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SC Rewind: The Diplomat Revisited

Published: June 21, 2014 8:24 am ET

Last Comment: June 21, 2014 2:42 pm ET | 3 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

This week's Rewind recalls The Diplomat, a notable horse from many years ago. This horse is remembered each year as a major race on the WEG Circuit is named in his honour.

One of the most memorable and certainly most successful horses of the post WW II era in Canada was a fine pacer named THE DIPLOMAT. His path to stardom in Canada was not exactly uncharted in that he was U.S.-bred and started his successful career on American soil. When he came to Canada as an aged horse, he had many successful campaigns on the racetrack and was even a grand champion in the Royal Winter Fair show ring.

Each year in memory and recognition of this great horse, a series of races are held on the WEG Circuit. The race is for three-year-old colts and geldings of the pacing gait.

In 1949 London hotel owner and longtime horse fancier Alex Parsons purchased The Diplomat and immediately brought him to Canada. His longtime trainer Lew James personally drove a small farm truck to Illinois and brought the then six-year-old stallion home to the Pine Ridge Farm. Mr. Parsons was no stranger to purchasing U.S. horses and liked to buy a proven performer. While he liked to race a horse, he also looked farther down the road.

The Diplomat was royally-bred and possessed a most unique pedigree. Many of his brothers and sisters were given names that evoked a "Royal" theme. He eventually became the largest money winning foal of his dam Margaret Arion and also possessed the fastest pacing record of her 16 registered foals. His lifetime bank account of $66,309 and his mile time of 2:01.4 taken as a four-year-old at The Red Mile gave him this honour. His full brother, The Prime Minister -- who was double-gaited -- raced at the old Thorncliffe meetings of the early 1950's.

What was unique about his breeding and thus his "family" was the fact that his dam produced two Hambletonian winners and a third may well have won had he been entered. Thus he was a half brother to the 1932 Hambo winner The Marchioness as well as the 1942 victor The Ambassador. The third sibling named Protector was the best of his class in 1931 but was not entered in the Hambletonian. It is certainly a rarity to have a world class pacer so closely related to multiple Hambletonian winners.

The 1949 season began with a series of visits to the traditional small town spots in Ontario by The Diplomat. He scored multiple heat victories at numerous venues beginning with Owen Sound and continued at Kincardine, Stratford and Orangeville. Once he became race-ready, the campaign continued at a couple of U.S. tracks -- Batavia and Northville Downs in Michigan -- where he shared heat victories in The Michigan Pacing Derby with the famous Dr Stanton.

On August 10, 1949, Mr. Parsons had his sights set on what was then Canada's top race: The Canadian Pacing Derby. It was a race that he had personally helped to originate and promote from its beginning in 1936. He and his trainer Lew James had already won it in 1943 with Pine Ridge Alex. Mr. Parsons had had several entrants over the years and wanted another taste of victory. The large purse of $5,000 was a huge incentive.

The 1949 version of the Derby drew a huge field of 13 starters. They started in three tiers on the New Hamburg half-miler, which in itself was quite a feat. At the conclusion of the first heat, the connections of The Diplomat were in a slight state of shock as their heavily favoured horse finished a well-beaten fifth. Following the race it was discovered that the horse had a roofing nail embedded in his hoof. Once removed, the "Dip" showed why he was the class of the field as he sprinted to victory in the next two heats.

An oddity worth mentioning occurred in the 1949 Pacing Derby that at least for that one year caused its name to be amended to The "Canadian Pacing And Trotting Derby". Horseman Clarence Lockhart was having a banner year with his trotting mare Make Believe and so entered her in the Derby as possibly the only trotter to ever compete in the three decades it was held. While the experiment was a good conversation point, the mare finished last or close to it in the first two heats and was scratched from the final.

I cannot chronicle in detail the rest of his career but it continued successfully until age 10 and included many trips to the winner's circle at numerous tracks including the newly opened Vernon Downs in 1953. In 1952 he was again the winner of the Canadian Pacing Derby, this time driven by Vic Rowntree. He was first handled by Lew James who eventually set aside his silks for a long standing position as a racing official. Several other drivers were used by Mr. Parsons including Wm. James (Lew's brother) and Vic Rowntree. The Diplomat's last victory came in his final start of the 1953 season as Marshall Moore guided him to a win at Montreal's Richelieu Park.

As a young budding harness racing fan still in grade school, I can recall hearing of the sudden death of this rather famous horse. The Diplomat who was almost a household name at the time, was sometimes lovingly referred to as "Dippy" or "The Dip". He had performed admirably on the track during his lengthy racing career and had also begun to embark on his new calling as a sire. A few of his colts namely Barney Diplomat, Crown Royal, The Politician, Dr Fleet and even one named The Dipper, were already into their racing careers.

On the day of August 10, 1954 all of the future came to a devastating end. A truck driven by his then trainer Jess Charbonneau, 60, of Quebec was struck by a passing train at a level crossing in the small Waterloo village of Baden, Ont. Both the horse and his trainer were killed in a proverbial instant. Exactly what happened I did not hear at that time but have heard a few versions over the years. It seems that perhaps the horse's trainer should not have been behind the wheel. Whatever the cause, the result was a horrible tragedy.

The loss of such a fine horse was immeasurable but newspaper sources quoted Mr. Parsons assessing a value of $40,000 on what he called "his best horse." It was an event that evoked sadness across the sport. Some 30 years later, I can recall discussing this horse with Mr. James and it was still an emotional topic with him despite the passage of time.

Today just a distant memory for most, The Diplomat played an important role in the earlier years of Canadian harness racing. He was a crowd pleasing horse and undoubtedly would have been a successful sire but it was not to be.



The Diplomat is shown in a training mile driven by noted horseman and Hall of Famer Lew James [T. Mullen photo]

 



All Smiles. Owner Alex Parsons and his trainer driver Lew James hoist the cup won by The Diplomat in the 1949 Canadian Pacing Derby at New Hamburg, Ont.

 



The Diplomat after one of his many victories with driver Lew James

 

June 21, 2014 - 2:42 pmThank you very much. I am

Thank you very much. I am with my mother Pat James right now. Reading this article and looking at the photo's of my Grandfather Lew James, put huge smiles on both of our faces.

June 21, 2014 - 9:51 amRobert, I look forward to

Robert,
I look forward to Saturday's to read your stories,
of days gone by,
One day race meets must of been alot of fun

June 21, 2014 - 9:03 amLove these going back in time

Love these going back in time stories, thank you very much.


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