during that campaign were all top of the news headline stories. The five-year-old ended his shortened season with a lifetime total of $366,000 with $74,000 of that amount added during the 1968 season. His lifetime record of 1:56.4 taken as a three-year-old remained his best.

While this was a tremendous victory, it was by no means the most memorable of True Duane's career. Two years earlier in 1966 the young Chris Boring had the ride of a lifetime as he defeated the most famous horses then in competition. At Hollywood Park in California as the great Bret Hanover closed out his racing career, True Duane stole the spotlight. As Bret and Cardigan Bay battled it out all the way down the stretch driver Boring watched it all unfold and swept past the famous twosome to gain the upset and thus etch his name in the record books forever.

An account of that day included in the story of Bret Hanover's career entitled "Big Bum" mentioned that True Duane's visit to the winner's circle was rather brief and without too much fanfare as the day belonged to another regardless of the race's outcome. It was his final career start and even though the closing script was not quite as planned the day belonged to Bret Hanover and Frank Ervin.

True Duane and driver Chris Boring

And so went the first ever Summer Pacing Classic. I hope to revive and relive a few more of these great annual races later known as The Prix D'Ete as time goes by.


1. True Duane (Chris Boring)
2. Nardins Byrd (Wm. Haughton)
3. Song Cycle (Billy Shuter)
4. Golden Blend (Claude Pelletier)
5. Timely Knight (Roger White)
6. Cardinal King (Stanley Dancer)

Times: 28.0; 59.1; 1:28.2; 1:58 (Second fastest in Canadian history and 24th sub-2:00 mile ever to date on Canadian soil)

Who Is It?

Can you name these three individuals in a photo taken about 55 years ago? The correct answer will be given during the upcoming week. (Photo courtesy of Harness Horse.)

April 17, 2019 - 12:45 pmThis week's photo was

This week's photo was correctly identified by a couple of astute Rewind readers. Two Hall of Famers were included in this 1964 picture which announced changes in racing judges and an upgrade to the system. From left to right: judge Clair Smith of Ottawa (inducted - 1991), C.T.A. Pres. Allan Dickenson of Mount Hope, Ont. (inducted - 1981) and judge Claude Brissette of Montreal. An excerpt from the write-up accompanying the picture stated "The two officials, both of whom have served in official capacities throughout Canada will be rotated among various tracks."

April 16, 2019 - 9:01 amHad the opportunity to race

Garth Gordon SAID...

Had the opportunity to race in the “Prix D’Ete” in 1982 the year Cam Fella won it. What an atmosphere. They had a paddock in front of the grandstand where 20,000 plus fans could get close to see the horses. After the race’s they had a reception upstairs Rod Seiling introduced me to Guy LaFleur. Great memories; thanks Robert.

April 15, 2019 - 12:21 pmI loved the photos of Blue

Darcy MANN SAID...

I loved the photos of Blue Bonnets view from the grandstand. I even spotted my seat in sec 2, where I was sitting in 1973 when Armbro Nadir won the Prix d'Ete at 13-1 for driver Nelson White.. During the 70's, 80's and 90's I probably made it to the big race in Montreal 15 times. On one occasion I was working in Toronto on the night-shift and got off work at 7am on Sunday. I drove straight to the Blue Bonnets track for the afternoon Prix d'Ete and after the races straight back to Toronto just in time for work at 11pm... Who needs sleep when you are pumped up from an afternoon at the track .... lol My family also never missed a afternoon at Flamboro for the Confederation Cup for thirty years, until they decided to switch the races to Sunday night. I know dozens of people from Toronto who quit going to the big race when they stopped the afternoon racing.

April 15, 2019 - 9:27 amThese gentlemen were the

These gentlemen were the Judges at the time.........for sure Claire and Claude were !

April 14, 2019 - 12:10 pmMr. Rose, you took the words

Mr. Rose, you took the words out of my typing. Your memory is terrific. Have a great day.

April 14, 2019 - 1:38 amAs a fan from this era we

James Milne SAID...

As a fan from this era we always thought the Montreal circuit was tougher than the OJC. Quebec has many excellent horsemen who continue to succeed in other jurisdictions. Years later Benoit Cote went out of his way to help us make a connection at Harrisburg. This proved again that the big names are always willing to help out and promote the sport.

April 13, 2019 - 1:36 pmClaire Smith, Allen Dickerson

Sheldon Rose SAID...

Claire Smith, Allen Dickerson and Claude Brissette

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