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SC Rewind: 1972 Maple Leaf Trot

Published: August 31, 2019 10:40 am ET

Last Comment: September 5, 2019 8:59 am ET | 9 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

For this week's Rewind Robert Smith takes a look back 47 years ago which was 1972. He has put together a reminiscence about one of the many memorable Maple Leaf Trot races that forms a chapter of the great history that is a part of this famous annual classic. The timing is appropriate as it coincides with this year's renewal of our country's top trotting event. This famous race is one of Canada's longest held race as it nears its 70th birthday. With the exception of 1955 and 1956 when it did not fill, it has been held each year since its inception at Thorncliffe Park in 1950.

On the afternoon of August 12, 1972 a group of the best aged trotters on the Continent assembled at Greenwood Raceway for that year's Maple Leaf Trot. It was a test of the best and the winner would be considered the top trotter in the Country for that year; if not officially certainly in the minds of Canadian harness racing. A race that started as "The Maple Leaf Cup Trot" way back in 1950 had risen in status over the years and now carried a purse of $60,400, a far cry from its then generous but now humble purse of $5,000 for the original race.

This year's race drew a field of eight which was reduced when a late scratch of Hawaian Mir about a half hour before post time shortened the field to seven. The Maple Leaf Trot had drawn many U.S. entrants through the years and this year it even had an International competitor -- Une de Mai, the great French trotter handled by Jean-Rene Gougeon. As a prelude to this race three of the entrants had participated in a special three-horse match race a few weeks previous to this at Roosevelt Raceway on July 22nd. On that occasion the winner was Speedy Crown, a then four-year-old who had been a Hambletonian winner the previous year at age three. Finishing second was Une de Mai, with Fresh Yankee third.

Coming into the Maple Leaf event the "horse to beat" was U.S. invader Speedy Crown from the stable of trotting expert Howard Beissinger of Ohio. As the horses made their final preparations before entering the track Beissenger issued a parting statement to a nearby writer as he hopped on the sulky. "He's sharp today and I look for him to race real well." As the field left the gate Fresh Yankee and new driver Garland Garnsey grabbed the early lead with Flower Child and driver Joe O'Brien second and Une de Mai parked third, followed by Speedy Crown. Fresh Yankee held the lead until mid-stretch when Speedy Crown popped out from behind the French entrant who was tiring at that point.

With just a mere 20 yards remaining Beissenger secured the lead and held off a late charge by Flower Child. The winning time was a new Greenwood track record and stakes record and the winner's share of the purse raised his season total past the $300,000 mark with a lifetime bankroll that stood at just short of $498,000. Sent off at odds of 7 to 5 many in the crowd shared in a win payoff of $4.80, $2.90, and $2.10 for a $2.00 investment. By virtually every measurable standard it was the one of the greatest races in the events then already long history.

While Beissenger had been associated with this horse since his foaling he was not currently part of the ownership group that called itself The Speedy Crown Group. He had sold this fellow for a bargain price of just $20,000 as a yearling but was quick to say "I have no regrets that I sold him, I would do the same if I had it to do again. I am glad to still have him in my stable." About this day's race he said that "it was not as tough as it looked and that despite being parked for nearly three-quarters of a mile he was covered up by Une de Mai and that helped." He also noted that the footing in the middle of the track seemed more suitable to his horse.

Speedy Crown (2) on the left finishes a neck ahead of Flower Child (1; Joe O'Brien) at the rail with Une de Mai (4; Gougeon) third in the 1972 Maple Leaf Trot. It was driver Howard Beissenger's second Maple Leaf Trot win as he also scored with Tie Silk in 1961 (Michael Burns photo)

Greenwood Raceway in Toronto was the scene of many great days of racing throughout its long history. This day was a special one as a number of records were set as the day played out. The full-house crowd of 18,389 set a new record for attendance at the downtown track which at that time had been hosting the best in Standardbred racing since 1954. The day's total handle of $865,838 set a new record as did the single race pool of $137,485 wagered on this day's big race. This was all in addition to the new track record for trotters set by Speedy Crown. The victory by Speedy Crown also saw the three-year win streak by Grandpa Jim brought to an end as the great performer from the Farrington stable was not an entry in 1972.

A Few Interesting Pieces of Trivia from the Race Day of 1972 And The Maple Leaf Trot History

  • The three oldest drivers listed in the Maple Leaf Trot history as finishing 1-2-3 are: Dr. John Findley, who finished third with Sheila Lee in 1952; Keith Waples, winner of the 1954 race with Ben Boy; and Peter Thibaudeau, who finished third with Legal Prince in the 1960 event.

  • Tie Silk from the Miron Stable won the Maple Leaf Trot three times with three different drivers. In 1961, driven by Howard Beissenger; in 1963, handled by Frank Baise; and in 1964 for Marcel Dostie

  • In the 1972 race described above a local favourite Keystone Gary from the barn of Wm. Wellwood was an entrant but finished sixth

  • The lowest purse in MLT history was $2,500, won by Vanduzen owned and driven by Jack Mehlenbacher in 1953

  • Winning drivers on the under card for Maple Leaf Trot day 1972 described above included (in race order) Ronnie Feagan (1st and fifth), Allan Waddell, Peter Miller, Ed Arthur, Don Larkin, Joe O'Brien, Ken Hardy. A few other familiar names finishing 1-2-3 included Wes Coke, Hec Clouthier, Harold Wellwood, Jerry Duford, Ken Webb, Brent Davies, Clarence Gagnon, Eric Langille, Jim Muttart, Bill Habkirk.

Quote For The Week:

"When things go wrong; don't go with them."

Who Is It?

Can you correctly identify the driver in this oldie and maybe take a guess at the location? Also better name the gentleman on the far right.

Who Else Is It?

Can you put a name on this horse and driver?

September 5, 2019 - 8:59 amThe top picture was taken at

The top picture was taken at Richelieu Park in Montreal . The driver of Esquire Direct was Billy Haughton and the gentleman on the far right was Race secretary Georges Giguere .The winning horse was owned by a long time patron of the Haughton stable George Landers of Kittery Maine .As Garth pointed out Billy Haughton  loved to race in Montreal and I am sure he was always a welcome visitor .
The bottom photo was correctly identified as the great trotter Grandpa Jim and driver Bob Farrington . This horse won the MLT three years in a row 1969 ,1970 and 1971 .

September 1, 2019 - 4:57 pmBilly Haughton loved race in

Garth Gordon SAID...

Billy Haughton loved race in Montreal. He would show up just for stake races. Racing in 18 consecutive Prix d'Etes (the three-year-old pace they had Blue Bonnets for several years) is proof of that. I am guessing that the top picture is Billy Haughton in the winner's circle on the race bike, and the horse is Duane Hanover, a top F.F.A. Pacer. Going to say the year was 1956 or 1957. The location is Richelieu Raceway in Montreal. The person standing to the far right is George Giguere, the race secretary. The gentleman holding the horse by the head is an employee of Richelieu Raceway, and that was his job to hold the horse while the owners etc got their picture taken - don’t know his name.

September 1, 2019 - 7:54 amThanks Gord, for pointing out

Thanks Gord, for pointing out my error. For the record, the first 9 Maple Leaf Trot races were daylight affairs until Greenwood started night racing in 1961. To my knowledge that's when they switched. The picture accompanying today's story showing the finish certainly indicates a night time scenario. Your input is appreciated.

August 31, 2019 - 2:46 pmThe gentleman on the right

Rick Karper SAID...

The gentleman on the right looks like Georges Giguere. If so, that must be Blue Bonnets.

August 31, 2019 - 2:07 pmRobert, amazing as always!

Gord Brown SAID...

Robert, amazing as always! Please correct me if I'm wrong, I do not remember the Maple Leaf Trot being held in the afternoon.

August 31, 2019 - 1:56 pmPhoto no. 1... The driver:

Photo no. 1...

The driver: Bill Haughton

The Location: Richelieu Park

The Gentleman: Georges Giguère

Photo no.2 ????

August 31, 2019 - 12:14 pm1st pic Richelieu Park with

gord waples SAID...

1st pic Richelieu Park with race secretary George Giguere on the right.

August 31, 2019 - 11:42 amThe gentleman on the far

The gentleman on the far right in the first photo is the legendary Race Secretary for both Blue Bonnets and Richelieu Park racetracks in Montreal - Georges Giguere.

The name of the horse and driver in the second photo is Grandpa Jim and Bob Farrington.

August 31, 2019 - 11:07 amBilly Haughton, Grampa Jim,

Gord Brown SAID...

Billy Haughton, Grampa Jim, Dick Farrington.

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