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SC Rewind: 100 Years At Greenwood

Published: August 13, 2016 8:40 am ET

Last Comment: August 13, 2016 5:21 pm ET | 3 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith recalls the year 1975 when Greenwood Raceway celebrated its 100th Birthday. A number of old and interesting photographs are displayed showing the many people who are such an important part of the track's long history.

A brief chronology of the years 1961 - 1968 is included. This is the second edition of a three-part feature.

​A quartet of well known drivers gather to receive their awards from Dave Groombridge representing the Carling Brewery. From left to right are Ken Galbraith, Wes Coke, Keith Waples and Ronnie Feagan. All of these gentlemen were long-time fixtures at Greenwood and the other Ontario Jockey Club tracks. By the late 1960's the new Ike styled jackets were in vogue for most of the drivers.

1961 - This was a special season recalled as "The year the lights came on". This of course referred to the beginning of night racing which finally came to Ontario. On the evening of July 5, 1961 Old Woodbine staged its first ever program under the lights. A horse named Piper Boy driven by Norm Bayne won the first race. This marked a new era of racing at this facility, and the upward trend in all categories continued. Many stables that had previously campaigned in the U.S. were returning home to take advantage of more racing and better purses. Harold McKinley was again the dash leader with 36 wins. Tie Silk won the Maple Leaf Trot, a race he won three times.

Harness racing in Ontario had long been stifled by the Province's politicians, led by Premier Frost and their unwillingness to allow night time racing. Finally an important page was turned and a new and exciting time finally arrived.

​A view of the Old Woodbine grandstand as it appeared with lights aglow in July 1961.


​A great view of the opening night of racing under the lights at Old Woodbine in 1961. The background view illustrates the times as huge crowds packed the grandstand and filled the apron in front (Michael Burns Photo).

1962 - For the first time in its eight-year history, two harness meetings were held; spring and summer. Again huge increases in betting handles were experienced as well over $14 million found its way through the wickets. Young horses such as Betsy Herbert and Armbro Canuck won the colt Futurities. Duke Of Decatur, owned by Miron Bros. and handled by Keith Waples, won the Maple Leaf Trot in 2:04 -- which carried the huge purse of $14,110. Finishing second was Wee Irish (Bobbe Huntress) and third was Ann Gallon (Wm. Habkirk). This season marked the last year that the track would be called Old Woodbine, a name that at least in part had been around for well over 85 years.

1963 - The famed track took its third name in its long history this year when it was christened Greenwood. This of course became perhaps its most famous name and the one most people now recall. Two meetings totalling 72 nights of action reflected the continuing rise in popularity of the sport in suburban Toronto. Allan Walker of Owen Sound was the spring driving champ with 15 wins, and also the UDRS leader. In the summer gathering Keith Waples led in dashes won while Jack Herbert's 0.417 average was tops. This season marked the 10th anniversary of harness racing at the Woodbine location. It was a good era of harness racing.

1964 - Greenwood had 102 nights of racing, their most ever to that point. Wagering reached nearly $29 million and nearly 600,000 fans attended the two sessions. A new driving champ emerged as Dr. John Findley of Arnprior led the spring average list and at the summer meeting he took the dash leader's trophy. Other top category drivers were Keith Waples and Harold McKinley. New races were instituted and the first-ever Don Mills Trot went to Ardee, owned by W.J. White of St. Marys, Ont. with Harold Wellwood driving. Muddy Hanover (Keith Waples) won the inaugural Willowdale Pacing Stake.

The inaugural Queen City Pacing Stake was held in late August and Quebec invader Timely Knight was the winner for Allen Leblanc of Quebec City, driven by Roger White. Second was Eagle Armbro (McKinley) and Highland Girl (Hugh McLean) third. The purse was $9,750, certainly a sizable sum at that time.

Driver Harold McKinley a perennial top winning driver accepts an award from Carling Sales Rep. Dave Groombridge.

1965 - A slightly smaller racing season of 79 nights with the customary spring and summer meetings saw the usual rise in betting and attendance based on a per night basis. The spring meeting saw a new driving champ when 42-year-old George Hawke won the U.D.R.S. title and 23-year-old Ron Feagan drove a high 28 winners which set a record for a spring meeting. At the conclusion of the summer meeting Feagan won both the average and dash awards.

In 1965 the new five-eighths mile stonedust track was constructed inside the dirt track. The paddock, which was the only original building remaining from the 1875 era, was enclosed as was the grandstand. This was the first year that a full season of O.J.C. racing switched between three different tracks as the Garden City plant was completed the previous fall.

After an absence of seven years, the fabled Canadian Pacing Derby was revived and became part of the summer racing schedule at Greenwood. The first winner in the new version of this race previously held at New Hamburg, Ont., was a colt named Jerry Hal from the barn of John Langford of Chatham, Ont., driven by Wally McIlmurray and groomed by Keith Quinlan.

Carling Breweries Sales Rep. Dave Heggie presents "The Carling Cup" to Greenwood's leading driver George Hawke (second from right). On the far right is Allan Walker second-place finisher and on the far left is Ken Galbraith who finished third. Hawke won 18 races and posted an average of .506 to win top honours.

1966 - Winter harness racing as we now know it started on February 26th, by far the earliest opening day on record. The early meeting lasted until April 16 and drew 254,956 fans, proving that cold weather racing was here to stay. Jacob Geisel, Jr. -- better known as "Sonny" -- was the UDRS leader while Dr. John Findley had the most wins with 24.

At the summer meeting the sensational three-year-old H A Meadowland won both the Canadian Pacing Derby as well as the Queen City Pace. This colt was trained and driven by Ron Feagan, who shared ownership with his grandfather George Feagan of Goderich.

1967 - This was Canada's Centennial Year and it became extra special when the first ever sub-two minute mile in Ontario was recorded at Greenwood. This occurred when Good Time Boy, reined by Quebec born Jimmy Larente, toured the downtown Toronto oval in 1:59.4 en route to victory in the fabled Canadian Pacing Derby.

The harness season opened on January 2nd for 48 programs which was the earliest start in history. When spring and summer meetings followed it marked the first time three sessions had ever been scheduled.

Attendance continued to climb and the popularity of this spot dictated more changes. The terrace dining area was doubled and the mezzanine betting area was installed.

Jimmy Larente and Good Time Boy enjoy the moment as Ontario racing recorded its first "Miracle Mile".

1968 - Four harness meetings were held in 1968 signalling the beginning of year-round harness racing. Keith Waples continued to dominate the driver's championships along with perennial percentage winner Harold McKinley. Some of the younger up-and-coming drivers such as Wm. Wellwood, Allan Waddell, Ross Curran, Ron Feagan, Wes Coke, Brent Davies, Nelson White and Larry Walker also won individual awards. The all-age track record set by Good Time Boy remained intact as no miles in 2:00 or less were recorded.

Stakes events continued to be a big part of the schedule. In the Fort George Trot, Cadenza started a three-year winning streak for owner and driver Bruce Clements winning in 2:04.4. The next two years his Fearless Doc took the same event. Another trotter who recorded a stellar year was Camper with Bill Habkirk the trainer and driver. The Queen City Pacing Stake was won by Rum Customer, owned by Kennilworth Farms of N.Y. and driven by Canadian-born Alix "Spider" Winger.

A page from a 1968 Greenwood program shows the track records as they then existed


​A group picture of many of the popular drivers from the Greenwood era taken in 1967

August 13, 2016 - 5:21 pmABSOLUTELY LOVE REWIND THANKS


August 13, 2016 - 1:14 pmI still remember my first

Dave Aziz SAID...

I still remember my first night ever going to Greenwood. (August 1968. I had previously attended Woodbine T-Breds in July.)
When the first race I saw passed under the wire and went into the clubhouse turn to the half, I told my self: " WOW!, they going around again!"
I knew right then I liked the harness game better. The Thoroughbreds for the most part started on the backstretch and were done at the wire; less than half as long of a race. The longer the better for me!
I lived about a 25 minute Queen car ride from there so I was able to go fairly often, but NOT with my parents' approval. I had to make up stories for my absence from home - how shameful of me!!

August 13, 2016 - 11:02 amGreat Job Robert. Brings back

Great Job Robert.

Brings back good old memories..... I remember going to Old Woodbine, Greenwood in this era (early 60's) and since I was only young, I couldn't get into the track. I'm not sure how old you had to be but I remember my mother sitting with me outside the gate that day because I couldn't get into the Racetrack.

Boy how things have changed. Keep up the good work.

Mardon Stables
Loretto, ON

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