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SC Rewind: Small-Town Tracks

Published: September 30, 2017 12:11 pm ET

Last Comment: October 5, 2017 12:54 pm ET | 11 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind, Robert Smith takes a trip back to 1969 and recalls a couple of small town tracks that played an important role in the "Farm System" of harness racing at that time. His piece covers the happenings at these two popular racing locations that were well removed from the big time spots like Toronto and Montreal. What they lacked in size, they more than made up for in serving their role.

I have listed a few highlights from two smaller Ontario tracks that were thriving during the 1969 season. Each one held racing once a week and regularly drew decent crowds. On special days the fan base was even larger. They served up first-class racing for the enjoyment of fans and educated young aspiring horse people. They also served as a training ground for young horses by providing well-organized competition with a bit less emphasis on speed. These small tracks were an integral part of racing for many years but places like this have pretty much all disappeared with the changing times. A few memories remain.

Owen Sound, Ont. - Victoria Park

Local Owen Sound horseman Allan Walker is shown accepting one of many trophies he received during his driving career. The unidentified presenter was a brewery rep, and this presentation was for his achievements on the Ontario Jockey Club circuit. A Hall of Fame member, Allan was truly a credit to the sport and succeeding generations continue his legacy.

The 1969 racing season at the Owen Sound track was an eventful one for a number of reasons and several milestones were reached including a new track record. Many local fans attended the races on a regular basis and rooted for their favourites regardless of what the toteboard read. A committee of six were in charge of the proceedings for the Owen Sound Ag. Society and they were Jack Milne, Ray McKelvie, Mel Hanna, Ted Simpson, Frank Fitzsimmons and Doug Warwick. Art Harrison served as paddock judge.

The existing track record of 2:07.4 which was set by The Diplomat driven by Lew James way back in 1948 was finally broken. Good Doer handled by Keith Waples stopped the timer in 2:07.2 to establish the new standard. Veteran observers noted that the previous record was set on the old clay track which may have been just a tick shorter than the present day oval. Since the extended meets started here in 1967, Brenda Hat with Bud Fritz had paced the fastest mile in 2:08.2 and that mark was matched this season by Sparky Eden with Charlie Lawson steering.

The 2:10.2 mark for trotters which was set by Miss Royal Betty P. in 1967 remained on the books. On Oct. 3 fans were somewhat saddened when this local favourite went her last race. The 13-year-old mare owned and driven by George Galbraith of Wingham was being retired to the broodmare ranks. The daughter of Ned Abbey had provided local fans with many thrills over the years and undoubtedly brought her owner much joy. In those days horses didn't make much money but they meant a lot to their owners and fans; they were a bit like family.

Mighty Dudley, one of the greats of Canadian harness racing made a trio of appearances at this oval and at age 14 showed he could still win races as he took two of his three starts. With Keith Waples in the sulky, the old fellow added two more victories to his lifetime total. It was ten years earlier in 1959 that Mighty Dudley broke the 2:00 barrier at Montreal's Richelieu Park, an event that sent shock waves around the Country.

The track management in cooperation with the Molson's Breweries staged a special stakes race for green horses aged two through four. Two youngsters from the barn of local horseman Howard Kennedy fared very well with Gambling Tom winning under an expert drive by Bud Fritz while owner Kennedy teamed his other colt Frankie Tar to a third place finish with second going to Dianne W Grattan handled by George Galbraith. In just his second lifetime start, Gambling Tom scored in 2:10.2.

When the silverware was handed out at the end of the season, a couple of veteran drivers took home the awards. Allan Walker of nearby Allenford captured The Grey Motors trophy with a fantastic .787 average while Bud Fritz with 26 wins added the Trio Restaurant trophy to his already large collection. Both were repeat winners from 1968. The mutuels showed a marked increase with approx. $29,000 being the average for the 18-night stand. Show bettors had their prayers answered on the evening of October 3rd when Battle Royal teamed by Russ Gudman paid $22.00 for a $2 investment. The largest daily double was $278.20 when Lady R. Express (Orv Gibbons) and Miss Nova Glen (Jack Smith) connected.

Bud Fritz (right) was a highly successful driver throughout his very long career and often raced at Owen Sound. Wherever he raced the Walkerton resident was usually among the top drivers in all categories. He was also in demand to drive for other owners and trainers when he didn't have a horse from his own stable entered. Bud learned the trade from his father Elmer and today many of the Fritz clan are still involved. In 2001 Bud entered the Hall Of Fame.

Orono, Ont. - Orono Raceway

This quaint little spot located in Durham County not too far east of Oshawa and some 50 miles from Toronto was a favourite Friday night racing location for a time as well as its tradition of staging races at their annual Fair held each year the week after Labour Day. The Town of Orono itself has a long and colourful history and to this day remains a popular destination for tourists. It has been the location of a few movie scenes and also the home base for the once popular television series Wind At My Back.

In 1969 in the driver's category Orono's own Gerald Robinson led the pack in races won during the 1969 season. In the percentage race, veteran Bill Reid proved that you don't have to have a large operation to be successful. His two-horse stable, headed by the good trotter Vans Pride C., provided him with a lofty average of. 617 to lead the way. Following him in order of average were the following teamsters; Doug Hie, Osler Burrison, Stan Brown, Joe Drew, Lloyd Brown, Randy Bird, Jack Williams, Gerald St. John and Gerald Robinson all above. 300. In the unofficial "Up And Coming Driver" category, Randy Bird was thought to be the best young driver in the immediate area. Among his charges were those he campaigned for Chas. Burrison.

​Pat Reid, daughter of Mr. Reid makes a trackside presentation of a lovely cooler to the connections of Hoot Valley, winner of the 1971 Jack Reid Memorial Race at the Orono Fairgrounds. Pictured from left is Phil Alexander next to his parents driver Frank and Audrey Alexander.

In all, 106 drivers competed at Orono for the 1969 meet which is indeed a credit for such a small meeting. During the season a number of top Ontario Jockey Club drivers visited as well. Among the better known drivers were Bill Wellwood, Laurence Geisel, Wes Coke and Carmen Hie to name just a few. A short list of local drivers would include Wm. Norris, Russ McQuaid, Norm Osborne, Bruce and Earl Shea, The Hie family, Gord Horner and Phil Stewart. Lloyd Goodale travelled the farthest from his home in Binbrook.

In 1969, the year's 18 programs drew a total of 12,342 patrons with a mutuel handle of $377,300 for an average of $21,000. The Orono Driving Club paid out almost $30,000 in purses compared to the $18,980 paid the previous year. Mrs. Hazel Fraser served as the Club's race secretary and many were high in their praises for the job she regularly performed. Many upgrades were enjoyed during this season among them new quartz lights, a new ship-in barn, better hot water supply, dolomite stone added to the track and a new water truck was added. Most of the Club's revenue was spent on improvements for the fans and horse people.

This little track owed much of its popularity and success to the abundance of good horse people who came from this general area. In a 1965 article appearing in the once popular Star Weekly magazine the great old turf journalist Jim Coleman singled out one of the area horsemen for special mention. Commenting on the larger breeding establishments growing in stature very quickly he noted that the backbone of the breeding structure was still heavily influenced by the small operator.

"At the other end of the scale there are the 'little fellows' such as Jack Reid who is much more typical of Canada's breeding industry than the wealthy Mirons and Armstrongs. Jack Reid is a farmer and livestock breeder who lives at Orono, a village near Oshawa. He keeps two or three broodmares and he has, in most seasons, a total stable of six or seven horses. The small farmer-breeders such as Reid are in the great majority in Canada and accordingly they are the backbone of the industry."

​Jack Reid on the left along with Wm. Rowe centre accept a trophy from Jim Lampman following a Stakes win at the Owen Sound track in 1963. The winning horse shown is Flemington's Betty part of an entry from the Earl Rowe stable that also included Red Riddell who finished second in both heats for driver Bill Rowe. The photo was signed by Hon. Earl Rowe and given to Jack Reid in recognition of his winning drive with this young trotting filly.

Why the name Orono? Local legend has it that the Town was named by a local resident who had previously lived in Orono, Maine. Another theory rooted in spelling says that Orono is just Toronto with the T's missing.

One reason among many that contributed to the demise of these small town tracks was the prohibitive cost of liability insurance that was required to operate them. The races at the Orono Fair continued until 2004 when they too went by the wayside, their exit hastened by rising insurance costs.

Many people loved to attend races at the small town tracks but today very few remain. If you have a special memory or something to add please feel free to do so as I am sure those in the reading audience would enjoy hearing your recollections.

Who Is It?

Can you identify the person in today's photo? The correct answer will appear in the comments section during the coming week.

October 5, 2017 - 12:54 pmI spent a lot of time at Owen

I spent a lot of time at Owen Sound Raceway paddocking my Dads Horses... too bad all of this racing is gone... never to Return. Lot of fun to be had back then.

October 5, 2017 - 9:44 amIt's OFFICIAL... Ron Bosada

It's OFFICIAL... Ron Bosada is the correct answer to this week's Who Is It? Thanks for your participation.

October 3, 2017 - 12:34 pmFriday nights at Orono was a

Friday nights at Orono was a unique experience in many ways. As Garth Gordon noted pouring rain was a common condition which I didn't mind too much because "Quinte Lad" loved the mud! The Orono track is a bit short but the first turn is so sharp that the then OJC accepted times as qualifying for Greenwood or I guess it was still "Old Woodbine". The "New" ship in barn was a wooden frame covered with storm window plastic which blew and rattled in the wind Some more drivers there included Stan Brown with a couple of young guys named Doug and Gord running around the backstetch and Blaise Macdonnell along with a young Paul. Some locals included Junior and Keith West and Jack Williams. Other regulars were Osler Burrison, Ed Till, Bruce Cummings, Lorne Brethour with a young Murray, Cliff Sheppard, Les Dixon and probably others who have slipped my old memory. Those were the days!

October 2, 2017 - 6:11 pmthe fellow in the picture

kent benson SAID...

the fellow in the picture looks to be Ron Bossada

October 2, 2017 - 2:20 pmRod Duford thinks that this

Rod Duford thinks that this week's Who Is It photo is Ron Bosada.

October 2, 2017 - 12:20 pmMy guess is Ron Bosada

John Hill SAID...

My guess is Ron Bosada

October 1, 2017 - 12:50 pmI remember racing six horses

Garth Gordon SAID...

I remember racing six horses in the pouring rain one Friday night at Orono and never picked up a cheque. It was in the spring of 1972. The mystery photo is Ronald Bosada. When I came up to the O.J.C. in 1972 Ron had a small stable of six horses but they were six good ones.

October 1, 2017 - 10:00 amThe fellow in the picture is

Gord Brown SAID...

The fellow in the picture is Ron Bosada. Loved the races in Orono; never missed a Friday night. Thanks for the memories Robert.

September 30, 2017 - 7:10 pmI think this is Ron Bossada

kent benson SAID...

I think this is Ron Bossada

September 30, 2017 - 5:43 pmGreat story on Orono. Friday

jim morgan SAID...

Great story on Orono. Friday night racing being 12 years old in 1969 remember like it was yesterday. I also recall Derek Newman and Jerry Robinson also driving in Orono. Too bad the fair racing had to end. Thanks Robert for the great stories week after week.

September 30, 2017 - 2:36 pmRon Bosada

Ron Bosada

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