In this week's edition of Rewind, Robert Smith delves into the archives to recall a sad and tragic event from nearly 70 years ago when a then well-known Canadian harness horseman lost his life in a racing accident at one of the small town tracks in Central Ontario.
As dangerous as harness racing is with horses travelling at well over 30 miles per hour and maneuvering in tight spaces, relatively few serious accidents and thankfully a small number of deaths have occurred throughout history when the number of miles travelled is considered. We of course remember the ones who did die because of the sadness and shock that surrounds a death. The memory of losing people like Shelly Goudreau, Wilbert Hopkins and Billy Haughton never seems to fade despite the passing years.
Veteran horseman Harry Fields is shown with a stable member at Buffalo Raceway in this 1948 photo. Mr. Fields lost his life in a racing accident at the old Stratford, Ont. track in 1953. He was a true veteran of the racing wars and had distinguished himself as a top trainer and driver for many years on both sides of the border. He was 71 years of age at the time of his untimely and sad passing (Harness Horse photo)
Harry Fields trains Miss Gay Lady, a member of his public stable. For many years he raced on the Buffalo - Batavia circuit during the summer months. Prior to his move to racing mainly in the U.S., Mr. Fields raced at a lot of Canadian tracks and handled some of the top horses in the sport. (Harness Horse photo)
In this 1948 photo Edward Jerge of Buffalo, owner of Miss Gay Lady, winner of the William J. Tillner Memorial Pace, is shown receiving a silver plate from Mrs. Tillner at Batavia Downs, Batavia, N.Y. In winning, Miss Gay Lady paced the mile in 2:07 3/5. Holding the winner is John A. Maas, general manager of Batavia Downs, and Harry Fields, driver is on the far right (Harness Horse photo)
The following account of Mr. Fields' death as it appeared in the Harness Horse magazine back in 1953.
Harry Field Dies
Stratford, Ontario, August 3, 1953 -The veteran Canadian reinsman, Harry W. Field, was fatally injured in a race track accident today when he was thrown from the sulky on the backstretch while driving the three-year-old pacer Nifty Marjorie Lee in a stake event. His mount stumbled and fell, flipping over the sulky, and the 71-year-old horseman was catapulted 20 feet down the track, where two trailing horses ran over him. His skull was fractured by a flying hoof and Mr. Field died shortly after arrival at the Stratford Hospital. The filly suffered a broken back and had to be destroyed.
One of the most widely known and best respected trainers across the border, Harry Field had raced a stable for over 40 years and was presently training out of Caledonia. His home was at 145 Walton Avenue, Hamilton, Ontario. He drove his first race at 16, but left the racing game for a period of several years, during which he was a successful real estate salesman in Hamilton. The pull of the sport was too much, though, and he returned to his first love, the trotters and pacers. A capable horseman and a fine driver, his passing is a sad loss to Canadian racing.
Mr. Fields is pictured above with Ingomar Grattan, a member of the Vic Fleming stable taken in 1931. At that time Harry Fields was a trainer in the prestigious Fleming stable which campaigned on the U.S. Grand Circuit. It would have been quite an experience to work with the calibre of horses that were racing out of the Fleming barn. (Photo from Trotter and Pacer)
Owner Dr. W.N. Meldrum appears in the New Hamburg winner's circle following a victory in the 1938 Canadian Pacing Derby by his horse Sir Esme. He is joined by driver Harry Fields (Photo courtesy of Leon Siple / Kitchener Record photo)
I have had a number of conversations over the years about this sad day in Canadian harness racing; a few of the people I have spoken with have personal memories. Among them was the late Jack Herbert who drove Clark Herbert, the winner of the race that Mr. Fields lost his life in. Another driver who saw it all first hand was Bud Gibson who also drove in that same race. He was driving a horse called Billy Deluxe that was the subject of a Rewind a few years ago. The late Ron McGee from Goderich told me he remembered being there as a teenager and recalled how everyone was cautioned to stay away from becoming "sightseers" and the stable area was immediately sealed off.
Fields or Field?
Another interesting topic for discussion about today's subject was Mr. Field's surname. While he was known as "Fields" throughout his lifetime, some members of his extended family were known as "Field". Many years ago I talked to a gentleman named Dick Field of Binbrook, well known in yesteryears around Southern Ontario tracks. I believe Dick's father and Harry were brothers. Dick's son Doug and his daughter Donna (Field) Degrow are also long time participants in the sport. He said that his uncle Harry had stopped to visit his father on that fateful day and mentioned that he was giving up driving and planned to just train horses in the near future.
Quote For The Week: "Shaking your head sideways is never as good as up and down." - Heard on the Golf Channel
Who Is It?
Who is this fellow who once did a lot of driving? A small clue is that he now restricts his activities to training. (the Standardbred photo)
Who Else Is It?
Can you identify this young lad on the left? He was no stranger to receiving awards for his driving skills. This one was taken quite early in his career. (Photo courtesy of Northeast Harness News)
A Mystery Photo
Can anyone identify any of the folks in this picture? It arrived at my email address apparently related to Old Home Week in P.E.I. Unfortunately, as clear as the picture is, I don't know the identities of anyone. For starters it looks like the driver may very well have had a last name that started with "S" (or perhaps he was wearing a jacket that belonged to another driver).
Blast From The Past
Has anyone ever had the misfortune to receive the wrong ticket from a clerk in the mutuels? Did the seller look anything like this kindly fellow? Life Behind The Ticket Booth, a recent article on the SC website, prompted me to take this picture out of the archives.