As we launch into a New Year Robert Smith's first Rewind of January is the customary 'Years Ago' and this time it's about the 1960's. A great decade from start to finish as the sport was moving at its fastest speeds ever, both on the track and with what was happening everywhere. New tracks were opening, the racing season was getting longer and the number of fans attending live racing reached an all-time high.
1960 - Wellwood Stars At Old Woodbine
Wm. "Bill" Wellwood at the age of 20 and then clad in his uncle Harold's green and gold silks. (Photo from Montreal Gazette archives)
This year the world of harness racing in Ontario got their first glimpse of a young budding horseman by the name of Wm. Wellwood. He was here for his first visit with a stable under his care. Just 19 years of age when the meeting started on July 4th, the fledgling trainer-driver wasted little time in making his first appearance in the winner's circle. During the week of July 11 the youngster recorded the two fastest miles to date as he twice guided Royal Aileen to the winner's circle. They first scored in 2:03 flat on Monday and were back again in the Saturday Invitational FFA in 2:03.2, some very fast miles. Interesting to note that William had gained his first career win behind Royal Aileen at Buffalo Raceway late in the fall of 1959.
Perhaps his biggest day of the meeting came on August 13 when young William returned to the winner's circle for a picture no less than four times. His biggest victory was a two-heat win with the three-year-old trotter Kintoo Colby who won that year's CSHS Futurity. Owned by W.J. White of St. Marys, Ont., this up-and-coming trotter eventually became a long-time performer on the OJC Circuit. He ended the season with just over $8,000 earned in 21 starts.
When the Old Woodbine meeting ended in late August the then 20-year-old driver and trainer received an award as the second leading dash winner. He once told me that Old Woodbine and later Greenwood always held a special place in his heart because he said "this is where I started."
1960 - California Racing Brings Out The Stars
For many years harness racing's top talent finished the season racing out west over the mile track at Hollywood Park in Inglewood, California. One of the most popular races was the American Classics Invitational Trot which was raced in several legs. This big race carried a purse of $85,000 and annually attracted the very best trotting talent in the land.
A horse that performed well in more than one season was Senator Frost, a U.S.-owned performer but with a Canadian connection. A young gentleman named Donnie Galbraith, a native of Saint John, New Brunswick, cared for this horse during his heyday. In his late teens he left his Maritime home to take a job in far off Ohio. He was hired by the Ohio-based Grand Circuit stable of HOF trainer and driver Dick Buxton who soon assigned him to this great trotter. His connection was a fellow New Brunswicker, Tom Scovil, who was Buxton's second trainer.
This horse raced against and defeated such greats as Su Mac Lad, Silver Song, Darn Safe and the French trotter Jamin to name a few. He had a record of 1:57.3, very impressive at this time in history. It had to be quite a thrill for young Donnie to be chosen to care for this top horse.
Senator Frost in the Hollywood Park winner's circle after a win in the 1960 American Classics Invitational F.F.A. trot. Caretaker Donnie Galbraith is at the horse's head while the owners join driver Dick Buxton.
1961 - The Armbro Name Emerges
Elgin Armstrong is shown with Armbro Flight, one of the early stars of the long list of outstanding Armbro named horses. The great mare was showing quite a display of her tongue, perhaps to replicate Mr. Armstrong's ever present cigar. (Toronto Public Library archives)
As most followers of Canadian harness racing know, the Armbro name is synonymous with everything good in the sport. Their very first horses carried their original names but as the farm began to breed and raise their own horses they soon all took on the "Armbro" prefix. At the height of the Armstrong Bros. successful years the annual U.S.T.A. yearbooks contained pages and pages of performers carrying the trademark name.
It is interesting to note that in the 1960 Yearbook just five horses were listed with that soon to be famous name. Armbro Adanac (Canada spelled backwards), Armbro Aileen, Armbro Belle, Armbro Express and Armbro Nibble made up that very early roster.
For those few who do not know the process followed in giving the farm foals their names here is the simple formula they followed. Each year the next letter in the alphabet was used for the second name. I do believe a few letters were omitted perhaps such as Q and Z. I believe the management, which would have been Dr. Brown for many years, solicited name suggestions from farm employees which were considered as possibilities.
1965 - Bret Hanover Wins Triple Crown
Bret Hanover was undoubtedly one of the biggest stars of the decade as he won virtually all of the major races throughout his three-year career. In 1964 as a three-year-old he won the coveted Triple Crown of harness racing as he captured the Little Brown Jug, The Messenger and the Cane Futurity. He became just the second horse to accomplish this feat joining Adios Butler who did it in 1959.
In January of 1965 a special luncheon was held to honor Bret Hanover and his connections. It was jointly hosted by Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceway. Shown above (L-R) are Alvin Weil, Pres. of Roosevelt, Trainer and driver Frank Ervin is in the centre along with Martin Tananbaum Pres. of Yonkers. A large picture of Bret and Mr. Ervin in action is shown in the background. Photo courtesy of Harness Racing Museum.
1966 - Bob Farrington Does It Again - Hits 300 Wins
Bob Farrington was the first harness driver in North America to record 300 wins in a single season and he made a habit of doing it. On the evening of December 28, 1966 the man from Richwood, Ohio scored his 300th win of that season. A crowd of 1,985 was on hand at Windsor Raceway to see the milestone reached. This number was well below the usual attendance as icy roads undoubtedly kept many regulars at home. One person who made it was a long-time friend and fan of Bob's from Chicago. Paul Page, veteran Chicago area starter, flew in for the occasion.
The 37-year-old Farrington had scored 300 wins for the third year in a row when he clicked in the sixth race behind Bewitching Comet. With time running out on the calendar it was rather doubtful he would surpass any of his previous 300-plus seasons. In 1965 he tallied 310 and set his all-time high with 312 trips to the charmed circle in 1964.
To mark the occasion Raceway officials presented the Ohioan with a Windsor Raceway blanket and a complete sound film of Win No. 300. Plans were underway to make a further official presentation within the next day or so.
Quote For The Week: "My mother loved children. She would have given anything if I had been one." From Groucho Marx.
Note: If you don't remember Groucho Marx this one might be hard to understand and even harder to try to explain.
Who Is It?
Can you identify these two folks? They were a big part of the sport when this 1986 photo was taken and their connections are still prominent.
Who Else Is It?
This picture taken at an Ontario track could create a bit of a challenge but I'll bet someone (or many) will solve part or all of it. A little help is forthcoming. The horse's owner and his young son are on the left. The driver was a very well known gentleman who passed away at a young age. The lady on the far right was the trophy presenter and I do not have her name. One more clue: the horse was a pretty good one and was purchased as an aged performer from his original owner who was an automobile dealer and horseman. Have fun.
This week's pictures
Who Is It? - Chris and Kathy Van Bussel of Seelster Farms with Aida Seelster, the highest priced trotting filly of the 1986 sale. (A + for Dave Darocy!)
Who Else Is It ? - Bruce Smith (far left) owner of Galleon Farm and his young son with race winner Sonny Creed and driver Ken Galbraith.
Thanks to Marv Chantler for reminding us what Florida temps are like in January. FYI it has often been 24 here as well , but followed by an "F" not a "C". Just a slight difference.
Who is it? Chris and Kathy…
Who is it? Chris and Kathy VanBussel holding Aidan Seelster.
Who else is it? Owner Bruce Smith, driver Ken Galbraith.
Happy New Year Robert
Another great article Robert. Keep up the good work. Stay warm up there. Its 24C here every day in Ft Myers......
Faulkenham, maybe Ken…
Faulkenham, maybe Ken Galbraith and Mac?
Who is it??? Chris…
Who is it??? Chris Van Bussell and Brenda Walker don't know the horse... Must be a Seelster horse
Who else is it??? Sonny creed with ken Galbraith driving and Bruce Smith of the Galleon Stables
Who is it
Who is it ? Chris Van Bussell