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SC Rewind: Memories Of Jambo Dancer

Published: June 12, 2021 11:13 am ET

Last Comment: June 29, 2021 3:17 pm ET | 5 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

This week's edition of Rewind recalls a memorable horse from the mid 1970's named Jambo Dancer. Robert Smith covers a portion of this talented performer's racing career thanks in large part to the input of his longtime trainer. A few old photos are a part of the story of this well remembered horse as well as a couple of trivia questions.

Trainer Kent Baker appears with Jambo Dancer in this 1976 photo. Both horse and trainer earned prestigious awards that season. Baker was the unanimous choice as non-driving trainer of the year on the OJC while his leading stable member was named Harness Horse of the Year on the Ontario Jockey Club Circuit. (Photo courtesy Barrie Examiner)

I have recently had several good chats with veteran Barrie Ontario horseman Kent Baker, a man who spent a half century training and racing horses at many Canadian and U.S. tracks. It all started for the native of Collingwood when he was scarcely 20 years of age. He partnered with another young aspiring horseman named Gary Crowe and as the old saying goes, he never looked back. While he had the privilege of training many good horses during the course of his career, one special performer still remains strongly implanted in his memory bank. That horse was Jambo Dancer.

Note - See below for this week's trivia question.

In late 1975 Baker noticed a rather special looking horse racing at Mohawk and suggested to a couple of his stable's owners that they seriously consider securing this then three-year-old Jambo Dancer. At the time he was winning with regularity for his then owner Ron Waples Sr. while racing in a $30,000 claimer which with allowances amounted to $45,000. Choosing not to go the claiming route, after a bit of negotiating the horse was privately purchased for the tidy sum of $50,000. The new owners went by the name M & G Stable of Barrie. Trainer Baker's suggestion to purchase the horse solved two issues. First of all he had a new top flight horse in his barn and furthermore he didn't have him as competition as he had been finishing back of Jambo for long enough.

The 1976 season, Jambo's first full season owned by the M & G Stable turned out to be a special one for the son of Dancer Hanover out of Vibrant Hanover. He won an amazing total of $128,198 based on 41 starts which resulted in 19 wins, nine seconds and five thirds. That season he set track records at both Garden City and Mohawk. Jambo Dancer took Kent Baker, his trainer on quite a whirlwind tour for the better part of two seasons for these new owners. While Baker did not often travel with the horse he managed to be wherever he started despite the logistics. Trips to New York City, Chicago, Quebec; you name it and he made the trip. He recalls how exhausting it was, at times having to drive all night when plane flights were not possible. He of course always had a lot of other commitments as well. Somehow it all got done.

As the picture below shows Kent had some special people on hand at times to cheer him and Jambo on. His parents Russell and Eleanor Baker were able at times to make the journey and take in the action. The senior Baker owned horses for many years and never missed a chance to be trackside. Russell lived to the ripe old age of 93 and never lost his love for the game.

The connections of Jambo Dancer gather in the Wolverine winner's circle in this 1976 photo. From left: John Gilbert, caretaker; Kent Baker, trainer; Russell and Eleanor Baker (Kent's parents); Charlie Lawson, driver; Jackie McAllister, unknown, Roger and Marie Giffen, co-owners. This was a special event as Jambo paced to his lifetime best of 1:57.1 that evening. The purse was $11,500. (Abahazy photo collection)

At the conclusion of the 1976 racing season at Barrie Raceway the action switched from evening racing to afternoon cards to start the new calendar. On opening day the management at Barrie scheduled two special races; one to honour a horse and the other to recognize a well-known local horseman. Barrie trainer Kent Baker who was a unanimous selection as the Ontario Jockey Club's leading non-driving trainer had the sixth race named "The Kent Baker Trot" in his honour while his most famous pupil at the time, Jambo Dancer had the eighth race dedicated to him. Also the horse's owners Roger Giffen and Robert Garner who carried the stable name "M & G Stables" were recognized for their accomplishments. To add to the festivities, members of the Prague Selects from Czechoslovakia who were in Town to play the Flyers were also guests of the track.

Jambo Dancer (6) and driver Charlie Lawson glide to the wire a winner at Wolverine Raceway for a new lifetime mark of 1:57.1. Following the winner finishing second was Quick Baron for driver Ray Remmen with Adios Skipper (Gerry Bookmyer) third. This would stand as his lifetime record. (Abahazy Collection)

After some great successes wherever he travelled for parts of three seasons, Jambo's owners decided to dissolve their racing partnership interests and sell off their raceway stock. Late in 1977 the announcement was made that the highly acclaimed horse would be sold at auction. In two years of competition for the M & G Stable the horse had won over $280,000 and set numerous records in the process. He had paced in under 2:00 on at least 20 occasions. His last start for the Barrie owners was the night before the sale when he finished second at Windsor.

On November 26, 1977 as part of the C.S.H.S. Fall mixed sale, Jambo Dancer and 16 other stable members from the M & G outfit went on the auction block. Observers had speculated that Jambo would fetch a record high price but just how lofty it would be was of course yet to be determined. John Grant of Hornby, Ont. was expected to be a prime bidder and many felt that he would undoubtedly be the new owner. Grant held the current record high auction price at this time when he shelled out $120,000 to purchase Keystone Ponder three years prior to this.

A story published in the Windsor Star following his last start for his current owners speculated that Jambo Dancer would likely be snapped up by a U.S. owner and immediately shipped to the Meadowlands. Former Windsor race secretary Joe DeFrank was starting to schedule a lot of high priced Invitationals, most carrying at least a $50,000 purse which could quickly pay for a horse of this calibre. The sale of this horse created quite a wave of interest among harness racing followers, all the way from fans who had often watched Jambo Dancer all the way up to some high profile owners, many of whom had expressed an interest in bidding on this horse.

The long anticipated sale time for Jambo Dancer occurred fairly late in the afternoon at around 5:00 p.m. The auctioneer called the buzzing crowd to order with his gavel and a list of accomplishments of Jambo were read out. The bidding opened with a bid of $75,000 from Hornby horse owner John Grant. The bidding was at $80,000 when Barrie land developer Jack Stoller offered $100,000. The price edged up to $115,000 at which point it stalled noticeably. Following a word of urging from the auctioneer, the bidding resumed with Stollar upping the total to $125,000 at which point he dropped out. Bob Garner, co-owner of the horse, carried the bidding to $135,000 but when Grant went to $136,000 it was all over.

It was a new record for a selling price and one that would remain so for quite some time.

After the sale a visibly disappointed Garner said "I wish him all the luck in the world but they got him cheap; I'd say he's worth $200,000 any day." The other owner Mr. Giffen also thought he would go higher but said the figure "was in the ballpark" suggesting that he figured about $150,000 would have been the final bid. Both former owners felt that all of their stock sold below value.

Following the sale the new owner Mr. Grant soon expressed his desire to keep the horse racing on Canadian soil as much as possible. In yet another important move he decided to retain Mr. Kent Baker as the horse's trainer and manager. This decision came as a complete surprise to Kent. The first he knew of the new "plan" was when Mr. Grant casually approached him following the sale and said "It doesn't look like you've got this horse ready to ship yet." To that a surprised Baker replied that he didn't consider it his job to do the work of the new trainer. It was then that he got the good news that this top performing horse would remain in his stable.

He would remain there until late in his career when the then aging Jambo Dancer was sent to the Meadowlands and spent some time in the stable of Bud Gilmour. His next move from there was into retirement. In my conversations with Kent he was generous in his praise for all of the drivers who handled Jambo throughout his racing years but held one gentleman in special territory. He spoke in glowing terms about Charlie Lawson and the many fine steers he gave this great horse.

Jambo Dancer shown in winning form during the 1976 season (Barrie Examiner photo)

Jambo Dancer had a long and productive racing career, bringing much joy to his several owners and certainly to his longtime trainer Kent Baker. He did not star as a colt performer but things were different back then. Once he reached the latter stages of his three-year-old season he began to blossom. He was a dependable horse that gave his all in virtually every start. He raced for quite a few years and eventually passed the $400,000 mark in career earnings which was a very respectable sum 45 years ago. Adjusted for inflation that amount would be equal to close to $2 million in today's dollars. As a closing note I will add that both of the people who owned this horse in the M & G Stable partnership have since passed away.

Trivia Question #1: As mentioned above Kent Baker and Gary Crowe started out with a memorable horse way back when. Can you name that horse? Even if you're not certain, let us know what your best guess is.

Trivia Question #2: On the day of the sale when Jambo Dancer was sold veterinarian Dr. Chris Robson arranged a pool to see who could come closest to the sale price which everyone suspected would set a new record. Can anyone remember who won the pool which was worth a whopping $33 for a $1 investment. I wonder if he still has it?

Quote For The Week: "Hard work and teamwork didn't die out with the pioneers."

Who Is It?

Can you correctly identify the gentleman pictured above? He is seated in a pretty fancy vehicle.

Who Else Is It?

Can you name all three drivers in this old photo? (Photo by John Jones photography.)

June 29, 2021 - 3:17 pmThis week's pictures and

This week's pictures and trivia answers were as follows: The horse that Kent and Gary Crowe started out with was the venerable trotter Protector Donledo.
The "Lottery" held the day of the sale was won by David Byron of Thornton, Ont. He pocketed $33.00.
The top picture shown was the Hon. Earl Rowe seated in a cutter. The lower picture was the trio of Non Stop (1) and driver Ed Arthur winning, followed by Linworth Brat (2) (Harold Wellwood Sr.) and Wm. Wellwood (3) (horse unidentified) Photo courtesy of Leon Siple.

June 15, 2021 - 9:35 pmTop photo maybe Earl Rowe.

Gord Brown SAID...

Top photo maybe Earl Rowe. Bottom Ed Arthur, Bert Madil, Bill Wellwood.

June 12, 2021 - 1:36 pmNot sure if this is true or

Not sure if this is true or not, but you will have to be old to prove it wrong? I remember, as working as groom of Omaha's Duke for trainer, driver John Lester and owner Melford Lester, John's brother, winning in 1:59 and something on a Saturday, as the first horse to beat 2:00 at Western Fair Raceway and Jambo Dancer beating that record on the following Monday in the Labatt's or Molson's Pace with driver Charlie Lawson. I hope someone can confirm or deny this memory. Some of my past is foggy because of a bad habit I had at that time of consuming many adult beverages most every day? lol

June 12, 2021 - 1:07 pmHurry Back Robert with

Hurry Back Robert with "REWIND" you will be missed!!!

June 12, 2021 - 11:19 amPlease note: SC Rewind will

Jeff Porchak SAID...

Please note: SC Rewind will take a break but will return this summer.

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