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SC Rewind: Richelieu Raises The Bar

Published: September 29, 2018 10:45 am ET

Last Comment: October 7, 2018 8:43 am ET | 5 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind, Robert Smith takes a long look back to another memorable time in history as he recalls some great happenings at Richelieu Park from the early 1960's. His piece recalls just what a great contribution the sport in Quebec was making at that time.

A great view of the action on the first turn at Richelieu Park in Montreal taken back in an era when this track was among the busiest and best in the entire sport (Harness Horse)

For countless decades Canadian harness racing took a decidedly distinct back seat to its counterpart in the U.S. Regardless of the yardstick you chose whether it be purses, wagering, attendance, facilities or most other categories, the Canadian version just didn't have it. One area we did have covered hands down was the proficiency level of our horsepeople. Unfortunately for the home folks, a large percentage of the best and most talented sulky sitters headed for the U.S. and most often there they stayed.

In 1961 a huge proverbial "giant step" was taken and it happened pretty quickly and it all started in one spot. In a Hoof Beats article published in January of 1962 summarizing the previous year's activities at Richelieu Park, the following excerpt clearly stated the Raceway's accomplishments. "The best meeting in 10 years...Figures don't lie; they plainly show that Richelieu is now a big time harness track. Records are made to be broken and that was the case here when attendance, mutuel handle and speed records were all shattered during a thrill-packed 100-day meeting." These were the words of Paul Dansereau, President of the Provincial Raceway Group that operated Richelieu Park at that time.

For many years Montreal boasted of two great tracks; both first class all the way. Blue Bonnets was the larger but Richelieu Park was an extremely successful and popular track that attracted the best racing talent regardless of where they called home.

From the time the nearly five-month long Richelieu meeting started on April 15th, the weekly action was a notch above what anyone had ever witnessed before. As spring turned to summer and the weather warmed up, so did the action. With the super promoter and race classifier Georges Giguere continually working his 'magic', the competition intensified and the fans flocked through the turnstiles in record numbers. The overall attendance of 740,375 and mutuel handle of $33,119,207 broke the previous Canadian marks by a hefty margin. A new high watermark in wagering occurred in mid-July when on two consecutive days $451,000 and $583,000 was sent through the windows, creating the first ever $1 million mark for two straight programs.

Many highlights punctuated the well-arranged schedule. Bye Bye Byrd, then six years old, was near the end of his racing career but still among the top two or three pacers on the continent. Although he raced mainly on the U.S. side he made numerous trips to Richelieu Park this season with his famous trainer and driver Clint Hodgins. This duo won all three legs of the $9,600 Canada Pace series. This series created some of the most exciting races ever held at a Montreal track.

Photo courtesy of Montreal Gazette

Although there were many highlights all others took a back seat to Adios Butler's great performance on July 16 when the fastest pacer in history to date toured the Richelieu oval in 1:58.2. This clocking clipped a full second and a fifth from the then record of 1:59.3 set almost exactly two years earlier on July 21, 1959 by Mighty Dudley. On that day 16,500 wild-eyed fans set a new Canadian attendance record as Adios Butler won by two lengths over Bye Bye Byrd who was individually timed in 1:58.4. They were followed by Apmat, Tar Boy and O'Brien Hanover who were all clocked under Mighty Dudley's previous record. It was a day that would live on forever.

This was the fourth fastest mile in North American history for pacers over a half-mile track. As a result of the record by Adios Butler his driver Eddie Cobb was rewarded with a $ 1,000 prize presented by Richelieu management. The largest crowd to ever attend a harness program in Canada consumed every square inch of Richelieu Park and it was reported that every parking space within a mile of the track was taken up by eager fans. At this time Adios Butler was described in the press as "The greatest pacer of modern times."

Adios Butler and driver Eddie Cobb reach the finish line a winner at Richelieu Park on the afternoon of July 16, 1961 to set a new all time speed mark of 1:58.2. In the background can be seen a portion of the over 16,500 fans in attendance that day to see history in the making. (Harness Horse)

While the record-setting day authored by Adios Butler stood out by itself numerous other great individual performances were a huge part of that season. Circo and Darn Safe were very strong in the Richelieu Trot series with Darn Safe trotting in a swift 2:02.4. The $16,000 Beaver Pace for three-year-olds was taken by a Keystoner colt Danceaway in 2:02 over Sweet Meriam. This was just a bit under the Canadian standard of 2:01 set in 1960 by Sampson Direct.

The overall speed level of the track was borne out by the statistics which saw 77 miles recorded under the 2:05 level with 38 of those below the 2:04 mark. The outstanding two-‑year-old pacer was Uncle Duck, an Adios Boy offspring, owned by George Pinard and Duncan McTavish and driven by the latter. This colt won the $14,328 Juvenile Circuit event, on June 29, in 2:06.2.

Among fast pacer clockings were the following: Adios Butler, 1:58.2; Bye Bye Byrd, 2:00.4; Caduceus, 2:01; Speedy Pick, 2:01.2; Southern Charm, 2:01.4; Danceaway, 2:02, twice; Margie Eden, 2:02.1; Colona Hanover and Vernon's Star, 2:03. Outstanding trotters were Sova Hanover, Carpet Bagger, Circo, Darn Safe, Van Counsel, Success Bomb and Miss Riddell. Russ Caldwell led the drivers with 33 wins but the best Universal Driver Rating was turned in by Marcel Dostie with his 28‑35‑23 performance and .353 average.

The year 1961 was indeed one for the record books, literally and figuratively. Top U.S. drivers performing at Richelieu Raceway this year included Levi Harner, Billy Haughton, Al Thomas, Eddie Cobb, Billy Rouse, Del Cameron, Del Miller, Charlie Fitzpatrick and Canadian-born Clint Hodgins. They were unanimous in praising the fine condition and springiness of the Richelieu half mile strip. Their praise and endorsement alone was living proof that Canadian harness racing had risen to new heights and its new status was here to stay.

Many Years Later

Some twenty years later Georges Giguere a man synonymous with Montreal racing
for decades was still basking in the memory of that outstanding year and the many great things that had happened. He is pictured here in his office showing a picture of Adios Butler's record setting day back in 1961. (Harness Horseman's International magazine)

Who Is It?

(Harness Horse)

Can you identify this popular driver of No. 3 from days gone by? If you're really good, name the second and third-place finishers plus the name of the winning horse.

The answer will be given during the upcoming week.

October 7, 2018 - 8:43 amThis week's photo was

This week's photo was correctly identified by several people, either in part or entirely. It was Timely Knight in rein to Roger White heading the field with Cloverland Direct (Del MacTavish Sr.) second and Monsieur Richelieu (Benoit Cote) finishing third.
Thanks again.

September 29, 2018 - 9:27 pmWow! I was there on 07/16 in

Louise Sauve SAID...

Wow! I was there on 07/16 in 1961 (and so young!-)))) in total awe of the Butler. I watched the race between the cracks of the fence near the paddock (children not allowed then)! I remember the crowd, cars parked everywhere even in the trailer park area where we spent our summers. I think that Bye Bye Byrd and the NZ import Caduceus were in that race. Along with other "harness racing kids", we spent a lot of time standing in front of his stall (outside the security area) trying to get his attention! The golden years when the equine athlete was the center of harness racing!

September 29, 2018 - 4:08 pmPierre Grisé is right with

Pierre Grisé is right with Roger White on no 3 Timely Knight and he is ok with Del Mactavish Sr on no 1 and he is ok with Benoit Coté on no 4...but I'll give you the names for horses: no 1 Cloverland Direct and for the horse no 4 Monsieur Richelieu.

September 29, 2018 - 2:26 pmRoger White is on no.3 with

Roger White is on no.3 with Timely Knight
Del Mactavish Sr is on no.1
Benoit Coté is on no.4

I won't bet a penny on my answer especially on the horse and the third driver. We just see him a little bit.

September 29, 2018 - 12:30 pmThe winning horse and driver

The winning horse and driver are Timely Knight and Roger White. The driver of second place horse is Del McTavish Sr .

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