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SC Rewind: Banner Year For Rideau

Published: July 1, 2018 10:36 am ET

Last Comment: July 5, 2018 8:45 am ET | 4 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls the year of 1969 in review at Rideau Carleton Raceway in Ottawa. Then in its eighth year of existence the still relatively new operation was enjoying its best year to date. Lots of familiar names and a few old photos are included.

The decade of the 1960's saw an unprecedented growth in Canadian harness racing. When night time racing finally came to Ontario in May of 1961 as London's Western Fair track turned on the lights, things started to happen. The first order of business was to begin construction of a number of new tracks. Leading the way was the brand new and hugely ultra-modern Rideau Carleton Raceway in Ottawa. After a hasty build time the Country's newest facility opened for business on September 1, 1962 as Bud Carleton, driven by 19-year-old Wes Coke, won the new track's first ever race.

A view of opening night at Rideau Carleton in 1962 (Hoof Beats)

After facing many adversities in its early years (much of it due to inclement weather) it seemed that as the decade closed in 1969 "RC" as it was often referred to was poised for a banner year. Optimism was abundant and most so called experts predicted a highly successful year for the Albion Road plant.

On April 18th the 1969 season began and saw 81 cards of racing ending on July 31. On the eve of the inaugural program of racing, management announced that Gary L. Wilmot had been appointed director of racing and public relations. The 26-year-old Wilmot was to assume virtually all of the duties previously handled by General Manager Clarence McPhee, who had passed away suddenly just days before. It was a devastating shock to those who had known Mr. McPhee for the past number of years. Wilmot came into the job well known in the sport after serving the past seven years with the Ontario Jockey Club. Part of that time was spent as Ass't Race Secretary with Lew James. Under the guidance of Rideau's president Glen Munro, the pair helped to lead the track to many successes.

An ad inviting fans to attend Rideau Carleton Raceway

On June 5th the track's headline event, The Frank Ryan Memorial Pace was held for a purse of $7,500. It was the highlight of the season and this edition certainly lived up to its prior billing. It was believed to be the finest field of pacers ever to invade the Ottawa Valley. The winner in somewhat of an upset was Mr Galophone, the only entrant that did not own a two-minute lifetime record. In the closing strides driver Clarence Gagnon moved the double-gaited performer up on the outside to catch Score Time and Roger White with a nose to spare. H A Meadowland finished third for co-owner Ronnie Feagan. The first three finishers were all timed in 2:03. Other starters and their finish included Gerry Mir (4), Jerry Gauman (5) and St. James Street (6)

The Ryan Memorial winner was a member of the Keith Waples stable, owned by Bob and Pat Clark of Pickering, Ont. This horse was a prolific winner, first as a trotter and then as a top class pacer. Over 5,400 fans were on hand and set a new wagering record of $211,153. It marked the first $200,000 plus handle in the lengthy annals of Ottawa harness racing.

Mr Galophone appears in the Rideau Carleton winner's circle following an upset victory in the 1969 Frank Ryan Memorial Pace. Enjoying the festivities are from left Mrs. Ryan (with carrot in hand), former Montreal Canadiens star John Ferguson and driver Clarence "Sugar" Gagnon.

In late July the track honoured the recently passed J. Clarence McPhee with a memorial race held bearing his name. A pacing event for three-year-olds, it was to be established as an annual feature. In the inaugural, Showboat Lobell and driver Yvon Demers captured the race in track record time as they stopped the clock in 2:03 flat. This gentleman had served as Rideau's GM for the past five years and had been a longtime figure within the sport. "A feeling of much loss was felt by all with whom he had been closely associated" is a quote from the race's summary.

One of the highlights of the 1969 season was on display with almost every program. Mildred Williams, referred to as "Canada's top distaff harness driver" raced throughout the season and on many occasions entertained the fans by doing what she did best; defeating her male counterparts. A number of her victories came while driving in Preferred or Invitational events. Aero Scott and Lieutenant Earl were just two of her top performers. At season's end she finished in a third-place tie with Yvan Laframboise in the U.D.R.S. standings.

Many of the top drivers in the sport were frequently on hand much to the delight of the Rideau racing fans who warmly welcomed the visitors. Drivers such as Herve Filion, Keith Waples, Ron Feagan, Roger White, Benoit Cote, Duncan MacTavish and many more competed in either stakes or overnight events. Ken Galbraith, a popular and talented driver of the day made a number of visits to Rideau and in the process established a new track record for three-year-old trotters. He piloted Bradley Song in a winning effort in the O.H.H.A. 3YO Trot, stopping the timer at 2:06 to set the new standard for age and gait.

This winter photo gives a pretty good front view of the Rideau grandstand and a good "rear" view of a couple of horses

Season's Fastest Miles

A total of 18 miles were recorded in 2:05 or better with the fastest clocked in 2:01.4. Listed below are the ten fastest. Leading the way was Armbro Hero from the stable of M.J. Webster of Brantford and handled by Bob Silliphant. On closing night Abbe Lark under the capable hands of Benoit Cote equalled that mark.

2:01.4 - Abbe Lark, Armbro Hero
2:02.3 - Meadow Bender (winner of Labatt Invitation Pace)
2:03 - Mr Galophone, Showboat Lobell
2:03.2 - Baron Adios
2:03.3 - Dag Mir, Earlylakes John
2:03.4 - Laurel Adios
2:04.2 - Good Doer

Leading Drivers (Dashes Won) - 1969

Yvon Demers - 48
Ross Curran - 45
Wally Demers - 42
Andre St. Amour - 41
Paul Hebert - 29

Leading Drivers (Percentage) - 1969

Ross Curran - .480
Yvon Demers - .406
Yvan Laframboise - .310
Mildred Williams - .310
Philipe Laframboise - .301

Rideau Carleton remains a mainstay in Canadian harness racing circles as it continues to thrive and present quality racing, now I believe in its 57th season.

A Point To Ponder? - As I prepared this story the thought crossed my mind that Rideau Carleton may have been the first ever track built exclusively for harness racing in Ontario. The older tracks like Dufferin, Long Branch, Thorncliffe, Greenwood, London etc. were all multi-use facilities. If anyone has any thoughts it might be an interesting topic.

Who Is It?

Can you correctly identify this gentleman, and maybe even the horse? The correct answer will appear during the coming week.

July 5, 2018 - 8:45 amThe strategy worked! David

The strategy worked! David decided, "If at first you don't succeed, team up with Donnie Rankin Jr." Now a winning combination. This week's photo featured one of the sport's all time great trotters Fresh Yankee, and her owner Duncan MacDonald of Sydney N.S. You are also correct that she was purchased as a yearling for $900.

July 3, 2018 - 5:58 pmI will once again try to

David Darocy SAID...

I will once again try to correctly answer the mystery photo, but my good friend Mr. Donnie Rankin Jr. deserves the credit, if in fact we are correct. We believe the gentleman holding the horse is lumber man Mr. Duncan MacDonald and the horse we believe is the $900 yearling and future world champion Fresh Yankee.

July 3, 2018 - 2:46 pmDon Booth ?

Don Booth ?

July 2, 2018 - 8:33 amAnother Great Article,

Another Great Article, Robert. Where you find all this information and event publications is remarkable.

Happy Canada Day. Keep up your good work.

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