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Keith Waples Passes; Arrangements Set

Published: May 8, 2021 9:31 am ET

Last Comment: May 14, 2021 12:32 pm ET | 33 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

Trot Insider has learned multiple Hall of Famer Keith Waples, generally regarded as one of the greatest horsemen in the history of harness racing, has passed away at Guelph General Hospital on Friday, May 7, 2021 at the age of 97.

Born December 8, 1923, Keith's gift to harness racing has been his long and memorable career, a lifetime filled with excellence, accomplishments and perseverance.

At the age of 12, Waples started driving in organized event but he recalled jogging horses at his Victoria Harbour family farm at the age of four. The 'official' start of his driving career came after Keith accompanied his father Jack Waples to a race meeting in the small town of Sundridge, Ont. Recent rains had compromised the track and left it in a condition the story recalls as "like porridge." The senior Waples was a rather large man, weighing in the range of over 200 pounds. An astute bystander suggested "Why don't you let the boy drive? He's a lot lighter and he'll be easier to pull." While the father was somewhat in agreement he said, "But what if his mother finds out?" The simple reply to that was, "But she's not here today." And so it all allegedly began. His first victory came behind a horse called The Grey Ghost, and more than 3,000 victories would follow.

In the earliest days of Keith's career the sport was essentially confined to a few months of the year when local horsepeople travelled about the countryside, competing on holiday weekends at many small towns. Very early in his career, however, Keith began to show a penchant for winning races; he won them in clusters. He seemed from the start to have a God-given talent for everything it took to be a good driver: good timing, the ability to make snap decisions, athletic ability and perhaps above all he was quiet and reserved.

During the decade of the 1940's a young Waples plied his trade in the Northern and central parts of Ontario. Each year his talents gained the recognition of more people, and with it came more owners seeking his services. During the winter months he was off to Toronto and Dufferin Park, the capital of winter racing. Despite his relative youth in a then senior-dominated sport, he quickly rose to the top.

By the decade of the 1950's, harness racing was huge in the province of Quebec and the two large tracks in Metropolitan Montreal, Blue Bonnets and Richelieu Park soon became a "home away from home" for Keith Waples. Later that decade, Waples would indelibly etch his name in Standardbred history as the first driver to win a race faster than 2:00 by guiding Mighty Dudley to victory at Richeleu Park on July 21, 1959.

“The one I thought I’d have the most trouble with that night was Chief Maid, and with the seven hole, I didn’t want to leave against her," Waples told Trot Insider back in 2009. "But as it turned out, they all kept taking turns and when it was my turn to come, I still had lots of horse.”

Waples would continue to set records on both sides of the border for decades following that miracle mile. His name is engraved on such prestigious trophies as The Little Brown Jug, The Prix d'Ete, The Adios, The International Trot, and the list could go on seemingly forever especially if you start counting driving titles won. While his records show more than 3,200 driving wins, that number is surely a fraction of the true total given that statistics for a good part of his career weren't recorded.

Among the standouts notably handled by Waples: Hall of Fame inductees Tie Silk and Strike Out, plus Alberts Star, Choir Boy, Duke of Decatur, Ben Boy, Blaze Pick, Zip Tar, Rob Ron Ronnie and Rob Ron Tarios.

In 1973, 50-year old Keith Waples was inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. He became just the fourth inductee selected from the sport of harness racing, following fellow drivers Joe O'Brien and Herve Filion as well as Col. Dan MacKinnon, who was enshrined in the Builders category. His induction into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame followed in 1978, with the U.S Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame honouring Waples in 1987.

"A quiet spoken man with a dry wit, spoke very few words to most of the media, but his driving exploits spoke volumes on the race track," said the late Hall of Famer Bill Galvin of Waples. "Consistently among the top dash and money winners, Keith was always in the limelight. He was a horseman's horseman, respected by his peers and a role model for young aspiring horsemen. He pursued his craft in a quiet manner, but his lack of conversation with some inquiring writers was very often brief. As a young publicity man who worked the backstretches on a daily basis and talked to trainers, grooms and drivers in search of a good story, I understood why this wily wizard of the reins had little time to answer the queries of some scribes who knew very little about the sport and posed a lot of silly questions."

During his career Waples took time off from his on-track exploits to assist in the front-office operations of developing harness racing in both Ontario and British Columbia. He and his brother Murray, Hall of Famer Jim Keeling and other partners built and operated Orangeville Raceway and then moved west to bring major league harness racing to B.C., building Cloverdale Raceway (now Fraser Downs) in Surrey and Sandown Park on Vancouver Island.

In 2005, Keith was named the greatest horseman of the 20th Century in a poll conducted by the Canadian Sportsman. “Try talking to Herve Filion, Ron Waples or Bill O’Donnell about Keith, and you’ll get a real sense of what kind of horseman he was,” said historian and Hall of Famer Bob 'Hollywood' Heyden.

Waples maintained involvement in the industry through his 80s and 90s both as an owner and occasional on-track participant. In 2014, the harness racing industry paid tribute to first cousins Keith and Ron Waples with a tribute night at Mohawk Racetrack that also served as a fundraiser for the family of the late Mark Austin.

In recent years, Keith Waples' name was connected to a handful of notable Ontario Sires Stakes performers such as Emery Flight, Junior K, Senior K and 2020 O'Brien Award finalist Karma Seelster. Waples showed in June 2018 -- at the age of 94 -- that he was still quite capable of handling the lines and he quietly made occasional appearances behind his Standardbreds in the years that followed.

His yellow and blue silks last appeared in a race when he was 81 in 2005, but he continued to train a few horses until just a few years ago. In recent years track visits became less frequent, but his TV was usually tuned to the Horse Racing Channel and he followed industry happenings on the Standardbred Canada website.


Keith and Eileen Waples celebrating their 72nd wedding anniversary in 2018

He will be sadly missed by Eileen, his loving wife of almost 75 years, and his four children, Barbara Lennox, Donna Galbraith (Mac), Karen Hauver (Maurice) and Gord (Denise), as well as his 9 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

Keith was the son of the late Jack and Bertha Waples and was predeceased by sisters, Jean Swan and Annabelle Caffry, and by his grandson Jason (Jay) Waples.

He is survived by sisters Dorothy Rumney of Wasaga Beach, Peggi Diebel of Squamish, B.C. and Mary Jane Burnett of Orangeville, and brother Murray of Barrie.

As per his wishes, his body has been cremated and a small private funeral will be held at the Gilbert MacIntyre and Son Funeral Home in Guelph, Ont., Wednesday, May 12, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. The service will be live streamed and a link is available on the funeral home website. A Celebration of Life will be held at a later date.

As an expression of sympathy, donations to the Guelph General Hospital would be appreciated by the family in recognition of the excellent care that he and Eileen have received there over the years. Donations/online condolences can be made through the Funeral Home at gilbertmacintyreandson.com.

Please join Standardbred Canada in offering condolences to the family and friends of Keith Waples.

(Robert Smith contributed to this report.)

May 14, 2021 - 12:32 pm32 comments that pretty much

Gord Brown SAID...

32 comments that pretty much sums it up!

May 13, 2021 - 2:50 amSad day in the harness racing

john king SAID...

Sad day in the harness racing community . Rest In Peace Mr . Waples . My condolences to the family .

May 10, 2021 - 8:36 pmThe family of the late

The family of the late Russell and Jean Miller wish to express to Eileen and family how extremely sad and very sorry we were to hear of the passing of dear Keith. We are so thankful for the many great memories of Keith driving so many of Dad's horses, including his favourite Blaze Pick to the winners circle time and time again. Keith was such a great horseman and his dedication to the Harness Racing Industry has touched all of us and will always be cherished.

May 10, 2021 - 7:35 pmMy family and I were so

Joanne Wray SAID...

My family and I were so fortunate to have had Keith handling my mother's horse "Ben Boy". His driving and training abilities were second to none. His celebrated life surely is a comfort to the entire Waples family. The Wray family thoughts and prayers are with you.

May 10, 2021 - 5:11 pmAround ten years ago I went

Don Meekison SAID...

Around ten years ago I went to Mohawk to warm up a horse for a elderly friend of mine. (Alf Grummett) My job was done after the warm-up, so I went over to the grandstand to have a pint in the lounge. Sitting there by himself was Keith. Me being a little star stuck, I wanted to say something. (Ya even at 49 years old) so finally I went over with my program and asked for his autograph. Hes looks at me and asks why do you want my autograph? I'm like "huh, do you know who you are?" We then had a nice little chat where I told him as a kid I groomed a couple summers for Bill Habkirk and the stories he would tell about Keith from his Montreal days were stories I never forgot. I left with a nice feeling I got to talk to a legend and went back to the paddock to check on my friend. Who do I run into but Ron Waples. So while I was on a roll I ask for his autograph. He looks at me and asks why do I want his autograph? (sound familiar?). Well to complete my hat trick I see Randy Waples. So over I go. Excuse me Randy, could I get your autograph. Your the third on my list. Third hes says... "what two drivers do you have in front of me?" I show him my list and he says "Ya, I can take third to them."
My condolences to the Waples family.

May 10, 2021 - 2:04 pmI am posting this comment for

I am posting this comment for Kevin and Linda Wallis...

We were saddened to hear about the passing of Keith and pass condolences along to his family and friends.
Growing up Keith was a legend in harness racing and Kevin looked up to Keith with much admiration and did so his whole life. Kevin's driving colours are the yellow and blue of Keith and his son is named Keith.
Kevin enjoyed his friendship with Keith and loved being able to catch up with him and chat with him through the years in Florida. When a legend like Keith Waples passes away he may be gone but will never be forgotten.
Kevin and Linda Wallis.

May 10, 2021 - 9:12 amOur thoughts and prayers are

Our thoughts and prayers are with your family.
Stuart Chambers

May 9, 2021 - 7:27 pmI first met Keith Waples when

I first met Keith Waples when I was still in high school. In the late 60's I didn't really know who he was. I loved going to his farm in Durham and meeting the whole family I caught on quickly to the fact that this quiet, nice guy, friend of my Dad was the most famous and respected man in harness racing. My condolences to Eileen, Barb, Donna, Karen, Gord and families. May you RIP Mr. Waples

May 9, 2021 - 5:38 pmHarness racing is about

Harness racing is about people and horses and when you get to know and watch a master like Keith Waples you have hit the jackpot. Our condolences to Eileen and the family, rest easy old friend.
Gay and Brian Webster

May 9, 2021 - 5:24 pmOne of the greatest horseman

Dave Green SAID...

One of the greatest horseman I ever had the pleasure of knowing. The best hands behind a horse. A true gentleman and an icon.
Greatest condolences to the family.
Dave Green

May 9, 2021 - 3:58 pmMy condolences to the Waples

My condolences to the Waples family. You set the bar for us who were to follow. RIP Keith.

May 9, 2021 - 3:39 pmKeith's barn was always next

Keith's barn was always next to Ron Feagan's barn at Greenwood and Garden City. A friendly competition? every meet. A fine man and great driver/trainer. Patriarch of 1 of Canada's Standardbred Industry. R.I.P. Keith

May 9, 2021 - 11:17 amI had the pleasure of working

John Hill SAID...

I had the pleasure of working for Keith three times over the years. My favourite memory of him is when we used to ship from Orangeville to Greenwood and he would tell me stories of days gone by. I remember thinking how many people would love to have that time with him.
A finer man I have never never met, RIP Keith and thank you for all the memories.

May 9, 2021 - 10:38 amSincere Condolences to the

Steve Jewitt SAID...

Sincere Condolences to the Waples Family. Your Father was a great man there was not a better spoken gentleman that you could talk to. If you said hello to him or even acknowledge him he would respond with that little smirk and make you feel like you where his best friend. Man, he had a million Best Friends. RIP Mr Waples
Rose/Sonny Jewitt

May 9, 2021 - 10:25 amThree winters ago when in

Jack Darling SAID...

Three winters ago when in Florida, I got up early one morning and drove to Gregg McNair's training centre to see Gregg and watch the horses train. When I got there, I parked the car and I could see that someone was sitting at the picnic table out beside the racetrack. As I walked closer I could see that it was Keith Waples. It was about 7:30 and the sun was just nicely out and Keith had been there for a little while. It turns out that Keith drove from Pompano Beach himself that morning and he was going to drive home in the afternoon. That was at least a 2 hr drive each way and Keith was well into his 90’s. We chatted all morning and had a great time. Keith was sharp as a tack. What a great and long life he lived. What more can we ask for? But still a sad day.

May 8, 2021 - 10:06 pmKeith Waples taught me how to

Marty Adler SAID...

Keith Waples taught me how to interview drivers in the winner circle. Never ask a question with a yes or no for the answer.
It was 1967 or 68 at Garden City raceway in St Catherine’s when Keith Waples had just won the Can-Am Pace with a horse named Kings Medal. An excited 23-year-old Marty Adler with microphone in hand charged up in the winner circle to greet the winning driver:
Marty:(excitedly). Did the race go the way you wanted it to?
Keith: Yep
Marty: Did you think you had the race won at the top of the stretch?
Keith: Yep
Marty: err....Thhh thnnn Thank you Keith!

Yes indeed..... thank you Keith!

May 8, 2021 - 7:59 pmA man like no other ever in

murray brown SAID...

A man like no other ever in the history of our sport. Anybody who could ever watch a horse race saw greatness in his presence.
Knowing him one had to be enhanced by the experience.
Knowing his aversion to publicity and his shyness with the media, I was quite reluctant to ask him to serve as the focus for one of my interviews on HRU.
His daughter Karen advised me to not give up hope. She said she would speak to him and see if he might be willing.
He was not only willing, but welcomed the opportunity.
I prefer to think that it was out of a long friendship, certainly not the publicity that motivated him.
I am so proud to have been the last person to interview this great icon of harness racing.

May 8, 2021 - 5:48 pmIf harness horse racing had a

If harness horse racing had a monarchy its King without a doubt would have been Keith Waples! Now, knowing Keith he would dismiss accolades such as The King, The Legend, The Master etc. as over-the-top punditry but if the hat fits wear it and it was only fitting and proper that Keith Waples was recognized as the best of all time. I defer to the colourful John Hayes Sr. to put this in proper perspective. When asked by the media who would drive his horse in the 1972 Little Brown Jug Hayes Sr. retorted "I've got the best three-year-old colt pacer in the world, Strike Out and I will have the best driver in the world, Keith Waples driving him so I'll see you guys in the winner's circle after the race." Keith and Strike Out dazzled in The Jug and Hayes Sr. smiled in the winning photo. The horse racing community can count itself as a winner because Keith Waples has been our leader and marquee star for the better part of one hundred years. Hockey had Gordie Howe and racing had Keith Waples!
I'm sure I am no different than others who had great enjoyment meeting and interacting with Keith Waples as long as it wasn't behind a starting gate because all of us knew that would not turn out well for us. Keith really, really was in a league of his own.
On behalf of myself, my sister Sandra Burns and the Clouthier family I offer sincere condolences to Keith's very supportive spouse Eileen, his children Barbara, Donna, Karen, Gord and the entire Waples Clan with the passing of their patriarch.
The King is gone! The King is gone! May Keith rest in peace.
Thanks for the memories Mr. Waples.

May 8, 2021 - 3:08 pmMy memories of Keith Waples

Garth Gordon SAID...

My memories of Keith Waples are from 1955 to 1961 at Montreal driving at Blue Bonnets and Richelieu Park. He was so much smarter than the other drivers. When they were thinking about it Keith was doing it. R.I.P. Keith. Our Condolences to the Waples family.

May 8, 2021 - 2:56 pmGordy and the rest of the

Gord Brown SAID...

Gordy and the rest of the Waples clan so sorry to hear of Keith's passing. What a long and amazing life and career! R.I.P. Keith. All those great horses are waiting for you.

May 8, 2021 - 2:28 pmWe are sorry for the Waples

roger kopas SAID...

We are sorry for the Waples family's loss. Please accept our sincere condolences.
Roger & Alice Kopas

May 8, 2021 - 2:07 pmLEGEND. He is a hero to

Mike Keeling SAID...

LEGEND. He is a hero to every current generation of horseman and horsewoman. Always set an example and standard that we all should strive to emulate. Rest In Peace

Mike Keeling

May 8, 2021 - 1:46 pmBack in the sixties at

Back in the sixties at Connaught Park I was sitting on rail/fence outside the paddock with a great close-up view of the stakes races when Keith walks up, whip in hand, gives a shy smile and says "hello." We gabbed about racing in general - about his concern that Widower Creeds were knee knockers -all the while drawing figure 8's in the dirt with his whip. Imagine - he walks up to a total stranger, not a trainer nor a driver and has a friendly chat for a bit. Not bad for a man of few words.
This is what legends do.
Condolences the the Waples family.

Art Panazzolo

May 8, 2021 - 1:40 pmOur sincerest condolences

John Burke SAID...

Our sincerest condolences Barb and to all members of the Waples family. The racing industry has lost a great horseman and a great person. R.I.P. Keith.

May 8, 2021 - 1:33 pmAs a teenager in Montreal in

Rick Karper SAID...

As a teenager in Montreal in the 50's, I fell in love with harness racing. At that time, Keith Waples was the king. May he rest in peace.

May 8, 2021 - 1:06 pmHis actions spoke louder than

His actions spoke louder than his words, and when he spoke everyone listened. That is how well regarded this GREAT man was!!! R.I.P. Mr Waples . Al & Kendra Casselman

May 8, 2021 - 12:31 pmCelebrating the life of Keith

Jim Brown SAID...

Celebrating the life of Keith Waples, Ontario needs racing and how it has been molded and developed over the years by Keith and his generation. Their knowledge and great support has made racing what it is today. Keith, as we go through life we thank you and honor you. My sincere condolences to Mr. Waples' family.

May 8, 2021 - 12:28 pmWhat a terrible week this has

What a terrible week this has been. RIP to this legend

May 8, 2021 - 12:26 pmMy sincerest condolences to

Lisa Hocking SAID...

My sincerest condolences to Karen and family. Keep well.

May 8, 2021 - 11:18 amOur deepest sympathy to the

Our deepest sympathy to the Waples family. Keith was a gentleman and a legendary horseman. The sport has lost an icon.

May 8, 2021 - 10:51 amLow profile, GREAT RESULTS.

Low profile, GREAT RESULTS. My Regards to the family

May 8, 2021 - 10:00 amLost a great man and

Lost a great man and horseman. Condolences to his family, friends and thousands of acquaintances and fans.

May 8, 2021 - 9:57 amTo the Waples family and

To the Waples family and relatives, please accept my sincere condolences for your loss of one of the GREATEST MEN that ever sat behind a horse. R.I.P., KEITH.


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