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SC Rewind: A Late 'Surge' To Win

Published: June 15, 2019 11:10 am ET

Last Comment: June 18, 2019 4:54 pm ET | 5 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of 'Rewind' Robert Smith takes readers back some 45 years ago to 1974. His story tells of a huge upset win at Roosevelt Raceway by a then budding young Canadian horseman just starting to make his mark in the sport.This story is a bit special to me because I considered the winning driver of this memorable race to be a pretty close personal friend; I often think of him despite the passing years.

Somehow 45 years have passed since a then almost 34-year-old Wm. Wellwood took Roosevelt Raceway by storm and came home with a trophy and a nice bit of cash. He defied the experts by entering his three-year-old trotting colt Surge Hanover in that year's Dexter Cup despite the overwhelming odds against such a move. When it was time to take the winner's picture following the race, it was a jubilant young Canadian trainer, driver and co-owner who was smiling for the camera man. It was a proud evening for young William and his wife Jean and the horse's other owners, Walter and Joanne Musty of Colden, N.Y.

The Dexter Cup first contested in 1960 is an annual tribute to the great trotter Dexter who dominated harness racing in the mid to late 1860's and twice lowered the world record in 1867. Dexter was purchased in September 1867 by Robert Bonner for $35,000 and was Mr. Bonner’s favourite road horse. In 1868, pulling 319 pounds of wagon and driver, Dexter trotted a mile in 2:21-3/4, according to the New York Times. Dexter died April 21, 1888, but his name lives on -- in racing and beyond.

Although the details are a bit sketchy, legend has it that a Town located some 70 miles south of Wichita, just north of the Oklahoma border was named after this horse. According to a 1976 book titled Dexter Scrap Book, planning for the town’s creation came at the same time Dexter was at the height of his celebrity. It seems Dexter and trainer-driver Budd Doble passed through the area in 1866, and the locals were so enamored with the horse they decided his name would be fitting for their new town. Details of the visit do not exist, nor an explanation why Dexter was in that area of Kansas. Today, the town of Dexter is home to 276 residents based on the 2014 census. The small community achieved renown in 1903 with the discovery there of naturally occurring helium. It also is home to Henry’s Candies, which for years produced the famous “Oh Henry” candy bar.

The 1974 Dexter Cup For Three-Year-Old Trotters

It was Friday evening June 15, 1974 when a large field of ten of the best three-year-old trotting colts in the land lined up for that year's Dexter Cup at the fabled Roosevelt Raceway. As the lights were dimmed and the entrants introduced, few in the audience that numbered 26,895 could have imagined how this race would play out. The pre-race conversation considered the race would be a two-horse affair, a possible duel between the heavily-favoured Nevele Diamond and a fairly high-profile Canadian entrant named Armbro Ouzo. The latter was owned, trained and driven by the well-known Nova Scotia lumberman and horse fancier Duncan MacDonald. Nevele Diamond was from the stable of Stanley Dancer, an almost certain top choice in almost every race he entered.

Also part of the field and not to be denied attention was the filly Starlark Hanover who had won 22 of 23 starts as a two-year-old and also earned more money than any filly her age had ever won before, nearly $145,000. Spitfire Hanover (Delvin Miller) and Journalist (Billy Haughton) had to garner some notice as well. Spitfire came in for some extra attention as the owners included the driver Miller as well as gold legend Arnold Palmer and former pitching great "Whitey" Ford.

Despite an abbreviated two-year-old campaign the U.S.T.A. ratings placed Dancer's horse as top three-year-old trotter in the pre-season rankings. Not only the horse had some concerns but Dancer himself had incurred a rash of bad luck with his health including a recent heart attack and a severe neck problem that had curtailed his usual busy schedule. His doctors had warned him of the alternative he might face if he refused to heed their warnings. He was however back and rarin' to go with definite plans to prove that both he and his horse were in top form.

As the race entrants lined up, the bulky field of ten required that two horses start in the second tier; one was a known bad actor named Buckeye Count. After causing a recall and a potential second one he had to be eventually scratched. Finally the field was sent on its way and shortly the 1974 Dexter winner would be determined.

Once the race was finally underway Dancer immediately headed for the front as expected. He later stated the recalls had hyped his horse and that he was unable to hold him. Armbro Ouzo and MacDonald decided to take back initially but eventually by the half joined in on the unwise speed display. The duel ultimately resulted in two rather tired horses. As the young Canadian horseman Wm. Wellwood watched the unusual strategy from the rear of the field sitting behind a 30 to 1 shot named Surge Hanover, the proverbial wheels started to turn. At the half he trailed the leaders by 15 lengths but by the head of the stretch the margin had shrunk to just seven.

With plenty of horse still left, Wellwood set out for the leaders and caught the two staggering favourites just before the wire. He bested Nevele Diamond by a nose and Armbro Ouzo by a bit more.

Journalist and Spitfire Hanover followed with Starlark Hanover finishing a distant seventh. Duncan MacDonald, having taken the scenic route and never seeing the wood, was quick to offer an excuse right after the race. "Probably if I would have pulled back and rested him, I would have won, but I knew the other horse (Nevele Diamond) was the horse to beat."

Photo courtesy SI Vault

Based on the odds of over 30-1, not a lot of support went to Surge Hanover at the mutuel windows. After the race a few extremely happy folks who had either bet him as a hunch or were partial to Canadian horses were rewarded with a $2.00 win ticket paying off at $63.80. A few more in the crowd had even more reason to smile as the "Big Triple" choice combining Surge with the two favourites paid a handsome $1,500. This was Surge's first victory of the season in his seventh start and what a way to start his winning ways. His winning time of 2:03.2 over the half-mile track was a couple of seconds off the stakes record. Later that year he scored in 1:59.4 over the Vernon oval which was his three-year-old record.

Wellwood's portion of the rich purse of $114,380 was said to be five times larger than anything he had ever won before and certainly well beyond his previous wildest hopes for Surge Hanover. He had not even nominated him for the Hambletonian. "The Hambletonian is the true test of a champion," said Wellwood ruefully, "but I never figured I'd have a champion." In winning the Dexter Cup, Wm. Wellwood joined a rather distinguished list of famous drivers who had previously won this event. That list included Ralph Baldwin (2), Stanley Dancer (2), Wm Haughton (2), Herve Filion, Howard Beissenger, Joe O'Brien, John Patterson, John Simpson Jr. and Harry Pownall Sr.

The 1974 season turned out to be an exciting and lucrative one for the connections of Surge Hanover. Purchased as a yearling at Harrisburg for $11,000, the son of Stars Pride -- the premiere trotting sire of the day -- and out of the Hoot Mon mare Surrey Hanover, Surge was part of a growing stable of stars being developed by Bill Wellwood. That year the slick trotter made a total of 24 starts and did a lot of travelling in the process. He won five races, was second five times and tallied six third-place finishes with season's earnings of $110,134. That amount adjusted to today's dollars equals about $589,000.

Perhaps the race was best described by the caption that appeared in a Sports Illustrated article published a short time after the 1974 Dexter Cup was finished. "The favorites dueled mightily, and an outsider took advantage of it."

Bill Wellwood named the O.J.C. horseman of the year is joined by his wife Jean as they accept the award garnered by their great three year old trotter Surge Hanover. Doing the presenting is Bill Galvin on behalf of the O.J.C. They also received a division winning trophy for their two-year-old pacer Dar Hanover. (Michael Burns)

Horseman of the Year for 1975, Wm. Wellwood on the right accepts his award from Toronto sports personality Fergie Olver (Hoof Beats)

Where Is It?

Can you correctly identify the location of this photo? The correct answer will be shown during the coming week.

June 18, 2019 - 4:54 pmI inadvertently left out

I inadvertently left out something I thought of as I read this week's Rewind. I can recall that shortly after this rather stunning victory a Canadian racing journalist approached William to ask what he probably thought was an obvious question. While these are not the exact words they should tell the story. He said something like "I suppose you'll soon be moving to the U.S. with your stable." Bill quickly replied "Not on your life; this is where I was born and want to live and race and I won't be going anywhere..."

I also neglected to mention that this was not the first appearance of the Surge Hanover - Wellwood team at Roosevelt Raceway. About three weeks previous to this race on May 24th they were starters in the U.S. Harness Writers' 3 Y.O. Trot with a purse of $31,150 . They finished second to Journalist driven by Billy Haughton; Armbro Ouzo finished 6th and Nevele Diamond was not in the race. Maybe he shouldn't have been off at 30-1 in the Dexter!

This week's mystery picture was not too difficult as it was identified by a couple of readers who correctly stated its location as being on Windsor's backstretch. Thanks to Doug McIntosh for his history lesson on this rather memorable spot. Glad to have a picture as it was razed a number of years ago as Windsor Raceway was demolished.

June 18, 2019 - 4:27 pmBeside the tack shop are the

Jack Darling SAID...

Beside the tack shop are the blacksmith shops. Two of the blacksmiths in there would be Bob Harris and Ross Siddall. Inside the green door at the side was the vet clinic of Dr. Joe Johnston. Great memories of Windsor Raceway.

June 15, 2019 - 1:36 pmThe location of Les Ehrlick

Sheldon Rose SAID...

The location of Les Ehrlick saddlery was Dundas Street West near Dovercourt in Toronto.

June 15, 2019 - 12:17 pmLocation of photo is:

Bev Snobelen SAID...

Location of photo is: Backstretch, Windsor Raceway

June 15, 2019 - 11:53 amThis is the tack shop at

This is the tack shop at Windsor Raceway.
At this time owned by Les Ehrlick, later by McIntosh Harness, Then Graham, and finally by Trainers Choice.
Thanks Robert. Great memories.
Doug McIntosh

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