Western Fair A Harness Racing Pioneer Track In Ontario

Maywood Susie and driver Ron Waples in the Western Fair winner's circle in 1975
Published: May 29, 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 tour heads to The Raceway at Western Fair District where fans will be able to take in Grassroots stakes and the Camluck Classic on Friday, May 31.

Recognized as the true pioneer track of the province where harness racing under the lights made its debut in 1961, Western Fair Raceway has been a proud host of OSS competition since the very beginning. The original list of tracks that hosted racing during the 1974 season numbered 20 in total. Six were listed as “A” tracks and 14 as smaller “B” tracks.

On Saturday June 8, 1974, the London, Ont. track welcomed its first ever OSS events. Just one week after the landmark opening of the newly created series for Ontario-sired two- and three-year-old pacers and trotters was held at the Garden City track, it was London’s turn.

First to visit were the three-year-old pacing colts and geldings, the same division that kicked off the season-long series a week prior. So plentiful were the entries, that a total of five divisions were carded that day. In the opener, the winner was Adios Tara, owned by Donald Booth of Ottawa and driven by Cecil Coke – who was certainly no stranger to London fans.

In the next group, it was J R Bill from the barn of Russell Miller, a noted colt developer from nearby Dutton, Ont., and driven by Greg Wright. The next winner was Terry Parker, with owner Clint Hodgins also doing the driving. In the fourth division, Armbro Ollie was victorious in the six-horse field with Ronnie Feagan steering for Innerkip owners Thompson and Van Boekel. Rounding out the opening day card was another local trainer, Jack Kopas, winning with Cedarwood Sam, owned by Jean Forbes of London, in 2:03.4 for the fastest mile of the stakes-filled card. Each division went for a purse of $5,285.

The large crowd welcomed the new series and were treated to a view of what the future of colt racing was all about in Ontario. No longer did Ontarians have to travel to the U.S. or Quebec to engage in lucrative racing opportunities for their youngsters. Several trainers had multiple entrants that day and it was truly a day to remember at this historic track.

In the span of just a week, Canadian-born horseman Hodgins, already a member of the prestigious U.S. Living Hall Of Fame, had scored two wins as an owner and driver in the tough three-year-old colts and geldings pacing division. His colt, Terry Parker, would go on to a record-setting season and at year’s end he led all OSS entrants in earnings with a bankroll of $63,866. Hodgens’s two-year-old pacing colt Pats Bye Bye led his division with $53,756 earned in OSS events. And while Hodgins, then 67 years of age, was often in the driver’s seat, he was at times replaced by Harold Wellwood Sr., who was one year older than him. Two “senior” horsemen carved out quite a first year in this new series.

Many horsepeople with London roots have participated in OSS competition throughout its entire 50 years of existence.

OSS Scrapbook Memories

Jack Herbert

Veteran driver Jack Herbert of London appears with a couple of stable members. Jack and his father, Wm., were among the many colt developers that welcomed the OSS program. Their youngsters competed in a number of categories that first year with the most successful being the standout two-year-old trotter Delvin Herbert (Dean Herbert-Gay Herbert), who led the division with earnings of $41,275 (about $201,500 today, adjusted for inflation). His season’s best mile was 2:07, recorded at Rideau Carleton. At the time, Bill Herbert was 75 years old, but still retained a keen interest in every aspect of the sport. His stories were still abundant.

Dave Wall and Snipper winning in 1984 at Western Fair

Dubbed “Mr. OSS” very early in the program, Dave Wall is shown here with Snipper in a 1984 photo. As a two-year-old, Snipper, a son of Springer, led his class in OSS competition. Owned by Dawn Wall and husband Dave Marrinan, and driven by Dave Wall, this colt set a new record for age and gait when he scored in 1:58 at Flamboro. Snipper won $98,637 in OSS action and $141,137 overall. His season record was 1:57.3, taken on a five-eighths-mile track at Greenwood in an OHHA event.

Merrywood Susie and driver Ron Waples in the Western Fair winner's circle in 1975

Merrywood Susie and driver Ron Waples appear in the winner’s circle in this 1975 photo joined by brother owners W.E. Spicer of Delhi, Ont., and D.R. Spicer of Otterville, Ont., and their wives. They were among the many London-area participants to join in OSS action. This three-year-old by Scarlet Wave may well have become the poster child for what could happen thanks to the OSS program. Unraced at two, this filly went postward 22 times during her three-year-old season and won 18 races, many in the Sires Stakes. She toured much of Ontario, racing at many tracks, both large and small, never finishing worse than third. She went as far east as Rideau Carleton, scored wins at Greenwood and Garden City, adapted well to travel, and to often changing drivers. Among those who drove her to victories, besides Waples, were Wayne Langille, Doug McIntosh, Ray McLean, Bud Fritz and Ken Hardy. At season’s end, her bank account read $104,390, mainly from the large OSS purses. Her fastest mile was 2:01.3. Quite a season.

Driver Ross Battin

Ross Battin, from Monkton, Ont., has been a very successful driver in OSS competition and his name appears countless times in race day summaries down through the years. In 1988, Battin, who was described as “quiet and likeable” in a Canadian Sportsman write up, won his first Lampman Cup for his driving ability. His point total of 248 was based on 103 starts (11 wins, 19 seconds and 22 thirds) and he earned $238,385. He would go on to win that coveted trophy a total of seven times over a span of 20 years. In 50 years of OSS competition, no other driver has won the award as many times. Battin's ability as a catch-driver made him a go-to choice for many top stables, including the powerful Wm. Wellwood stable, which frequently had top colts and fillies.

Mystery Skipper and trainer/driver Doug Arthur after a 1984 victory

Mystery Skipper along with driver and trainer Doug Arthur were a dominant force in OSS action during the 1984 season. Mystery Skipper turned in the fastest mile in OSS history at the time as he paced in at 1:55 as a three-year-old. He appears in the winner’s circle with his owners after a win at Windsor. On the far right is Gary Foerster of the Canadian Sportsman presenting a trophy to co-owner Danny Husted. On the far left is son Kim Husted and next is Linda Arthur, wife of Doug. These folks were from Tillsonburg, Ont., an area rich in harness racing history located about 60 kilometres east of London.

(Robert Smith / Ontario Racing)

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