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SC Rewind: Rambling Willie Visits Dresden

Published: September 23, 2017 10:40 am ET

Last Comment: September 27, 2017 3:04 pm ET | 10 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind, Robert Smith recalls the visit of one of the sport's most famous horses to a small town track in Southwestern Ontario. Dresden Raceway was fortunate to have the great Rambling Willie as an honoured guest.​

The Dresden program announces the visit of Rambling Willie (Courtesy of Tiffin Family)

On Friday September 7, 1979 just over 38 years ago, Dresden Raceway welcomed an extremely special guest to their evening of racing. RAMBLING WILLIE, the richest North American harness horse in the world made a guest appearance at this well-known track often referred to as Ontario's Little Saratoga. For those in attendance it was a night to remember.

The then nine-year-old gelding sired by the rather obscure Rambling Fury out of the Meadow Gold mare Meadow Belle was not there to race; he was just in for a short visit. He just happened to be in the general area of the Province for a check-up and some minor "repair" work at the clinic of the fabled veterinarian Dr. Lloyd McKibbin of Wheatley, Ont. Thanks to the generosity of the horse's regular driver Bob Farrington and his wife Vivian and co-owner Paul Seibert all of Ohio, the visit was made possible. With Dr. McKibbin working out the arrangements with Dresden's General Manager Robert Pearson and Race Secretary Reg Gordon, the evening was a giant success. A lot of people got to meet a horse they might not have otherwise had a chance to see.

Rambling Willie appears trackside at Dresden along with a number of local personalities. Dr. McKibbin is in silks, Reg Gordon is to his right just behind Willie and second from the far right is Jean Lekavy, Publicity Mgr. for Dresden. If anyone can identify others in the photo please do so. (Courtesy of Dresden Raceway)

A list of harness racing's greatest performers of the past 40 years or so would surely contain a lot of interesting names. I would guess that if the list contained ten or less names that one horse would have to appear on every one of them regardless of the criteria. By now it might be easy to guess that this "unanimous" choice would be Rambling Willie. His lifetime achievements, his uncanny ability to overcome adversity and the colour he brought to the sport is undoubtedly without parallel.

When "Willie" visited Dresden his career was far from over despite the many setbacks he had already endured. His lifetime earnings were to the tune of $1,562,807 which was the most ever won by a North American harness horse. He was the eighth harness horse to crack the million dollar barrier; the fourth pacer to do so. His records went far beyond his money won. His superb record of more two-minute victories than any other horse in history stood at 58 including all eleven victories so far that year.

His records went on as he was then listed as the world champion gelding on both mile and five-eighths mile tracks. Of his 58 two-minute triumphs 28 were in 1:58 or better; 12 in 1:57 or better and five in 1:56 or less. Keep in mind that 40 years ago horses were not going nearly as fast as they do now.

Most of us have heard about Willie's contributions to his owner's church in Ohio. Half owner Vivian Farrington pledged 10 percent of the horse's earnings to her father's church. At this point in time it meant that over $63,000 had been "dropped" in the weekly collection plate. All of this money was put to good use as it financed a new roof, put in new foundations, paid for an extensive remodel including new carpeting and a new baptistery and also paved the parking lot complete with a new billboard.

Just prior to his Dresden visit trainer Bob Farrington said "Willie can't rough it out like he used to, I'll have to protect him. He's definitely the best horse that's ever looked through a bridle, certainly the best thing that's ever happened in my life. I'll race him until he shows that he can't compete with the best. He's better off racing than fighting flies in a paddock somewhere."

Willie continued to race for another three seasons following this and his time was not wasted. Despite his many woes, he trudged on and added a lot more dollars to his own bank account and therefore continued to help out his Church members as well. In 1983, at the age of 13, the old warrior was retired from the racing world and took up residence at the Kentucky Horse Park where he lived out his days passing away at the ripe old age of 25.

Willie was unraced at two and as a three-year-old was sold to Bob Farrington for $15,000, which he admitted at the time was probably at least $5,000 more than the horse was worth. He did feel that he could recoup the difference racing him in cheap claiming events. He gave a half interest to his wife Vivian and sold the other half to a patron of his stable, Paul Seibert.

History was to prove Farrington correct; he did get his $5,000 "overpayment" back and perhaps with a bit of interest. When Willie finally hung them up in 1983 he had won a total of 128 races and his earnings total was $2,038,219. He appeared as a guest on the Merv Griffin Show and has had a book written about his amazing lifetime "The Horse That God Loved." In very recent times his story has been the inspiration behind an ongoing foundation to raise money for benevolent purposes.

A small caption on the back page of the Dresden program the following appeared. "Tonight he visits Dresden Raceway, not to compete but to be paraded so we can all say we've seen the richest, winningest harness horse ever.....RAMBLING WILLIE!"

Thanks to many including Dr. McKibbin who probably started the idea as well as the management of Dresden Raceway for providing this unique event.

Willie is shown towing a single shaft sulky at Chicago's Washington Park in the early part of his career with Jim Curran in the driver's seat.

Who is This?

Can you identify this young fellow? The correct answer will appear during the coming week.

September 27, 2017 - 3:04 pmOnce again the readers of

Once again the readers of Rewind proved to be pretty astute in the "Who Is It ? " department . That young gentleman is John "Jack" Darling .

September 27, 2017 - 1:32 pmNot sure, but could be Nick

Not sure, but could be Nick Crosta's colours.

September 26, 2017 - 4:02 pmThanks to Terry McKibbin for

Thanks to Terry McKibbin for his expert identification of this great photo and you are certainly welcome . I have no knowledge of where Doc procured the silks but I have a guess (and it is only a guess) . At that time there was a gentleman named Nick Crosta Jr. who listed out of Windsor and raced locally quite a bit . He was driving that evening and his silk colours were listed as Blue-White-Yellow and the "C" on the sleeve would be logical . Perhaps someone else will have an answer . I recall this gentleman and that set of colours do look like his but that was 38 years ago ! .

September 25, 2017 - 9:56 pmFrom left to right is Debbie

From left to right is Debbie McKibbin-Reid (Doc's daughter), Dean Collins, Willy's Caretaker is at Willy's head. Bev is correct, next is Terry McKibbin and then Tom Reid (Debbie's husband). Connie McKibbin, Doc's wife is standing beside him. P.S. Does anyone know whose colours Doc is wearing? Thanks for the great memory Robert!

September 25, 2017 - 9:33 pmRambling Willie, such a

Rambling Willie, such a wonderful and awesome horse.

September 24, 2017 - 9:53 pmI'm pretty sure the gent

Bev Heywood SAID...

I'm pretty sure the gent immediately right of Willy is Terry McKibbin, son of the doctor.
He is still training in the London area.

September 23, 2017 - 2:59 pmI agree with you that it's

Jim Brown SAID...

I agree with you that it's Jack Darling. Trying to remember a face is as easy as remembering Jack's - he's still the same.

September 23, 2017 - 1:23 pmEven though I can't see the

Gord Brown SAID...

Even though I can't see the awesome hair it's Jack Darling

September 23, 2017 - 1:15 pmGreat clip from the Merv

Dan Fisher SAID...

Great clip from the Merv Griffin Show - well worth the 8-minute watch :)

September 23, 2017 - 1:09 pmGreat article as always. The

norm files SAID...

Great article as always. The picture... Jack Darling. In 30 years the guy looks like he's aged about 6 months.

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