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SC Rewind: The Story Of Ben Boy (1/2)

Published: June 10, 2017 10:31 am ET

Last Comment: June 12, 2017 11:51 am ET | 3 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls one of the first great trotting colts to emerge in Canada; his name was very catchy and simple Ben Boy. This beautiful young trotter was well ahead of his time. This is the first edition of a two-part story, the second will appear in an upcoming Rewind.

Ben Boy, driven by a hatless Peter Miller reaches the finish wire at Thorncliffe Park in 2:13 to set a new Canadian record for a two-year-old trotter racing on Canadian soil. This young trotting phenom was owned by Miller Wray of Schomberg, Ont. He was bred and raised by Mr. Wray and starred as a colt performer as well as having a long racing career.

Sixty-five years ago, colt racing -- especially two-year-olds -- occupied a very small portion of the sport's annual calendar. Generally speaking, two events made up the bulk of the competition for freshman trotters and pacers. One was the Canadian Standardbred Horse Society Futurity, and the other was called The Supertest, a series for young horses partially supported by the London-based petroleum company bearing the Supertest name. Each event required a very early nomination as well as sustaining payments to be eligible. As a result the purses were sizable compared to the rest of racing. Still there wasn't much to race for.

Colt racing in an organized fashion made its debut in Canada in 1929. The Canadian Standardbred Horse Society established an annual Futurity program that would provide the opportunity for breeders and owners to race their young horses. They would be nominated at the time of foaling and pay a nominal fee to become eligible. As the youngster progressed periodic payments were made to retain eligibility. In the beginning these races were for three-year-olds only; no such races yet existed for two-year-olds.

In 1939 the races were expanded to cover two-year-olds of both gaits. In the earlier years the annual colt classics were always held at the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto during the C.N.E. each fall. When the decision was made to remove the track in 1939, the races were put up for tender and then began the practice of holding them at various tracks around the Province. In 1939 the racing of two-year-old trotters and pacers began.

The first two-year-old trotting Futurity was held on August 30, 1939 in Glencoe, Ont., a small Town just west of London. The first winner was a young trotter named Jim Lee who trotted home in 2:15 to give owner and driver Uri Pierce of nearby Longwood the major share of the $1,050 purse. That was by far the fastest mile and the largest purse offering for several years. The purses dipped to as low as $700 and the times were as slow as 2:31 1/2. In 1945, Van Riddell -- the sire of Ben Boy -- won the event at Toronto's Dufferin Park, trotting home in a leisurely 2:26 for owner and driver Earl Rowe. Mr. Rowe was a frequent winner of colt events for many years with his homebred youngsters.

In May of 1952 an aspiring owner and breeder named Miller Wray of Schomberg, Ont. unveiled his young homebred trotting prospect Ben Boy. A foal of 1950, sired by Van Riddell and out of Wray's then six-year-old unraced broodmare Lady Iris, the youngster was filled with promise. He was a handsome black in colour (unlike either of his parents) and possessed a wonderful trotting gait. The fact that few people tried to race two-year-old trotters back then did little to dissuade Mr. Wray from following his plan. He would test the U.S. competition and then head home to compete in the two biggest contests on Canadian soil.

Just exactly how Ben Boy got his catchy name is a bit of a mystery, but a couple of sources I spoke with seemed to have the same story. He was originally named Ben Bolt after a comic book character of the day, but as so often happens that name was already taken. He then apparently became Ben Boy. When Keith Waples tells a story I tend to believe him.

In 1952 as a two-year-old Ben Boy had a phenomenal season racing at numerous tracks in both Canada and the U.S.. His first public appearance occurred on May 21, 1952 at Jackson, Michigan. With horseman Peter Miller in the sulky the youngster had less than a storybook start as he finished eighth and last in a mile time of 2:24.4, laughable by today's standards but not unusual back then. Less than two weeks later and still at Jackson, Ben Boy earned the first money of his long career as he claimed fourth money in a two-year-olds only event for a sizable $1,000 purse.

From Michigan the next stop was in neighbouring Ohio where the youngster made two more starts at Painesville. In his fourth career start, Ben Boy made his first lifetime visit to the winner's circle in a 3/4-mile dash event; the purse was $400. Next it was on to Buffalo Raceway for a very special stakes event which carried a purse of $2,120. After winning the first of two heats, the young trotter miscued in the second finishing a distant ninth. In the process though he secured his first mile record of 2:18 and a nice piece of the purse. By late July Ben Boy and his connections returned to Canada, just as planned.

Racing at the then popular Thorncliffe track in Toronto, Ben Boy made five starts, winning the last two. On August 14 he trotted the Thorncliffe half-miler in 2:13 flat a NEW Canadian record for age and gait. In September the youngster truly began to fulfill his owner's dreams as he won 7 of his last 8 starts, finishing second in the other. He captured both of the season's biggest events, The Supertest at Dresden and the Futurity then raced at London's Western Fair.

Ben Boy and owner Miller Wray of Schomberg, Ont. appear in the Thorncliffe Park winner's circle along with driver Peter Miller. That season Ben Boy became Canada's fastest two-year-old trotter when he recorded a mile time of 2:13. The year was 1952.

On September 1, 1952 Ben Boy travelled to Dresden to race in that year's Supertest for freshmen trotters. In those days the colts and the fillies all competed together. Going for a purse of $2,900 Ben Boy won all three heats with Peter R. Miller in the bike; the fastest in 2:19.2. This was not a new happening as owner Wray and driver Miller had been here just one year earlier with another youngster, Peter Van H, and came home with the trophy that year as well trotting in 2:21. The Supertest Stakes for two-year-old trotters was a very new event at this time. It was just in its third year of competition, first won by Joe Herbert owner-driven by Wm. Herbert of London.

Just nine days later it was Futurity day at London as part of the annual Western Fair race days. It was once again a three-heat victory for Ben Boy and a slightly smaller purse of $1,284. His best time of 2:19.1 was well off of his season's best at Thorncliffe and also about four seconds shy of the stakes record. After one more appearance at Glencoe, Ont. where he split heats with Pans Boy in the International Stock Food Stake, the season was over. In 17 starts he won nine and banked a very respectable $3,060 which in today's dollars amounted to almost $28,000. A princely sum in those days; already Ben Boy had carved out a little piece of history.

During the off season between his two- and three-year-old season, tragedy visited the Wray family and a then still very young Miller Wray died suddenly, the victim of a heart attack. Ruth, Mrs. Wray who was left with five young children (Sharon, Jack, Peter, Tom and Joanne) was devastated but decided to retain at least a small interest in the sport. She turned to her husband's boyhood friend Keith Waples to take over the training and driving duties of Ben Boy. Keith recently related "We were long time buddies, dating back to our first meeting at the Orillia Fair when we were both there with our fathers who had horses; I was probably only about nine at the time." Keith soon assigned his cousin Ron Robinson to take over as Ben Boy's groom and looked forward with anticipation to the 1953 campaign as a three-year-old.

The second and concluding edition will appear in an upcoming Rewind.

June 12, 2017 - 11:51 amYou have done your homework

Joanne Wray SAID...

You have done your homework on this article Robert. Facts in there that I didn't know. I can't wait for part 2. The pictures are fascinating! Hello to Brian Webster.

June 10, 2017 - 5:11 pmAs usual a very interesting

As usual a very interesting column about the Wray family and Ben Boy. I've known Jack and Joanne for a long time and heard stories about Ben Boy but this put the details together. The Supertest was a big deal in the 50's and 60's. Thanks again Robert.

June 10, 2017 - 10:55 amOnce again Mr. Smith, thank

Once again Mr. Smith, thank you, appreciated.

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