How Mohawk Became Ontario’s Showplace For Racing

Clint Hodgins in the winner's circle
Published: May 23, 2024 10:00 am EDT

The Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) is celebrating its 50th anniversary season this year with special anniversary dates at tracks around the province where fans will be able to watch OSS Gold or Grassroots races, view memorabilia from seasons past, enjoy giveaways and more. Don’t miss the next celebration date as the OSS kicks off the Gold season at Woodbine Mohawk Park this Saturday, May 25.

By virtue of its long existence, Woodbine Mohawk Park has undoubtedly hosted the largest number of OSS events, along with Western Fair Raceway and Rideau Carleton Raceway as original “A” track hosts of the now 50-year-old series.

A portion of the early history of the OSS was recorded at the other two Ontario Jockey Club tracks – Garden City with just three years and Greenwood with 20 years. Both locations closed many years ago.

When Mohawk Raceway originally opened, the coming of the OSS was well off in the future. On the evening of Friday, April 26, 1963, a reported 4,338 fans flocked to the opening of the track. A nine-race card kicked off the action and when the pacer David Hal B and driver Pat Crowe crossed the finish wire a winner in the first race in 2:09.1, yet another milestone in Canadian harness racing entered the books.

The purses on opening night ranged from a low of $500 to a high of $1,400 for the featured sixth race, which was won by Adios Dominion, driven by Ken Galbraith.

Fast forward to 1974 and the dawning of a new age. The travelling OSS series was somewhat late in arriving at Mohawk due to the racing schedule. When the fall meeting arrived, the newfound series debuted at the Campbellville, Ont. oval, which was then a five-eighths of a mile track.

The two-year-old pacing fillies were the first to perform before a Mohawk audience on Oct 19. With a field of 10, they went in a single division, which was won by Ruby Patch, driven by Ray McLean and owned by the estate of Hugh McLean of Port Elgin, Ont. It was her lone victory of that season in eight starts, but thanks to the purse of nearly $49,000 for that event, she ended the season with earnings of $25,499.

In the succeeding years, young horses of both gaits have “strutted their stuff” at what is now Ontario’s showplace for harness racing.

OSS Scrapbook Memories

Robra Glider

Robra Glider “glides” to victory to become the very first winner of an OSS event on June 1,1974 at Garden City Raceway. Ron Feagan, a 32-year-old horseman from Goderich, Ont., was in the sulky and was also co-owner of this history-making three-year-old pacer. A son of Meadow Gene-Rich Melody, the colt went on to season’s earnings of $40,025. This was a great moment in the history of Ontario harness racing and, of course, the OSS.

Robra Glider's connections in the winner's circle

This winner’s circle was a happy gathering on June 1, 1974 as the very first OSS event became history. The Hon. John Clement, on the far right, welcomes Robra Glider and co-owner Ron Feagan to make a trophy presentation. Bruce Smith, co-owner, was not present for the event. Assisting is Garden City hostess Pat Cranston.

Dr. Glen Brown

Dr. Glen Brown, DVM was one of the original group that helped create the OSS and was a strong proponent of the program from the very start. His guiding hand helped to get the OSS started and he remained a part of the organizational force for many years. He was, of course, in attendance at the inaugural race in 1974. Dr. Brown was a walking, talking history book of harness racing, in general, and certainly knew the entire history of the OSS. He graciously shared his knowledge well into his senior years. He left us in May 2022 at age of 88 and thankfully lived to see the program reach its full potential.

Clint Hodgins

Famed Canadian-born horseman Clint Hodgins was a highly successful participant during the inaugural 1974 season. He’s shown here enjoying a jovial moment with OJC President John Mooney following a victory by his outstanding three-year-old pacing gelding Terry Parker. This horse led all competitors in earnings that first year as he banked a phenomenal $77,312, with $63,866 earned in OSS events alone. The groom at the left is Dennis Wicks.

Aileens Tour

It took four years of OSS action before two-minute speed was achieved. In 1977, the three-year-old pacer Aileens Tour, owned by Harold Wellwood Sr. of Stratford Ont., and driven by his 22-year-old son Harold Jr. "Buddy," became the first horse to record a mile in 2:00 or less when he achieved that milestone at Greenwood Raceway in Toronto on Monday July 4, 1977. The time of the record-setting mile was 2:00 flat. He would go on to lower that mark later in the season. In 1977, Aileens Tour won 11 OSS events, including 10 in a row and 11 out of 12. He set or equalled five track records, including at Sudbury, Leamington, Barrie and Windsor. In all, he had 16 wins at age three.

Wilcos Comet

Sept. 15, 1984 – Driver Trevor Ritchie is alone at the Mohawk wire as he establishes an all-time OSS speed mark for rookie pacing colts. Wilcos Comet, sired by Armbro Splurge, paced to a 1:58 mile in the $53,075 second division of the OSS that evening. The first division went to Twin B Playboy (Doug Brown) in a somewhat slower time of 1:59.3. Wilcos Comet was the property of The Golden Horseshoe Stable of East Detroit, Michigan, and trained by the late Lew Clark.

(Robert Smith / Ontario Racing)

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