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SC Rewind: Legends Day Memories

Published: July 22, 2017 10:31 am ET

Last Comment: July 28, 2017 3:54 pm ET | 1 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's edition of Rewind Robert Smith recalls the relatively short but extremely interesting history surrounding the ever-popular Legends Day held every other year at Clinton Raceway. A large collage of pictures taken in past years is a major feature of this week's offering.



It may not quite equal the excitement and fan numbers of Hambletonian Day or Little Brown Jug Week, but Legends Day at Clinton is growing in stature with each passing year. First started in 2001 to recognize some of the greats of our sport, it just seems to get more and more popular with each edition. With a setting reminiscent of days gone by and a cast of the all-time greats on hand, it is just a wonderful biennial celebration enjoyed by old friends and their many friends and family. Each gathering seems to outdo the previous ones. The day's founder and chief architect Ian Fleming has to be indeed proud.

The inaugural Legends Day gathering was held on August 26, 2001. The winner of the featured Invitational Trot was CR Aviator driven by Mike LaChance for owner Janine Allen and trained by Keith Klages. It was a spirited affair from start to finish as the winner scored his sixth victory of the season and set a new Clinton trotting track record of 1:59.1. Finishing second was Sooner Hanover (Ron Waples) with Carscot Harmony in third place. By day's end the event's organizers surely knew they had a 'winner' on their hands.


 


No account of Legends Day would be complete without the mention of a local legend named Dr. George Elliott known simply as "Doc" by his many friends and admirers. A lifelong resident of Clinton, his home stood just a short distance from the track; the place he had lived for 84 years when the first big race day was held. After he graduated from the University of Guelph in 1941 he practiced veterinary medicine in his hometown until 1964. Following that he served as a track vet until his retirement in 1999. In 1982 he and his son "Butch" built the big red barn that overlooks the track. For many years they housed their horses and trained at the track until 1996. When the first Legends Day was held in 2001 Doc may have been the proudest person in attendance.

It was indeed fitting that Dr. Elliott was part of the inaugural Legends Day winner's circle ceremonies along with Hall of Famers Jack Kopas and Wm. Wellwood. In an article appearing in The Canadian Sportsman following the event Doc told writer Heather Peden how much the day meant to him. "I met a lot of old friends today, a lot of great memories. Some of these guys I haven't seen in 20 years. A lot of them were just youngsters at Windsor when I was the track vet; many went on to the Meadowlands. If it wasn't for this day bringing them together I probably wouldn't have seen them again." Dr. Elliott lived to see a few more get togethers before his passing in 2008 at the age of 91.

Each of the past eight Legends Day gatherings have been tremendously popular and unlike many functions there is something special for every person in attendance, regardless of their role or interest in the sport. Undoubtedly at the top of the list, perhaps even beyond the huge throng of fans are the drivers themselves. A time for story telling, reminiscing and good fellowship is the order of the day. While many of them duelled it out in some of the sport's most exciting races of the last half century, these days are meant to be light-hearted. All fans in attendance regardless of their ages pretty much instantly recognize each of the legends.

Legends Day, now in its ninth renewal, has come along at a time when harness racing needs more 'Good News' stories to offset the many setbacks and declines that have plagued it in recent times. What first started as a one-time event has now become an every other year extravaganza that people look forward to from literally the time the curtain is lowered on the latest one. Those asked to attend and participate have been extremely generous in the past. Several local charities and projects have benefited greatly from the outpouring of generosity by many groups and individuals.

In a 2005 interview following that year's Legends Day get together, Ian Fleming went into some detail about one of the main reasons behind holding this day and how far reaching its benefits are. He told harness racing scribe Dave Briggs "The most obvious reason why I get so much satisfaction out of this day is over the years we've become one of the leading contributors in the community, for sure to the Clinton Hospital. There are a lot of horse pictures over at that Hospital. As you know the horsemen are the biggest reason why we have given so much. They're all great supporters whether it's benevolence for one of their own or helping out in the community. They are very competitive on the track but very good off it."

As for the legends themselves Fleming said he was most appreciative that they came all the way to tiny Clinton. "It's pretty good of them to come here really."

This year in case anyone has not yet heard, Legends Day will feature the final drive of harness racing's all-time richest driver, John Campbell.

On the afternoon of Sunday, July 30th (and probably much earlier) a lot of folks will be headed to 147 Beech Street in downtown Clinton, Ontario. They won't need a map, they will just get in line and be patient as the excitement builds. It WILL indeed be one of the great days of the modern era of Canadian harness racing.

Past Legends Day Winning Drivers And Horses:

2001 - Mike LaChance (CR Aviator)
2003 - Ron Waples (Carland Buddy)
2005 - Bud Fritz (Visionary)
2007 - John Campbell (Runway)
2009 - John Campbell (New Dice Please)
2011 - John Campbell (Lexis DJ)
2013 - Ray Remmen (The Northern Dude)
2015 - Dave Wall (Brandon Cs)
2017 - TBA

Shown below are a number of great photographs taken at past Legends Day get togethers dating back to 2001


John Campbell wins with Runway to take his first Legends Day victory in 2007

 


Cast of drivers for the inaugural Legends Day in 2001

 


Drivers Sign autographs for the fans at the 2005 gathering

 


A group scene from 2007

 


Youths join in during the 2007 edition

 


The legend himself, Keith Waples at the tender age of 81 (going on 82) shows his driving ability during the 2005 Legends day

 


"The Magic Man" Wm. O'Donnell is shown with his mount in the 2005 celebration

 


Ron Waples, a Legends Day constant, scores down with his 2005 entry Memories Of Texas

 


Grey skies in the background of the 2001 first ever Legends Day did little to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd or the competing drivers

 


Smiles abound during the 2007 festivities

July 28, 2017 - 3:54 pmI've never been to Legends

murray brown SAID...

I've never been to Legends Day before. but I drove from Pennsylvania to see this year's event.
It's very likely that never before will so much talent, certainly North American talent be together on one racetrack.
Most of the attention has focused on it being the last race for John Campbell, Bill O'Donnell and Michel Lachance. From my understanding Ronnie Waples hasn't yet committed to stop driving.
With all the greatness on display, the person I am most looking forward to seeing and speaking with is 93 year old Keith Waples. Keith, together with his apprentice Herve, were my idols growing up. Keith didn't really know that he was Herve's master. But if you asked Herve who he learned the most from, it was Keith Waples.
Everyone of the drivers competing on Sunday learned either directly from Keith Waples or from someone who learned how horses should be driven and taken care of by Keith Waples.
I've heard so much about Legends Day. This will be my first time attending and quite possibly the only time.
I cannot wait for Sunday to get here.


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