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SC Rewind: The 1,000 Club

Published: May 28, 2016 9:08 am ET

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In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls the time when a driver recording 1,000 wins in an entire lifetime was considered quite an accomplishment. The piece includes a list of notable Canadian born drivers who had reached that goal by 1974. A number of old photographs recalling important milestones are included.

Driver Herve Filion, despite being just 34 years old in 1974 already led all Canadian born drivers in career races won at that time with over 4,500 wins, 1,100 ahead of his closest rival Joe O'Brien. He is shown here in 1968 celebrating one of the countless milestone wins in his long career. From left is Herve's wife Barbara, Herve, Michael MacCormack and Raymond Lemay, both Blue Bonnets officials. (When Herve officially retired in 2012 he had recorded a phenomenal 15,180 career victories)

At one time, and not all that many years ago, when a harness horse driver recorded 1,000 lifetime wins it was cause for celebration. Let the drums be heard, roll out the red carpet and pop the champagne corks!! When a new member of the club was enshrined it was indeed a big deal and that lucky person was usually recognized at least once if not several times. For a time the Bulova Watch Co. were part of the tradition and one of their representatives made a special visit to present a lovely wristwatch and congratulate the honouree.

Thanks to the work done many years ago by now Hall of Famer Bill Galvin, I was able to come up with a list of drivers who had joined the exclusive "1000" Club by early 1974. At that time just 25 Canadian-born drivers had reached that plateau; most are household names to long time followers of our sport. The tenure of many on the list dates back to a much earlier era when the number of races won in a season was markedly lower than we know today. It is also generally acknowledged that many of the older drivers won countless races that were not recorded, thus depriving them of credit even in hindsight.

With year round racing came many more opportunities to pile up wins. Turning the clock way back it did not take a lot of trips to the winner's circle to win the Canadian title in the top driver category. When the era of specialized non-driving trainers came along, it provided a lot more driving opportunities for those who drove only and did not train.

The list below was compiled based on available statistics at the end of 1973 for publication of the 1974 Fact Book.

As recently as 1965, which is not exactly ancient history, no Canadian driver had ever won 200 races in a single season racing on home soil. That fact was true as the season began, but as the curtain fell at year's end the previously elusive barrier had been broken. The sport's fastest rising star, Ronnie Feagan -- who turned 23 that year -- was the first member of the "200" Club. As we look back at it now, who could have been a more fitting individual to hold this honour? To be the first at doing something is always special, even if that record is many times eclipsed.

Ron Feagan proudly displays the Carling Red Cap Trophy emblematic of winning the O.J.C. drivers championship. When the 1974 career wins were published Ronnie was only 32 years of age but stood 6th on the list with almost 2,000 trips to the winner's circle.

In 1967 Keith Waples scored an incredible 246 victories, racing mainly on the O.J.C. circuit. On October 14, he scored win number 200 when he steered the trotter Armbro Echo to victory at Garden City Raceway. This latest tally was recorded as his 1,783th official victory but he had notched many more back in the days when accurate records were not always kept.

Wm. "Bud" Gilmour, third on the list with 3,137 wins, racked up many of his early successes at Toronto's Dufferin Park before moving his operation to the U.S.

In the fall of 1971 Bill Wellwood scored his 200th win of that season as he edged closer to joining the '1000 Win Club'. His win total was the highest in Canada to that point being the first to reach the 200 plateau. Two other Canadian-born drivers, Herve Filion and Bud Gilmour, had notched more while racing in the U.S. It is interesting to note that on the list of drivers shown above the one just below William's is his Uncle Harold with 1,137 wins. Undoubtedly Harold would have had many more, dating back to the days before records were a priority.

Driver Wes Coke celebrates becoming a member of the exclusive 1,000 Win Club in this 1972 photo. On the right is Dave Zand of the Bulova Watch Co. doing the presenting, and on the left O.J.C. Publicity man Bill Galvin. Coke's first victory came in 1960 when he piloted Dr. G Chief to victory at Connaught Park. This relatively short time span was an indication that drivers were scoring many more wins per year than in earlier times.

Times change and with change comes new records and benchmarks of what once defined excellence.

While membership in the once-exclusive "1000 Club" is no longer what it once was it is nice to recall the day when every driver dreamed of one day entering this charmed circle.

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