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SC Rewind: Years Ago - 1930s

Published: July 4, 2015 8:42 am ET

Last Comment: July 4, 2015 2:10 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind, Robert Smith takes a look back at some of the personalities and events from the decade of the 1930's in the ongoing monthly feature Years Ago.

1931 - Horses Ship By Rail For Toronto Grand Circuit Meeting

July 20, 1931 - Approximately 160 of the finest trotters and pacers on the Continent have arrived at Toronto's Thorncliffe Park in readiness for the upcoming Grand Circuit meeting which will be the first ever at this track. The horses along with their equipment and several handlers boarded 11 Canadian Pacific special express horse cars in Kalamazoo Michigan following completion of racing there. The trip to Toronto took just slightly over seven hours to complete. While most of the stars were U.S. owned, one standout among the group is Toll Gate owned by Kingston Ont. interests. This horse recently won a $25,000 and a $10,000 stake respectively. Two C.P. officials, both superintendents accompanied the train trip to Toronto. This trip from Kalamazoo with such a number of horses stands as a record in transportation circles. (Compiled from Montreal Gazette files)

1935 - Grand Circuit Racing Comes to Toronto's Thorncliffe Park


Greyhound, then a three-year-old, parades to the post at Thorncliffe Park as part of the Grand Circuit races [Photo courtesy of Wm. R. McDonnell]

In July of 1935, Grand Circuit racing came to Canada when two weeks of world class racing were held at Toronto's Thorncliffe Park. All races were held on a mile track, resulting in extremely fast miles for that time. Many of the major U.S.-based stables were in attendance and Canadian fans had an opportunity to see the very best the sport had to offer. A new Canadian record for two-year-old pacers was set by a colt named Jack Orr, driven by Tom Berry, who covered the mile in 2:05 3/4. This race called "The Village Farm Stake" carried a huge purse of $3,563, an incredible amount for that day.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the entire session was the appearance of GREYHOUND who at the time was a three-year-old. Driven as always by Sep Palin, the grey gelding did not disappoint the huge crowds. He won two of three heats of The Toronto Globe Stake which had a purse of $1,400. He bowed to Lawrence Hanover in the opener, but came back to take the next two. His fastest mile was clocked in 2:02 1/4, an unbelievable mile for a three-year-old at that time and obviously a new Canadian record. Later that year he went on to win The Hambletonian, going unbeaten for the season taking a record of 2:00 even.

Owners from several States including New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky had winning entries. Despite the stiff competition, Canadian-owned horses and local drivers fared well. The names of Chapman, Harvey, Hodgins, Wellwood, Feathers, Mehlenbacher, Moore and Bannerman were among the home grown successful reinsmen. A number of races were for "Canadian-Owned" only with sponsors such as John LaBatt, The Royal York Hotel and The Canadian Sportsman. Upon completion of racing most of the stables shipped to Rockingham Park in New Hampshire where the next GC action was scheduled.

Note: Canadian fans had a long wait for their next taste of Grand Circuit action on home soil. Its next visit was in 1968 at Montreal's Blue Bonnets and again in 1969 when the show came to Greenwood.

1937 - Tom Grattan sets new record at London meeting

Each year the organizers of the race program at London's Western Fair seem to be able to attract the best competitors in the land. This year was no exception and when the week long racing was over a new Canadian record was added to the books. Races were held on six different days with purses for most events set at $500.


Tom Grattan owned by London hotelier Alex Parsons is shown here with his trainer and driver Lew James. The pair set a new Canadian two heat record for a half mile track during Western Fair week.

On closing day September 18 the outstanding pacer Tom Grattan, owned by Alex Parsons, set a new Canadian two-heat pacing record in winning the featured Free For All Pace. With young Lew James in the bike he paced back to back miles in 2:05 flat, winning the lion's share of the $500 purse. The James-Parsons combination were multiple winners during this meeting, also winning three heats with The Heiress a fine pacing mare originally owned by James Wellwood of Merlin, Ont.

1938 - Thrilling End to Central Canada Exhibition Week of Racing

The harness racing program at Ottawa's Landsdowne Park, which was spread over five days, came to an exciting conclusion on Saturday afternoon with some spectacular and unusual happenings. In the featured 2:09 class pace a torrid battle was waged between the Province's two best horses. In the opener Simcoe Harvester, owned by J.T. Payette of Penetang was a winner with Dillon Mc, owned by Dr. Meldrum of Norwich a close second. In the middle heat the two reached the wire together and the judges called a dead heat. In the nightcap, Simcoe Harvester, driven by Cecil Champion edged out Dillon Mc and driver Lew James to claim overall victory in the $300 event. The other two starters were not factors in the race. The keen competition resulted in a very fast mile clocking of 2:05 1/2, just 1/2 second off the existing track record.

In a companion race, five female drivers appeared for the first time ever in Eastern Ontario. Miss Clark from Brantford, Ont. won three straight heats piloting Bert Patch defeating Grace Rowntree who placed second in all three contests driving Peter Bidwell. The other drivers were Miss Martin, Mrs. Alma Porter and Mrs. Villeneuve. The winner came from well off the pace to win the opener and then cut out her own miles in the second and third heats. At the completion of the final heat, Alderman James Forward presented Miss Clark with a gold watch which prompted a huge ovation from the approving crowd. Grace Rowntree was the daughter of veteran horseman Vic Rowntree and she eventually became the mother of Vic Gould, a well-known figure in Ontario racing circles.

1939 - ​New World Record for Trotting Team set at Indianapolis


Greyhound and Rosalind score at Indianapolis. They were sometimes referred to as The King and Queen of harness racing

August 1939 - A huge crowd was on hand to see a world record set when the team of Greyhound and Rosalind trotted a mile in 1:58 1/4 at the Indiana State Fair.


A view of the finish of the record mile with a huge crowd on hand (Indiana Library)

Driver Sep Palin, who regularly handled the driving duties behind Greyhound throughout his career did a masterful job as the two world champion trotters had very little preparation time trotting as a team prior to this day. This team comprised of the six-year-old mare Rosalind and Greyhound, a seven-year-old gelding had almost incredible lifetime accomplishments. Both were winners of the Hambletonian at three and currently held several world records taken at various times throughout their careers.

Rosalind was owned by a young Gibson White, the son of Ben White and a popular children's book titled Born To Trot was written about their special connection which was believed to have helped him recover from the effects of tuberculosis. Rosalind later went on to a successful career as a broodmare, providing the Whites with six foals. She died at the relatively young age of 17; an autopsy revealed the cause as cancer.

Both of these competitors appeared and were winners at the 1935 Thorncliffe Grand Circuit meeting outlined above.

The record mile this day replaced a record set way back in 1912 when the standard was set at 2:03 1/4. Earlier in 1939 this same pair trotted together at Syracuse setting a record of 1:59 so they essentially bettered their own record.


​The book "Born to Trot" by Marguerite Henry was inspired by Rosalind the greatest trotting filly of her time. I received a copy as a gift many years ago and still retain it. It is with one of our granddaughters and I must retrieve it and read it one more time.

July 4, 2015 - 2:10 pmWOW what a thrill!!! I have

Peggy Powell SAID...

WOW what a thrill!!! I have never seen Greyhound in action before. I read the book "Born to Trot" and remember Rosalind from that. Grey Hound and Rosalind, What a team they were. Wonderful video


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