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SC Rewind: Ben Boy Remembered

Published: June 17, 2017 11:09 am ET

Last Comment: June 17, 2017 12:12 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind Robert Smith continues his account of BEN BOY, one of the first great trotting colts to emerge in Canada. This beautiful young trotter was well ahead of his time and captured the admiration of race fans across the Country throughout his career. This is the second and concluding edition of a two-part story.

Driver Keith Waples, 29, checks his watch as he urges the three-year-old trotting sensation Ben Boy to victory in the 1953 C.S.H.S. Three-Year-Old Futurity. The mile time of 2:08.2 was a new Stakes record and the fastest in the race's 25-year history to that point. It also established a new record for Canadian three-year-old trotters and a track record for the London half-miler. (Photo courtesy of Wray Family)

As mentioned in the preceding portion of this story about Ben Boy, the horse's owner died very suddenly in 1953 following completion of the 1952 racing season. His widow, Mrs. Ruth Wray decided to place the horse then in his three-year-old year in the stable of Keith Waples where he remained for the balance of his racing career.

The 1953 season was a fairly lengthy and very productive one for the then three-year-old trotter Ben Boy. Now racing out of the stable of the sport's top trainer and driver Keith Waples, the black trotting star drew large crowds whenever he raced. While he was based mainly in Montreal, he also made trips back to Ontario to compete in the three annual events that drew out the best sophomore trotters of that season. While the youngster conquered all of his competition for his age and gait, he also had to often face older horses, many who were much more experienced and seasoned.

After a couple of unsuccessful early season starts Ben Boy hit the winner's circle for his first victory of the season on May 12th at Richelieu Park racing against older horses for a purse of $250. It is interesting to note that his win came in the second race thus completing the daily double. The first race winner was a young pacing mare named Sally Sue, property of the Madawaska Farm and driven by Dr. John Findley. Now there's a great piece of trivia that both drivers are still with us over 64 years later! As the weeks went by, the Waples-driven youngster started to chalk up wins and shave seconds off his record.

In late July Ben Boy shipped back to Ontario to race in that year's International Stock Food Stake held at Melbourne, Ont. He was a three-heat winner that day which had become quite commonplace. Next in early August was the Supertest, then held at Stratford -- at the time one of the best one-day race spots in the Country. He again demolished his competition, taking all three heats and the lion's share of the $3,030 purse. His best time that day was 2:12.4; he may have been able to go faster but the competition did not require it.

Ben Boy heads to another win, this time at Stratford, Ont. as Keith Waples guides him to a three-heat victory in the 1953 Supertest Stakes. As a two- and three-year-old he was seldom seen with another horse in the winning picture as he usually outdistanced all of his competition. The huge crowds in the bleachers as well as standing along the stretch shows the popularity of harness racing at this time. (London Free Press)

In mid-September came the biggest race of the season for three-year-old trotters: the Standardbred Futurity, which was contested at London just as the previous year when he won the two-year-old version. This race featured the highest purse of the season that he would race for: $3,525. Once again it was a three-heat winning day for Ben Boy and in the third heat he set a new all time Futurity record of 2:08.2. It was also his season's best time. To cap off the season the black speedster won the Montreal Trotting Derby on October 10 as he raced against the top trotters, all older than he. He won by virtue of his 2-1 standing with Autocrat, a five-year-old driven by Jimmy Larente, taking the opener but with a lesser standing of 1-5.

As a three-year-old Ben made 37 starts and was a winner on 17 occasions, banking a nice $6,417 for his efforts. To put this in modern day perspective that would be equal to about $62,000 in today's values. It is interesting to note that eight of his wins that season came in competition with non three-year-olds; quite a season for such a young performer. Apart from his three stakes engagements all of his other racing was on the tough Montreal circuit where he was fast becoming a fan favourite at both tracks.

In 1954 at the age of four, Ben Boy moved into the highest ranks of the trotting world as it then existed. That year was the first summer of racing at the fabled Old Woodbine track which later became Greenwood. After winning several lesser starts in Toronto, Ben Boy captured the Maple Leaf Cup Trot as it was then called for a purse of $3,500, trotting in 2:10. That season he really stepped up his game as he won 11 of 25 starts and took a new aged mark of 2:05 4/5 at Blue Bonnets. He added another $9,700 to his lifetime account which reached $19,200. He did start in a couple of future Maple Leaf Trot editions but this year was his only victory. Unfortunately in both 1955 and 1956 it was not held thus probably missing a couple of prime chances.

This colorized photo shows Ben Boy in rein to his long time trainer and driver Keith Waples. The horse raced for eight seasons and was always owned by the Wray family of Schomberg. A number of family members are still active in various capacities, 65 years after the Ben Boy era began. (Wray Family)

At age five in 1955 he continued his winning ways as he went 27-6-5-3 and reached a new season record in earnings with $11,500 on his card. Obviously the purses were rising. Whenever a top trotting event was carded Ben Boy was usually in it and frequently figured in the outcome. This turned out to be his biggest money winning season of his eight-year career; nice numbers in those days.

One story that emerged from my research of this horse was that one time the great trotter Scott Frost came to Montreal to race and of course drew a huge crowd. In the field was Ben Boy, then groomed by Lucien Fontaine, a young fellow who eventually became one of the sport's greatest drivers. The story tells that Lucien was in tears or close to it as he believed that Ben Boy could win the race which he of course did not. I believe this may have been in 1956.

All of the drivers lined up for a photo prior to the Invitational Trot at Richelieu Park in the fall of 1954. I have listed them with their horse's name in brackets along with the order of finish. From left: Marshall Moore (Don Scott, 11-9), Jimmy Larente (Aerial Gunner, 9-10), Percy Robillard (Doctor Truax, 6-6), John Simpson (Lanier Hanover, 1-2), Morrie MacDonald (Gene Mac, 5-4), Paul Compton (Marcia D., 2-11), Dave Smith (Janet's Girl, 7-1), Dick Williams (Lord Steward, 3-5), Ray Garrity (Betty Astra, 8-8), Keith Waples (Ben Boy, 4-3), Eric Conley (Lord Brookville 10-7). A new track record of 2:04.2 was set by Lanier Hanover on this day (Harness Horse photo)

Ben Boy's lifetime mark of 2:05.4 taken at age four remained his lifetime best. He retired after eight full seasons of racing at age nine with career earnings of $54,905, which in today's numbers would be the equivalent of almost $472,000, certainly a pretty sizable sum back then. In late October of 1959 he won his last career start at Buffalo Raceway on a cold muddy night as the timer showed just 2:17. Keith related that he developed into an extremely steady and sound horse until near the end of his career. "I probably shouldn't have raced him that last year; he was getting pretty sore." His post-racing career went undistinguished as he did stand in the stud for a time for Doug Palmer also of Schomberg but apparently did not leave anything of his calibre.

The dam of Ben Boy, Lady Iris provided the Wray family and others owners with several other performers but none as successful as Ben. A few of the other full or half siblings included Ruth Riddell, Rowe Riddell, Millers Anne, Peter W, Tommy Riddell, Joyce Riddell and a few more. Apparently Lady Iris was not always the profile of a 'lady' as her owner once said of her "She would rather kick than do anything else." She had her last registered foal, Lady Noble, in 1963 at the age of 19 or 20.

In the modern scene, the credentials of Ben Boy would seem pretty mediocre to the numbers young performers rack up with regularity but back then he was a very special horse. Today in a small way the short but catchy name that added to his popularity still lives on. The former Wray farm at Schomberg, where Miller Wray farmed and also raised turkeys, has been subdivided in later years and is the site of a number of modern homes. One of the streets is called Ben Boy Avenue. Tom Wray told me a cute story of how he had a recent conversation with a little girl who lives on that street. When he told her how the name came about she was quite surprised and said "That is a really cool story!"

I would like to pass along my thanks to Keith Waples for his great memories and his unique perspective. Anytime that I can have a visit with this remarkable man makes my day. I am also grateful to members of the Wray family for sharing their photographs and a few family stories. Times have changed but racing fans always remember a special horse and truly Ben Boy was one memorable performer back in the day.

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY this Sunday to all you fathers in the Rewind reading audience.

June 17, 2017 - 12:12 pmJack Wray sent the following

Jack Wray sent the following comment to me and it is reprinted with his permission:

After the death of my father and the initial shock had passed one of the things I soon noticed was how concerned the adults were. This became more evident as the pressure on my mother mounted to sell off her race horses. The first to go was Peter Van H and some of the breeding stock. It was at this time my mother made the decision to send all the horses to Keith Waples.

Enter the other hero of this story, Ben Boy, the 2-year-old champion who continued on to repeat the feat as a 3-year-old. The-4 year-old season was highlighted by a victory in the Maple Leaf Trot.

Hal B Watson wrote in his column in the spring of 1956 – “When Miller Wray passed away so suddenly, as he was establishing his outstanding Canadian Nursery, many felt Mrs. Wray should sell the racing stock. Ben Boy, Rowe Riddell, Millers Anne, combined with the skill of Keith Waples, have proven that Mrs. Wray’s faith in her husband’s breeding judgment was well justified.

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