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Hear From The New Hall Of Famers

Published: April 8, 2020 4:28 pm ET

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Three of the most respected horsemen in Canadian harness racing -- Jack Darling, Paul MacDonell and Ben Wallace -- took part in an interview to discuss their careers on Wednesday (April 8).

The interview with the three Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame nominees and pair of inductees was streamed on COSA TV’s Facebook Page and conducted by Greg Blacnhard. The trio of horsemen, who have known each other for decades, revisited memorable moments throughout their spectacular careers, answered questions from fans and filled the audience in on how they are keeping busy while harness racing across North America continues to take a hiatus due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Both MacDonell and Wallace were ecstatic about their inductions into the Hall Of Fame.

“I was overwhelmed by the news. It was hard to believe and it still is now,” MacDonell said of the news. “You work all your life and you don’t even think about Hall Of Fame status as you’re going but here we are all these years later."

The induction for Wallace posed as a time to reflect on the years composing his career.

“The horses you always remember, the races you won and the horses that you dealt with are etched in your mind. I was just awash with memories of 50 years of racing horses for a living. The people that you conjure up in your mind that you remember from years ago that either worked for you or worked alongside you and stories of the fun times and tough was all that type of stuff that really took over me. I had a tough time sleeping because I kept revisiting various evenings and situations that popped up.

“We always remember the good times of our horses and we struggle through some of the bad ones, the memories of the horses are prevalent whether I am a Hall Of Famer or not,” noted Wallace. “But, the Hall Of Fame brings out this other memory void for everybody.”

Although Darling’s name was not on the winning ballot, the lifelong horseman was still very grateful for the honour.

“It's funny when something like this happens, you really go into the memory banks. It really is an honour to be considered for something like that. I’m really happy for both of these guys, they’re both good friends and both very well deserving of their inductions.”

Between the trio of horsemen is a list of great racehorses they have all been associated with over the years. While that list is near endless, there are always a few that standout the most.

For MacDonell, a memorable horse and perhaps one of the greatest horses he has driven in his career -- arguably one of the greatest racehorses in history -- would be none other than Somebeachsomewhere. Blanchard revisited Somebeachsomewhere's first Ontario start at Grand River Raceway.

“I was probably expecting more from him than most would have because I had the opportunity to train him at Mohawk in between his qualifier and his race at Grand River,” recalled MacDonell. “The first time I sat on him, you could tell there was something very special about him. He was just a powerful horse and it was hard to believe that he was just a two-year-old. I did have a little bit of insight on him and I remember driving to the track this night feeling some excitement to see what he was going to be all about. He still went way above my expectations.

“[In his first career start] I felt so much power in him, I was just making sure that he was going to be okay on a half-mile track. I had a ton of horse and I was just waiting on him to do his thing. He did that :54 mile with so much ease it was scary.”

A memorable performer for now Hall Of Famer Ben Wallace would be a Hall Of Famer he conditioned, Blissfull Hall.

“He was a ridgling which was concerning to some, but I’ve had ridglings before and it didn’t bother me. He was such a powerfully-built colt, he looked like early speed would be in his repertoire but what happened was the testicle was bothering him. He made well over a hundred thousand as a two-year-old and was locked on a line the entire time. I remember saying to Daniel [Plouffe] who owned him that if he doesn’t come off the line, we’re going to have to go in and remove it. We opted not to take it out and I took him and Armbro Rosebud, who was an O’Brien Award winner, to The Meadowlands coming into their three-year-old seasons -- I figured that surface would be perfect to bring them up on. I remember jogging Blissfull in the middle of February or so and as I was jogging him it appeared to be that the other testicle had come down and sure enough it did.

“From that day on he was just an exceptionally fast horse and a gentleman horse at that. His speed got him out of any trouble that he may or may not have gotten himself into. He opened many doors all over for me again.”

Darling, who is prominently known for developing young horses into champions, has a near infinite list of memorable horses who have walked through his stable including 1997 North America Cup winner Gothic Dream. Perhaps one who is more memorable would be Northern Luck -- a horse who certainly overcame tough 'luck' throughout his career.

“In his three-year-old year, I had two horses in the North America Cup. Gothic Dream won his elimination and Northern Luck won his elimination as well. Gothic Dream was a big name at the time and Northern Luck was just starting to come up. Trevor Ritchie drove Northern Luck and said to me ‘I hope you’re not going to be disappointed if Northern Luck beats Gothic Dream next week.’ On the way home from the races that night he [Northern Luck] took some kind of a claustrophobic fit in the trailer and he almost took his entire hind foot off. You would have never dreamed he would have ever been able to walk again let alone race. So he missed the final of the North America Cup and he was off for about three months, but he came back strong after that. He was a very aggressive horse that always wanted to go forward.”

Northern Luck passed on his desire to go forward to many of his offspring, some of which were conditioned in their early years by Darling such as Silent Swing and Jr Mint.

Great memories were shared among the horsemen who have become lifelong friends over the years and insightful information on developing younger horses and choosing future champions was shared with the audience. The feature can be viewed below.

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