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SC Rewind: The First Maple Leaf Trot

Published: September 1, 2018 9:03 am ET

Last Comment: September 6, 2018 7:25 am ET | 5 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind Robert Smith takes readers back many years to recall the first ever Maple Leaf Trot held in 1950. This race now nearly 70 years old has been held every year since 1950 with the exception of two years (1955 & 1956), thus making it one of the sport's most enduring events. Over the years it has attracted a lot of legendary trotting heroes and because it is for aged performers many have been repeat visitors.

This 1950 photo shows the people who put together the first Maple Leaf Cup Trot seated at Thorncliffe Park. From left is James Brown, Gen. Mgr. (father of Dr. Glen Brown), Herb Hatch, Thorncliffe Pres., Jim Coleman, sportswriter & Publicity director, and Hal B. Watson legendary racing scribe. All of these gentlemen were instrumental in establishing Canadian Harness Racing as a major sport particularly in Ontario. (Michael Burns Sr. Photo)

Way back when, on the afternoon of Thursday, August 3rd, 1950, the first ever Maple Leaf Cup Trot was contested at Thorncliffe Park in Toronto. The inaugural edition which then included the name "Cup", drew a field of seven trotters and they went for a hefty $5,000 purse (about $54,000 today). The race was billed as "The largest purse ever offered for trotters on a half-mile track in Canada" and drew the biggest crowd of the season at the Thorncliffe oval located in the Broadview Don Valley area of the City. Although not recorded, a new high in mutuel handle occurred on this day as well, as a tribute to the great calibre of racing. An undercard of six other races made for a full afternoon of eight heats. Names still familiar such as Wellwood and Waples, Hughes and Rowe were among the "pioneers" participating that day.

An old ad from a 1950 edition of Harness Horse magazine outlines some of the 24 stake events scheduled for that year at Thorncliffe Park. Second in purse value was the Maple Leaf Cup Trot (Harness Horse)

With the opening of Thorncliffe Park on July 3rd of that year, a new era of racing was being introduced in Ontario and Canada. Races were held daily, with Sundays dark. There were 24 "Early Closing" Stake races on the schedule and Track management proudly advertised that there would be "a class for every horse" and even more importantly, that no purse would be below $500. It was a time long dreamed of. To enter the Maple Leaf Trot, a fee of $75 was required at the time of entry back in March, and an additional $75 was due in order to start. The Race Secretary was Bert McLean, capably assisted by his assistant Purvis Lawrason.

A look at the names, records, lifetime earnings and accomplishments of most of the competitors in the "Cup" race reflected in many ways the state of the sport at the time. The list of starters included three mares and four geldings. Their ages ranged from the youngest being Celias Counsel at age four, to the two oldest who were 11 years of age. The horse with the fastest record was Morris Mite who sported a mile best of 2:03.4, taken over a mile track in the U.S. Neptune, one of the 11 year olds, ended the 1950 season with earnings of just $335 for the entire campaign. No, there were no millionaires racing in those days.

The race was set up as a two-heat affair with the first test going a one-mile distance, and the second heat went a bit longer at 1-1/16 miles. All but one entry was Canadian-owned, with the lone U.S. invader being Adeline Hanover from the stable of T.J. Zornow of Pittsford, New York. Her usual trainer and driver Levi Harner was occupied elsewhere on this day and he opted for a catch driver and chose Harold Wellwood, a Canadian driver who just happened to be the current leading dash winner at the Thorncliffe Park meeting.

In the first stanza at a distance of one mile, the victory went to Morris Mite with Adeline Hanover second and Duke Volo third. The time of 2:08.2 was remarkable, but the track record of 2:05.3 established just a week earlier in a time trial by this same horse (Morris Mite) was not broken. Now seven years old, the son of Volomite had enjoyed much success on the track and while racing out of the Ohio-based Saunders Mills Stable; he had recorded a lifetime best of 2:03.4 earlier in his career. In this era of racing it was quite common for well-to-do Quebec owners to purchase good class horses in the U.S. and campaign them on Canadian soil.

In the second and longer mile and one sixteenth heat, the Dean Hanover mare Adeline Hanover posted a 1 1/2 length margin over Morris Mite with Duke Volo again third. The time of 2:13.2 set a new track mark for the extended distance and although it did not count, the mile marker was reached in 2:06 flat. With the win, catch driver Harold Wellwood -- then 44 years of age -- became the first driver in history to win both of Canada's then top events; one on the pace and now the top trotting event. Four years earlier in 1946, he won The Canadian Pacing Derby behind Blue Again at New Hamburg, Ontario. I had the privilege of a lengthy friendship with Harold and often discussed these many milestones with him and how they added to the growth and development of the sport.

With two horses finishing with an identical standing, a coin toss was used to award the owner's trophy. The toss went in favour of the owner of Morris Mite and Mr. Ovila Corbeil, a Montreal sportsman proudly accepted the handsome silverware from Thorncliffe's President Herb Hatch. Horses under his ownership were well known in Canada and many parts of the U.S., particularly the New England area. Reportedly a large and appreciative crowd gave a huge round of applause in recognition of the great show put on this day.

"It was a bitter struggle throughout both dashes, which saw the two favourites finishing even up, one from Canada, the other from across the line, to add a happy ending to the racing of this rich event." This is the way the race was later described in the press as written by Hal B. Watson, a noted racing scribe of the day who is pictured elsewhere today.

The opening of Thorncliffe Park, which was a rather old racing centre that had not hosted harness racing since the 1930's, was a bold move on the part of its organizers. Ontario racing had lagged behind other areas and many Canadian horse people were forced to race in the U.S. to survive. After Thorncliffe's first season it was necessary to lower its purse structure and also reduce the stakes being offered. With such a short racing season it was difficult to make the operation a success and after four summers it was closed.

As covered in a couple of recent Rewinds it was at about this time that the sport was changing directions. The introduction of harness racing at Old Woodbine led the way and by 1961 night racing and and a gradual upswing began. A great era of prosperity soon began.

Results Of 1950 Maple Leaf Cup Trot - Purse -$5,000

Adeline Hanover - Mare, 5 (Harold Wellwood) finished 2-1
Morris Mite - Gelding, 8 (Eph L'Heureux) finished 1-2
Duke Volo - Gelding, 10 (Honorat Larochelle) finished 3-3
De-Al-Stan - Gelding, 7 (Lew James) finished 6-4
Celia's Counsel - Mare, 4 (W.E. Rowe) finished 4-6
Dot Chappell - Mare, 11 (Phil Dussault) finished 5-5
Neptune - Gelding, 11 (John Connors) finished 7-7

First Heat - 1 mile - 2:08.2
2nd Heat - 1 1/16 Mile - 2:13.2 (Track record)

So thus began one of Canada's most famous and storied races. From a very humble beginning on that August afternoon some 68 years ago, a path of eventual winners have added their names one by one to what has become the Country's most coveted Trotting event of each season. It all leads back to this one special day. I think it is occasionally a wise practice to reflect on the past and at least for a brief moment acknowledge the contributions of those forward-thinking individuals who laid this important groundwork those many years ago.

Tonight, Saturday September 1 at around 10:30 p.m., a field of 10 hopefuls will go out in search of a piece of this year's $651,000 purse for the Maple Leaf Trot 2018 edition. A lot of years have passed since the very first edition.

An action view of the 1952 Maple Leaf Trot. Leading the field is Sheila Lee (Dr. John Findley) followed by the eventual winner Celias Counsel (Wm. Rowe), next is Maine Song (Phil Dussault) and trailing Vanduzen (Jack Mehlenbacher). Also in the field but not visible here was De-Al-Stan (Lew James) They were all part of the five-horse field in that year's Maple Leaf Cup Trot. (Courtesy of Dr. John S. Findley)

Who Is It?

Can you correctly identify the young driver in this picture?. He is about to celebrate yet another birthday on September 2nd. I cannot divulge the number of candles on his cake as that might be too much of a giveaway. Stay tuned for the correct answer during the coming week.

Maple Leaf Trot Trivia Questions: Three-Time Winners

► What horse won this race three times with three different drivers?

► What horse won this race three times with two different drivers?

► What two horses won this race three times, each time with the same driver?

Can you name the horse and driver (s) in each question? Answers will follow during the coming week.


September 6, 2018 - 7:25 amThis week's photo was

This week's photo was correctly identified as Dr. John S. Findley (truly the pride and joy of Arnprior) as he appeared in a 1951 photo at Thorncliffe Park driving Spud Volo. He can't have changed much to be so easily recognized. Happy Birthday!

The Maple Leaf Trot trivia was answered correctly as well with Mr. Darocy's submission given the first prize ribbon as it included the driver's names. Thanks so much.

September 1, 2018 - 12:01 pmTrivia answers: first

David Darocy SAID...

Trivia answers: first question, Tie Silk with drivers Howard Beissinger, Frank Blaise and Marcel Dostie. Second question, Grandpa Jim with Robert and Richard Farrington and the final question would be No Sex Please and Ron Waples and San Pail with Randy Waples.

September 1, 2018 - 10:06 amTie Silk won this race 3

Bill Sharpe SAID...

Tie Silk won this race 3 times with 3 different drivers.
Grampa Jim won three times with 2 drivers.
Both No Sex Please and San Pail won 3 times with the same driver... Ron and Randy Waples.

September 1, 2018 - 9:30 amThe young driver in the

David Darocy SAID...

The young driver in the picture, I believe, is Dr. John Findley.

September 1, 2018 - 9:18 amArnprior's pride and joy, Dr.

Arnprior's pride and joy, Dr. John Findley, who will be 94 on September 2, 2018!

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