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SC Rewind: Memories From A Rescued Photo

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Published: April 16, 2011 10:54 am ET

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In this week's Rewind Robert Smith tells of discovering an old photo rescued from a fire that revived many memories.

Sometimes things show up in the most unlikely of places. On a recent visit to a fruit and vegetable stand that I have been frequenting for the past 40 years or so, I was amazed to see a picture of a horse and driver hanging in a dimly lit corner. I was unaware these folks had ever had any involvement with the sport. A fire a few years back wiped out all of their remaining attachment from over 35 years ago. That is, all except a couple of now badly charred and scuffed framed photos. This is all that remains from a collection of horse memorabilia from the family of the late John Carrick of LaSalle. I was not even able to extract the photo from the frame because of what had happened.

Even from a distance and without my glasses, I knew immediately who was in the driver's seat behind the trotter Dauntless Guy. The sight brought back a flood of pleasant memories of a young budding driver and a brilliant career , but it also reminded me of a very sad ending. The young man heading for the finish wire at Windsor, well in front and sporting a look of confidence a driver gets at about that point was unmistakably Shelly Goudreau. And now even after nearly 30 years I still find it sad to say "The late" Mr. Goudreau. His departure was way too soon.

Sheldon "Shelly" Goudreau was born in 1948, the son of Fred & Jackie Goudreau. To put his arrival in historic perspective he was six years younger than Ron Feagan and seven years older than John Campbell. While some people's careers are compromised by bad timing, his was the exact opposite. Unlike his father who had to "squeak" out a living in the horse business often based on the success of the foals of his old broodmare Darky Patch, the junior Goudreau was placed into a world of endless possibilities. His talents became obvious at a young age and an interesting story is told of his early training. Reportedly father Fred put him on a cart and said while pointing "The track is round, so just keep him on the track and eventually you'll end up back here." The story becomes more interesting as the horse bolts and after 16 frantic laps (all on the track) the pair return unscathed.

His talent and ambition would carry him far and the fact that he resembled his father and mentor, "Smiling Fred" was not exactly a minus. His entry into the driving ranks at Windsor came at about the same time as another crop of talented young reinsmen like Greg Wright, Ray Remmen and Ken Hardy. This was the dawning of an era when a driver could earn a good living without having a public stable, and maybe even without having to train any horses . The sport was experiencing a huge growth with year round harness racing and it was just an overall good period in history.

He first started driving at the age of 18 and was an immediate success in the bike to the surprise of no one. A week after his very first drive came his maiden victory in 1966. Within a short space of time he began winning driving titles. He and Fred had a fairly extensive stable assembled and when he wasn't required on a Goudreau trained horse, his services as a catch driver kept him busy with entries in nearly every race on most nights.

Like anyone who is talented in any field, they rise quickly to the top ; Goudreau was no exception. From his starting point at Windsor Raceway he soon began to spread his wings. First it was across the border to the Michigan tracks and then farther afield. He credited his meteoric rise to a few horses such as Robbie North and D Judge but he drove many more good ones even early in his career. He soon drew a lot of attention.

Over the next 16 years he travelled about the country from Coast to Coast including the then fairly new Meadowlands. His home base was chosen in California. He amassed total earnings during that time of almost $13 million and in the process won a phenomenal 2,291 races. Wherever his travels took him he was a favourite. His smiling jovial nature, his trademark moustache and his sense of humor followed. Among his best performers were Try Scotch, Freedom Fella, Apollo's Way, Genghis Khan and the World Champion mare Tender Loving Care . At this point it was anybody's guess as to what numbers he might one day accomplish.

On the evening of August 27, 1982 the unthinkable happened. While driving at Hollywood Park in California, the bit broke on the horse he was driving. In an attempt to maximize his chances of survival, he swung his legs over the sulky shafts and jumped out onto the track. His head struck the hard surface as he landed, and the worst possible events followed. A few days later he succumbed to the injuries he sustained. At the tender age of 34 a still very youthful Shelly Goudreau left behind his wife Michelle and a one year old son Shelly Jr. It was a sad day and one that is never supposed to happen.

Nearly 30 years have passed, but he is still fondly remembered by his many fans, his family and everyone who ever knew him.


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