SC Rewind: Remembering Alix Winger

Rum Customer and Alix 'Spider' Winger
Published: May 25, 2024 11:59 am EDT

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls the career of the late Alix "Spider" Winger, a very accomplished horseman of a bygone era.  A Canadian by birth,  he spent virtually his entire career racing at U.S. tracks where he was a top trainer and driver but always maintained a very low profile.  

The list of Canadian-born horsemen who started out in Canada and later moved to the U.S. to further their careers is a long one. Today's subject,  a gentleman named Alix Winger (often called Spider),  followed that oft taken path many years ago; probably not too long after WWII.  While the majority of his racing career occurred on U.S. soil he did on occasion return to his homeland, particularly to compete in stakes events.  

In 1968 Al Winger captured one of Canada's top prizes when he drove Rum Customer to victory at Greenwood in that year's Queen City Pace which was the forerunner to today's North America Cup.  The three-year-old son of Poplar Byrd was a member of the Wm. Haughton Stable.   He is pictured above in the winner's circle with Toronto Star sports columnist Jim Proudfoot.  

The Winger name was quite visible in Ontario racing circles for many years when Al's brother Bill trained and drove many horses from his home base at Leamington.  He was a regular participant at Windsor for a number of years.  Bill's son Randy was a very promising young star in the early 1970's but unfortunately had a very short career as he was killed in an automobile accident in the Windsor area.  Bill left us in 2009 at the age of 84. 

Buried deep in my not so well organized archives I have been storing a great story written many years ago by a New England harness racing journalist named Robert Lowell.  Appropriately titled "Looking Back" it detailed the life and career of Alix "Spider" Winger, today's subject.  I have shortened and edited it somewhat to suit this more abbreviated format. 

Alix 'Spider' Winger

Photo courtesy of Northeast Harness News 

The following passage is an abbreviated version of Mr. Bob Lowell's article entitled "Looking Back" from Northeast Harness News issue of August 1988. 

In the 1960’s a new name to New England fans established himself as a premier reinsman. No Hall of Fame membership and largely forgotten now by the racing public, Alix Winger was as talented as any contemporary. Born in Glencoe, Ont., Winger’s harness career got off the ground following his graduation from high school in 1934. He got a good, fundamental education in racing as a second trainer for John Chapman’s father, Cliff "Chappy" Chapman Sr.  Charlie Hill, now a blacksmith in Maine, raced with Winger in the mid 1950’s at Vernon Downs. Hill recalls, “Chapman adopted him.” He adds, “Winger grew up in a blacksmith shop and he could hang one up better than any man I ever saw.” Winger drove his first race in Toronto in 1938 when he was 17 years old. His first win came in 1939 with Jane Axworthy in 2:07 3/4. That year John Chapman was 11 and Billy Haughton was rubbing horses for Vic Fleming.

World War II brought Winger’s driving career to a sudden halt. He served with the Fourth Armored Canadian Division, as a sergeant until 1945. Over the years, Winger trained for some of the top private stables nationally. There was the Poplar Hill Stable of Illinois for whom he won the American Pacing Classic with Poplar Del. He started twice in The Little Brown Jug. In 1952, he handled Poplar Dell and in 1953 Poplar Glen in the classic. Later in the 1950’s, he had the Sturdy Dog Food Stable in New York. 

Al Winger was at Montreal’s Richelieu Park in 1963. Richelieu was nicknamed the Yonkers of the North. Winger was 42 and had a power-packed stable with stars named Telepace, and Captain Bob. At that time, there was a young fellow just 23 years old who was starting to receive national attention. His name was Herve Filion. Winger was the leading driver at Bay State Raceway (Foxboro) in 1962, Vernon Downs in 1957 and 1958 and Rockingham in 1963, 1964 and 1965 and compiled 1,133 lifetime victories. 

I recall that Winger was the leading driver and trainer the first year Pompano Park opened. “Winger was a natural athlete, played hockey in school and was a good golfer.” In school he was a letter winner in both baseball and hockey. Any kid from Canada with a name like Winger would have to be great in hockey. A fellow named Greg Libby, who worked as Winger's second trainer, stated that many of the top horsemen nationally used Winger’s services when racing in New England.

The late Mel Beckwith told a Winger anecdote several years ago in the knocker's stand at Lewiston. It seems they were racing at Rockingham Park and Mel was in with Winger. Going down to the quarter, Winger was parked out and hoping to find a hole, but Mel admitted he teamed his horse to keep Winger on the rim. When the field swung into the lane and headed for home, Mel had a ton of horse, but couldn’t shake loose because Winger was still sitting there. Following the race, Winger merely pointed out that racing was a strange business: “some guys don’t get in, and some guys don’t get out.” 

This writer (Robert Lowell) remembered him as a gentleman and added that Winger had a charming personality. 

Quote For The Week: "An older brain is a wiser brain."

Who Is It?  

Who Is It photo question

Can you name the two drivers in this stretch drive?  The only clue is in the background so you do know where the race took place. (Harness Horse)

Who Else Is It?  

Who Else Is It photo question

Can you correctly identify this once famous horseman who unfortunately died quite a few years ago at a very young age.  (Photo courtesy of Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame) 



This week's pictures seemed to pose no problems  for our experts. The first photo was the finish of a 1969 race at Windsor with Zip Tar (6) the winner driven by Mick Novick Jr. and second was Tanya Herbert (3)  handled by Jack Herbert.
The Who Else? photo was Lew Williams, a noted driver at one time who died tragically at a young age.
Glad the Winger story revived a few memories.
Thanks Folks! 

Al Winger raced in Alberta during the 1970s, came up from California I believe. He was nearing the end of the line but still displayed a great "set of hands" and won his fair share of races.

Who is it is Mike Novick and Jack Herbert. Who else is it is Lew Williams. Lew was a top catch driver at the Meadowlands when it opened in 1976. When his driving career started to unfold he got a job at a training centre as the track superintendent. His life came to end one day as the Tractor he was driving rolled over on top of him.

Lew Williams. Also, a great story on Alix Winger. Regards, Bert Clish

Mike Novick Jr. Greg Wright
Lew Williams

Who is it? Mike Novick Jr. driving Zip Tar and Jack Herbert driving Tanya Herbert.
Who else is it? Lew Williams.

Lewis D. Williams the driver of Whata Baron; passed away in tractor accident on the farm.

Mike Novick and a Herbert. Bill??

2nd picture is Lew Williams.

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