On a warm Wednesday afternoon, July 1, 1767, the first organized horse racing event in Canada was staged on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City. The victory by Modesty, a mare ridden by Captain Prescott, would herald a race that celebrates and commemorates 250 years of horse racing in the Dominion of Canada. The site, a promontory overlooking the north shore of the St. Lawrence River, was the plains and battlefield on which the British under General James Wolfe surprised and defeated the French forces of General Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm in 1759. Both generals were mortally wounded in the battle. Eight years later the tradition of horse racing and wagering in Canada began its recorded history on these fields with Captain Prescott and Modesty.
The plains were originally owned by Martin Abraham, a fisherman and river pilot. A few races, organized by the soldiers of the Quebec City garrison, were later held on the Plains in the 1770s.
Details of the July 1 race, which occurred 100 years to the day before Canada’s Confederation, are, at best, sketchy. We know that the purse was $40 dollars and that post time was advertised in the Quebec Gazette as “Five O’clock in the afternoon Precisely: The best of three heats, once around the course each heat.” In the July 9 edition of the Gazette there is little information of Modesty. Her age and color aren’t mentioned. Was she a Thoroughbred or a descendent of one of the French mares and stallions shipped to Quebec in the late 1600’s and 1700’s? The British acquired much of the French cavalry stock following their historic 1759 victory.
Modesty’s rider was an officer stationed with the British garrison in Quebec. A note in the Gazette ad stated “None by Gentlemen will be permitted to ride.” It also stated that “The judges were appointed at the starting post by a majority of subscribers. All such persons who chose to enter their horse must apply to Mr. Wilcox at the Market Place at least two days before starting, paying a two dollar entrance.”
The July 9 Gazette stated: “The purse of $40 was won with greatest ease by Captain Prescott’s Mare Modesty It was termed an upset, “much to the discomfiture of those, who purporting to know about such things, had wagered against her and were thereby parted from their money. The contest did afford much pleasure and there were no accidents save that some few riders were thrown from their mounts, from which circumstance it appeared that they suffered more fright than injury.”
The English Stud book listed a mare by the name of Modesty, but her first offspring were foaled two years before the 1767 race.