Clinton A Proud OSS Host From The Very Beginning

Beau Jim
Published: July 4, 2024 11:10 am EDT

The Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) is celebrating its 50th anniversary season this year with special anniversary dates at tracks around the province where fans will be able to watch OSS Gold or Grassroots races, view memorabilia from seasons past, enjoy giveaways and more. Don’t miss the next celebration date as the OSS tour heads to Clinton Raceway, where fans will be able to take in some OSS Grassroots Series action.

Clinton Raceway has been a proud host of OSS racing from the very first year, way back in 1974, now 50 years ago.

This rather small, yet quaint venue has hosted a lot of great harness racing action through the years. The coming of the provincial series quickly brought out even more local fans as the calibre of racing improved. Suddenly, the names of horses and drivers that previously appeared only at the large tracks started racing at the smaller venues such as Clinton.

The Clinton track has a certain specialness about it and that quality certainly comes to the surface each time their special “Legends Day” is held every other year. This unique event, created and nurtured by Ian Fleming, a man long associated with the Clinton track, stands out as a very special part of preserving and maintaining the heritage of Canadian harness racing and the sport, in general.

In 1974, the year the OSS started, Clinton was among the first tracks to welcome the travelling stakes series. The first group visited on July 21 and it was the two-year-old trotting fillies front and centre that Sunday afternoon.

A group of 10 starters was evenly divided with five in each division for a purse of $5,167. The first winner was Oakhurst Sargent for driver Elton Barnes, co-owner with his wife Aileen of Strathroy, Ont. In the second, Dillers Demon was home first with Scott Rowe handling the driving duties.

In late August, the three-year-old colts and geldings were in town and put on quite an afternoon of colt racing. A total of 19 entries made up three divisions. Bye Bye Roanie and driver Roger Hie, who also owned this roan youngster, won the first division in 2:08 even.

In the next race, Terry Parker was the winner for owner Clint Hodgins and driver Harold Wellwood Sr. Their winning time of 2:04.1 set a new track record for the Clinton oval.

And in the third and final division, Chicopee Gene, with Doug Nash in the sulky, scored in 2:07.4 for owner Effie Cunningham of Ingersoll, Ont.

On Sept. 22, the last visit was made by the three-year-old trotting fillies with the highest single purse of the season of $8,719 on the line. Shoein was the winner with Ken McElroy driving in 2:09.4 for owners Alice Kopas and Robert Hanna.

Lastly, no account concerning the Clinton track would be complete without the mention of local legend Dr. George Elliott, known simply as "Doc" by his many friends and admirers. A lifelong resident of Clinton, his home stood just a short distance from the track, the place he lived at "forever."

After he graduated from the University of Guelph in 1941, he practiced veterinary medicine in his hometown until 1964. Following that, he served as a track vet until his retirement in 1999. In 1982, he and his son "Butch" built the big red barn that overlooks the track. For many years, they housed their horses and trained at the track until 1996.

The famous red barn at Clinton Raceway

The famous red barn at Clinton.

OSS Scrapbook Memories

Grand Becky

Grand Becky, a two-year-old trotting filly sired by Archie, was a standout during the 1980 season. Driver Chas. Lawson, a longtime participant on the OSS trail, is shown in the winner’s circle with owner/trainer Stan Henderson on the far right. The two young ladies are daughters of Henderson. This filly led all of her freshman competitors in earnings in 1980 as she banked $84,807.

Beau Jim

Beau Jim, a pacing colt by Alley Fighter, was a productive OSS performer in both the 1979 and 1980 seasons. He’s shown here after one of his many wins with his connections. From the left is the youthful Jim Ainsworth, owner Larry Ainsworth, trainer Palmer Kerr (Terry’s father), groom Tom Willis, driver Terry Kerr and the trophy presenter. In 1979, at two, this horse won eight of 16 starts and banked $49,186, with much of it in OSS competition.

Merrywood Sara

Merrywood Sara and her trainer and driver Don Larkin are seen here accepting a trophy from OHHA officials Fred Goudreau (left) and Tobe Harris (right). This three-year-old filly was the fastest overall performer during the inaugural 1974 OSS season with a time of 2:01 taken on a five-eighths-mile track. She also led her class that season with winnings of $56,799 in OSS action. Her season’s total reached $81,278 for her owner and breeder Eric McIlroy of Grand Bend, Ont., and his Merrywood Stable.

This filly, sired by Skippys Pride C, was unraced at two but blossomed at three. In her three-year-old season, she won 12 of 20 starts, finishing second four times and third twice. She showed what the colt performers could accomplish in this new and exciting age of Ontario harness racing.

K M Lazer

A happy winner’s circle after a victory by K M Lazer and driver Laurie Bako. On the left, accepting the trophy, is co-owner Roy Knight of Port Stanley.

This trotting colt was a season’s champion in 1985 and 1986 at both age two and three, winning more than $100,000 each season for a total in OSS competition of $228,000 -- an amazing two-season total made possible by the lucrative purses available to Ontario-breds. At three, K M Lazer even trotted in 2:00 even.

In the 1985 OSS drivers’ standings, Bako finished eighth with earnings of $183,947 and sixth in wins with 12. This was all accomplished from a very small stable he handled making 32 starts. He topped the U.D.R. percentage list with a lofty .521 edging out Robert Walker’s .514.

Bob McIntosh

Non-driving trainer Bob McIntosh, originally from Wheatley, Ont., has enjoyed a very long and successful career in OSS competition. McIntosh has raced a wide range of colts and fillies representing both gaits. His participation in the program covers pretty much the entire half-century history of this great annual series.

In 1993, the Johnston Cup was introduced in memory of the late Bruce Johnston, the longtime owner and publisher of The Canadian Sportsman racing journal. It was established to annually recognize the top trainer in OSS competition. In 1994, McIntosh won his first Johnston Cup award and then, after a seven-year hiatus, he collected his second award in 2001.

Over the next two decades, he would go on to win the Johnston Cup an amazing six more times for a total of eight, most recently in 2015. No other trainer has won the award as many times. His closest competitor is Gregg McNair, who has taken the title on five occasions.

Now in his 70s, McIntosh continues to turn out top OSS performers year after year.

Jet Sky

Jet Sky, an Armbro Jet colt, is shown in the winner’s circle with his owners Brenda and Harold Walker of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Presenting an OSS trophy is veteran horseman Harold McKinley on the far left. The winning driver, Paul Matthews, is on the right. This young trotter starred during the 1977 and 1978 OSS seasons and went on to be a successful aged performer. In 1978 as a three-year-old, Jet Sky led his category in earnings with $94,178. Late in the 1978 season, this sensational colt had won 20 of his 30 lifetime starts and banked more than $180,000 thanks to his great success in OSS events.

Just recently on June 7, 2024, horseman Matthews passed away at the age of 82. Born in England, he moved to Canada as a toddler and first lived in P.E.I. He later moved to Ontario where he took up working with harness horses as a lifetime career. The highlight of his long career was getting to drive Jet Sky at Roosevelt Raceway in the International Trot, a very famous race.

(Robert Smith / Ontario Racing)

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