Winnipeg, a range-bred who once was the fastest pacer ever produced in Western Canada, had two characteristics all his own – a mane that camouflaged a brand on the left side of his neck, and a long, loping, easy-going style that was described by a writer as “pussyfooting along”. When William Fleming, a native of Wisconsin who was living in Winnipeg, took over his development at age four, he combed the mane to fall to the left to hide the initial “R”, the brand mark of his breeder, Samuel H. Rose of Calgary.
The gelding made his first start in 1926 at Portage La Prairie, Man. He won only once in 10 races that year, but Fleming was sufficiently impressed to take him to Minnesota in 1927, where Winnipeg’s class was confirmed when he finished second to Battle Axe. In his first start of 1928, Winnipeg finished second to Grattan Bars at Toledo, forcing the Canadian champion to his lifetime mark of 1:59 1/2 in the first heat. Winnipeg’s story would take a turn upwards when he was acquired by E.J. Baker of St. Charles, Ill. Baker had a penchant for buying two-minute horses, a practice made possible when his sister married John (Bet-a-Million) Gates, the notorious gambling tycoon. When Gates died, his wife inherited about $40 million and when she died her fortune was split between Baker and a niece. Baker made an offer of $25,000 that Fleming couldn’t refuse. It was the largest amount paid for a gelding at that time. Winnipeg went to the stable of Septer Palin, who later developed a world champion trotter for Baker named Greyhound.
Winnipeg’s next start was in the Great American Pacing Derby at Kalamazoo, where he again finished second to Grattan Bars. After that, Winnipeg won his next 28 starts. At Syracuse he made his first assault on the record books, lowering the race mark for geldings to 1:59 1/4 while winning a heat of the Chamber of Commerce Cup. Two weeks later at Louisville he won in 2:01 to equal the world record for pacers on a half-mile track. Winnipeg now shared the record with immortals Dan Patch and Single G, but was the undisputed holder of the record for geldings. He did not taste defeat again until his final race of the year at Lexington. He then went against the clock in trials in Toledo, where he beat his own world record with a clocking of 1:57 3/4. His best mile and stood as a world record until Cardigan Bay broke it almost 40 years later.
In 1929 Winnipeg was 13 for 13, including the first 2:00 mile paced under the lights at Toledo, when it became the first Grand Circuit track to hold night racing. In 1930 he won seven of nine starts, finishing second in the other two, but after that Palin had difficulty finding races for him. He won five times in 14 starts in 1931 and ’32. During his seven-year career, he won 38 of 67 events. Winnipeg died in 1943 and was buried at Baker’s Red Gates Farm in St. Charles, Ill.