In the latest edition of 'Rewind' Robert Smith turns back the proverbial Hands of Time to 1973 or 50 years ago, and takes a look at what was then happening on the Ontario Jockey Club Circuit. A number of old photos and records that existed back then are part of the story.
By 1973 the Ontario Jockey Club and its trio of racetracks was one of the busiest and most successful race venues in the world of harness racing. Its growth in recent years with the building of two entirely new racing facilities, combined with the iconic Greenwood track, provided year-round harness racing for the fans as well as the people on the backstretch that put on the show. In 1963 Mohawk held its inaugural meeting and the following year in 1964 Garden City Raceway, another new state of the art facility, was opened near St. Catharines. They joined up with the century old Greenwood to form what was known as "The Golden Horseshoe." (See the 1973 ad above, inviting horsepeople to race on The Ontario Jockey Club tracks.)
Attendance and mutual handle figures grew year by year, purses increased and more and more horse people spent their entire year racing on the three-track circuit. The days of Canadian stables, particularly Ontarians, having to race at U.S. tracks was becoming a distant memory.
In 1973 racing on the O.J.C. circuit started off on January 1, New Year's Day at Greenwood with a 10-race card. The honour of being the first winner of the season went to a mare named Timely Marge who paced home in front of a field of nine for driver Bill Megens. Time of the mile was a leisurely 2:12.0; uncommon by today's standards but not unusual back then when the five-eighths mile track was a little "sticky". How common was it? The second race on that opening day card was won by Omar Hanover, handled by Ross "Cowboy" Curran. Time of the mile was 2:12 even!
It is interesting to note that no less than three winning drivers on that opening day are still very much with us and undoubtedly could all do a pretty good job of driving to this day. These three drivers accounted for five of the 10 wins that day. See below for related Trivia Question #1.
When racing ended for the season of 1973, the scene was once again at Greenwood on December 31, New Year's Eve. I do not know if it was a matinee or evening gathering but it again featured a 10-race program. The same driver won the first two races. The winner of the opener was Joey Anderson, pacing in 2:11.1 while the second race winner was Mike G, who trotted home a winner in a similar 2:10.4. This double winning driver's name will be the subject of another Quiz. See below for Trivia Question #2.
Also on closing day one driver won a total of three races. See below for Trivia Question #3.
The following lists show the track records for each of the three O.J.C. tracks as they stood at the conclusion of the 1973 racing season.
The following list shows the leading horses by category as they were chosen at the end of the season of 1973.
Quote For The Week: "Too much month left at the end of the money." - A budgeting woe.
Who Is It?
During the 1973 season the use of single shaft sulkies became quite prevalent and at times extremely controversial. By year's end the ruling was handed down that banned their use. Can you identify the driver in the above photo as he scores a victory in the "new" style sulky? I think he's winning but even if he isn't, Who Is It?
O.J.C. Trivia Question #1 - Who do you think were the three drivers with winning drives on the Jan. 1, 1973 card at Greenwood? One should be pretty easy. For the other two, one is still training and racing horses on a regular basis but no longer drives. The other gent is still involved at times throughout the year and still does some training especially in a warmer climate. He also no longer drives. One helpful clue is that the last name of each individual begins with the same letter (and it's pretty near the end of the alphabet)
O.J.C. Trivia Question #2 - Both ends of the daily double on Dec. 31, 1973 were won by the same driver. The mention of the winning horses shown above may be of assistance. This gentleman is no longer with us but he still has family involved. He will forever remain a part of Canadian harness racing history due to a day he once had back in 1961 when he won all eight races on a single race card at a small Ontario track. Who is this man?
O.J.C. Trivia Question #3 - On the Dec. 31, 1973 race day at Greenwood this driver had three winning drives on the final day of the year. He still drives his own horses on occasion. He is currently edging near his 90th birthday. Who is this "miracle man" who just might be part of two Quiz questions this week?
Blast From The Past
Who in the audience can identify where and when the above scene happened? What was the event?