Legends – Driver/Trainer & Standardbred
Jim Kealey & Battle Axe
James Kealey, who was born in Manitou, Man. in 1889, was described by turf writers as one of the best known, most respected horsemen who did more than any man in Western Canada to keep racing on a high plane during a career that spanned five decades.
He was raised around draft horses at his father’s farm in Melfort, Sask., and ventured into harness racing with the purchase of a pacing mare in 1921. His superior ability as a trainer was forged in 1924 when he purchased Battle Axe, an eight-year-old “outlaw stallion” at a bargain price of $38 and transformed him into one of the legendary standardbreds of the west. In 1926 Battle Axe won 34 of 36 heats and paced to a mile record of 2:03 1/4 at Melfort. Among the defeated was future world champion and Hall of Famer Winnipeg.
Battle Axe’s greatest performance was at Minneapolis in 1927 when he defeated an elite field, winning three heats in 2:03 1/4, 2:02 1/4 and 2:01 1/4. The combined time was the season’s best for three heats in North America. Kealey then sold Battle Axe for $10,000.
Kealey’s dominance as a trainer was evident at the Brandon, Man., exhibition when horses he conditioned won all 12 heats they contested. When Kealey accepted a position to train and drive for one of the leading stables in the U.S., more than 100 harness horse enthusiasts gathered at a Regina banquet to honor him. He quickly established himself in the U.S., driving 20 winners and 15 second-place finishes in his first 48 drives. He campaigned the trio of Del Whitney p, 2:00 ½, Battle Direct p, 2:01 and Taylor Ridge p, 1:59 3/4 against the best aged pacers of the era while driving at Roosevelt Raceway, N.Y., The Red Mile, Lexington, Ky., Sportsman’s Park and Maywood Park in Chicago. He later returned to Canada to campaign on the “Prairie Circuit”. Kealey died in 1976.