During the past 50 years, horse racing in Western Canada had grown from a disjointed series of short meetings, held under the auspices of a myriad of small chartered racing associations at “leaky roof” tracks, to the sophisticated, multi-million-dollar business it is today. No small measure of credit for the explosive growth of the sport can be laid at the doorstep of Lou Davies.
Davies was born in England in 1900 and raised in Montreal. A chance meeting in a commuter rail coach with the man who developed past performance form charts led to an association with racing in 1924 that was to last almost half a century. Davies published past performance programs in England and put out a two-language edition of the Racing Form in Mexico City. He was brought to Western Canada by R.J. Speers to publish a program for the Prairie Circuit, which was then comprised of tracks at Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg. Later he became public relations director for the Speers Corporation and subsequently its operating manager. When Speers died, Davies guided its successor, the Western Canada Racing Association, through its growing pains. Under his management, the sport grew to a point where racing in each of the three Prairie provinces was mature enough to survive and succeed on its own. First Winnipeg left the WCRA nest. Then Regina and Saskatoon formed their own circuit.
Lou Davies had a profound impact on the development of racing, not only in the west but throughout Canada. Among his major contributions was the introduction into this country of daily double wagering. He was the first Canadian racetrack operator to use a mechanical starting gate. He also brought the Caliente Safety helmet for jockeys to Canadian racing and was also at the helm when totalisator equipment first made its appearance in Western Canada. Installing it was no mean feat, given the logistical and mechanical problems involved in shipping the equipment from city to city at a time when most of the meetings were of two weeks duration.
A gregarious, personable, always-accessible manager, Davies was one of the first of Canada’s racing men to recognize the power of a positive press. He joined with The Judge, George W. Schilling, in pioneering radio as a promotional tool for racing, and it is probable that no Canadian racing executive ever enjoyed such a rapport with the newsmen. He also enjoyed great respect among horsemen, even at times when purses were low and many owners and trainers had trouble paying their feed bills.
Davies retired as the Western Canada Racing Association’s general manager in 1971, and was promptly named the WCRA’s honorary president. A founding member of the National Association of Canadian Race Tracks, Lou Davies was honored by the Jockeys’ Benefit Association as its Man of the Year and by the Edmonton Exhibition Association as one of its 12 Builders during Golden Anniversary Week in 1976.