Ten new inductees were enshrined in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame Wednesday evening in front of a packed house in Mississauga, Ontario.
From the thoroughbred side, owner/breeder (the late) Robert Anderson, Trainer Roger Laurin, jockey Stewart Elliot, 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird and communicator Jim Bannon were inducted.
Representing the Standardbred breed, breeder owner Charles H. Armstrong, driver William Gale, racehorse Artsplace, broodmare J Cs Nathalie and communicator Harry Eisen also received their Hall of Fame rings.
Harry Eisen’s wife Maxine summed up her husband’s all-encompassing love of harness racing when she accepted on his behalf. “He loved his job so much, he’d have worked for free,” she told the audience. “But I’m glad he didn’t!”
Horse racing shaped Harry Eisen’s life from his pre-Kindergarten days attending races in Palmerston, Ontario through to the end of his career as a journalist. He used to sell tip sheets at Dufferin Park Racetrack as a youngster and later used his knowledge of racing to become an expert handicapper. Eisen, who passed away in 1993, combined his passions for racing and writing into a storied career at the London Free Press, where he reported on the sport, wrote a popular column called Mostly About Horses and made the daily Western Fair Raceway selections. Eisen spent 22 years covering horse racing full time for the newspaper and retired in 1983, earning many accolades and honours – including the first media award handed out by the Canadian Trotting Association, also in 1983 – and the respect of horsepeople and other reporters along the way.
His first full-time gig was with the Sudbury Star before he arrived in London, where he met his wife Maxine.
“When I found out (about the induction) I couldn’t believe, it!” Maxine Eisen said upon accepting the Hall of Fame ring. “It’s nice to know Harry was remembered and appreciated.”
Roger Laurin saddled the first winner of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984, Chief ’s Crown, and conditioned Eclipse Award winning filly Numbered Account for Ogden Phipps in 1971. Born in 1935, Roger was involved in horse racing as a youngster. He galloped horses for his father before going to school while living in Florida or where Lucien was racing at the time. At age he 16 earned a trainer’s license at Narragansett, RI. Roger came into prominence in 1964 when he took charge of the conditioning of Miss Cavandish, a $1,500 purchase by Harry Nichols.
“I’d like to thank my father for being born before me,” Laurin quipped to the delight of the crowd while accepting his award. “Thank you for the induction; it’s greatly appreciated and a great part of my life.”
Laurin was of course referring to Lucien Laurin, whom he coaxed out of retirement to help train at Penny Chenery Tweedy’s Meadow Stable in Virginia in 1971 “on a temporary basis” which culminated in the elder Laurin conditioning 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat for Chenery.
Roger Laurin enjoyed success locally winning the 1970 Canadian International Championship with the remarkable filly Drumtop, who broke three track records in 1971. That year was a huge one for Laurin as he had eight stakes winners, including Phipps’ Numbered Account, champion two-year-old filly. In the late 1970s he trained for Reginald N. Webster and the U.S. racing division for E.P. Taylor’s Windfields Farm. Chief ’s Crown was champion 2-year-old after his Breeders’ Cup victory in 1984 and was in the money in all three Triple Crown races in 1985. He won the Travers, Flamingo, Blue Grass and Marlboro Cup Invitational that year. Laurin, however, left the main stage at age 50, retiring along with Chief ’s Crown. He was quoted as saying after Chief ’s Crown’s disappointing fourth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, “He’s the horse of a lifetime. It took 30 years to find him, and I can’t wait another 30.”
When John Lamers claimed pacing mare JCs Nathalie as a five-year old for $25,000 at Mohawk Racetrack on Nov. 11, 1993, he never suspected she would become Dreamfair’s foundation Broodmare. But Lamers of Ingersoll, Ontario said his outstanding broodmare is proof that desire is a breedable characteristic. She’s instilled it in her remarkable sons and daughters, among them the farm’s first great champion Dreamfair Vogel, a winner of nearly $1.2 million, and 2010 Canadian Horse of the Year Dreamfair Eternal, the sensational pacing mare that earned over $2.5 million and was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2014. From 13 foals, including 11 starters, JCs Nathalie’s progeny have earned more than $4.5 million and averaged $409,230 per starter for Lamers’ Dreamfair Farms. “It’s a bit emotional for me,” Lamers began when accepting JC S Nathalie’s Hall of Fame induction. “Every morning I look out the back door and see JC S Nathalie in the paddock eating grass, as healthy as can be. Hopefully she’s going to be there for a long time yet.” Lamers was almost ready to get out of the business the autumn before Dreamfair Vogel started winning. “I guess my suggestion to anyone would be: Don’t give up, there’s a winner out there. Do your homework, study your pedigrees. Then you need to be patient,” Lamers said. “I’m not always a patient man, but for some reason I am when it comes to the horses.”
In over 35 years in the sulky, 2015 Horse Racing Hall of Fame inductee Bill Gale won 6,375 races, but none were more memorable than winning his first Breeders Crown in 1986 with Sunset Warrior at Garden State Park in New Jersey for trainer, friend and fellow LaSalle, ON resident Bob McIntosh. “It was such a big thing at the time for an Ontario-based guy to go to the States and win a race of that stature. I think they were going for $800,000 or so that night,”
Gale said. “I think that was the win that kind of pushed me into the spotlight a little.”
Gale first thanked his wife of 46 years Janice while delivering his acceptance speech. “I know there’s a few in the audience that think she deserves an award for putting up with me,’ He joked. “They’re probably right!” Gale went on to thank the owners and horseman that “put him in a position to succeed” during his career. “To be recognized by your peers is one of the highest honors you can receive,” he said. “I find this honor greatly humbling, but it is also one I accept with great pride and I thank you all.”
Legends of the game such as fellow driver John Campbell and McIntosh — Hall of Famers in both Canada and the United States — made it clear when the 2015 ballot came out that Gale deserved to join them in Canadian Hall. Campbell said Gale was, “easily the best driver not yet enshrined.” McIntosh said Gale, “deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. We traveled all over the United States and Canada and he won a lot of stakes races for me. He had the lightest set of hands. He could keep a bad horse quiet. He was very good with them. Strategically as a driver he was right up there with the best, though he was underrated all the time.”
Between 1982 and 1997, Gale recorded 16 consecutive $1 million+ seasons. In his career, he drove the winners of $42.1 million in an era before slots-fattened purses. In 1991, Gale was honoured with an O’Brien Award as Canada’s Driver of the Year following a season where he exceeded $3.2 million in purse earnings. He holds the record for the most driving wins at Windsor Raceway (some 3,500) and was inducted into the Windsor / Essex County Sports Hall of Fame in 2000.
Gale last drove in 2007, having his career cut short due to injuries sustained in a number of racing accidents.
In May, 2004, Canadian jockey Stewart Elliott became the first jockey in 25 years to win the Kentucky Derby in his first appearance when he guided chestnut colt Smarty Jones to victory over 17 contenders over a sloppy track in front of 120,000 racing fans. Under Elliott’s guidance, Smarty Jones became the first undefeated horse since Seattle Slew in 1977 to win the Kentucky Derby.
Elliott and Smarty Jones then set the horseracing world abuzz with an 11 1/2 length romp in The Preakness Stakes and expectations of the first Triple Crown winner in 31 were high. But in the Belmont Stakes, Elliott and Smarty Jones set most of the pace only to be nailed in the closing strides by longshot Birdstone, who went on to win by a length.
“I know this is an industry where many toil with little or no recognition,” Elliott, a Toronto native, said accepting his Hall of Fame induction. “So I know how fortunate I am to have had a successful career in both Canada and the U.S.”
2004 was a career year for the 39-year-old Elliott as his mounts earned more than $14.5 million. Included in that total was a $5 million bonus from the people at Oaklawn for winning their Arkansas Derby along with the Rebel and the Kentucky Derby. And as he continues to ride into the 2015 season, the 50-year-old Elliott is approaching 4,800 wins, many of which came at Keystone Park, later named Philadelphia Park and now named Parx Racing. He won his first race at Keystone and was leading apprentice rider
Artsplace won 37 times in 49 races, including an undefeated 4-year-old campaign in which he won 16 races without tasting defeat. He set a world record of 1:51 1/5 winning the Breeders Crown at Pompano in 1990 in a performance that to this day is hailed as one of the greatest rookie performances ever. But his excellence was not limited to the racetrack as Artsplace is one of the greatest sires in the history of the sport.
To date, his progeny have accumulated over $173 million in earnings with an average of $126,372 per starter. Many of Artsplace’s sons and daughters have gone on to sire champions, including Art Major, sire of 2008 Meadowlands Pace champion Art Official, who won in 1:47, which, at the time, was a world record for three-year-old pacers, and the second fastest race mile in harness racing history. Artsplace was also unique being both a sire of great sires and also of great broodmares, an unusual circumstance in today’s mostly abbreviated sire careers.
Art Zubrod – for whom the great champion was named – accepted the induction and thanked “everyone that was involved with the horse,” and specifically thanked trainers Gene Reigle, who developed Artsplace and trained him at two, and “the great Bob McIntosh” who campaigned the champion for Brittany Farms at three and four.
Artsplace – who won Horse of the Year both in Canada and the U.S. in 1992 – goes into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame 15 years after being enshrined in the U.S. Harness Racing Hall of Fame. He is part of the third crop of predominantly U.S.-connected superstar horses to gain entry to the Canadian Hall since eligibility rules were loosened in 2013 to allow entry to horses that made a significant contribution to Canadian racing. Previously horses had to be Canadian-bred or owned, predominantly, by Canadians.
H. Charles (Charlie) Armstrong of Brampton, Ontario, built the Armstrong Brothers farm into the second largest Standardbred breeding operation in North America from 1978 until 2005 when the farm ceased operation.
Armstrong, 94, who appeared via video accompanied by family members when told of his Hall of Fame induction replied, “Mercy me, thank you kindly. Armstrong’s wife Lenore accepted the award in his absence and thanked Murray Brown of Hanover Shoe farms for the nomination and the Hall of Fame for the induction.
trotter of all time. Goodtimes was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2004. Outside of heading Armstrong Bros., Charlie also had tremendous success with his own Village Acres farm, which produced two-time Breeders Crown winner Village Jiffy, as well as such horses as Village Jove, Village Jolt, Village Connection and Village Beretta. In 1999, Charlie was named to the Little Brown Jug Wall of Fame and the Standardbred Breeders of Ontario Association presented him with the Chris Van Bussell Award in 2003.
Jim Bannon’s induction was met with a lengthy standing ovation from all in attendance as the audience showed their appreciation for a lengthy and charismatic career as a broadcaster, educator and humanitarian.
Bannon, who first arrived at Woodbine in 1965 looking for a job at one of the stables, parlayed that interest in horseracing at a young age into a storied career as a public handicapper, analyst and television commentator and as a deeply religious and emotional man, he has led Woodbine’s Chaplaincy program since the late 1980s. Bannon has also produced the popular “Journal” since 1972 which offers bettors his observations and insights in print every racing day.
Hall of Fame communicator Louis Cauz presented to Bannon, joking that he was breaking a rule that he instituted as Director of the Hall of Fame that forbid presenters to speak. “Tonight I pass the mantle to a legend who has dedicated his life to the sport of horseracing,” an emotional Cauz said.
“It makes me feel I belong,” Bannon said of his induction. “I don’t think anyone wants anything else than to feel they belong to such a distinguished community.” Bannon recalled fondly his first introduction to the sport of horseracing. “I was seven years old and my grandmother took me down to Greenwood Racetrack,” he began. “This isn’t your ordinary grandmother. Grandmothers take you to the Exhibition. This grandmother, who was the mother of 16, took me to Greenwood and put me right where I could see the start of a 7 Furlong race.” “She held my hand as the horses came out of the gate,” he continued. “I got a picture that I would have all my life; the yelling, horses thrusting, the screaming. She looked down at me as if to say “did you get that”, and I got it. I still have it 60 years later.”
Bannon, who won a Gemini Award in 2010 as Canada’s best sports analyst acknowledges that “an act of providence” was the main factor in his achievements. A deeply religious and emotional human, Bannon admits it was “an unmistakable evidence of God’s providence, which is everywhere in my life.”
The late Robert Anderson, who died suddenly at the age of 64 in 2010, led one of the most influential breeding operations of the 1970s and 1980s. In the heyday of thoroughbred breeding and selling, Anderson surged to the top of the breeders charts. He sold yearlings for millions and bred numerous graded stakes winners.
In 1985, Anderson Farms was the leading consignor at Saratoga and Keeneland yearling sales. For more than 41 years before his death Anderson did exactly what he wanted to do for a living. It was something he predicted when he was very young. “I went to Wellington Street School and I remember one day in Grade 5 a teacher asked everybody what they wanted to do, and I said I wanted to raise horses and sell them,” he once said. Anderson’s son David, accepted the induction with his sister Jessica Anderson Buckley remembered his father as a “true sportsman” that did something that he truly loved, traveling millions of miles up and down the 401 corridor following his racehorses. He was also remembered as a man who “treated everyone equally” by his son. That’s one of the things I loved about my father,” he remarked. “One minute he’d be rubbing shoulders with a Fortune 500 executive the next minute he’d be out drinking a Bud Lite with a Hot Walker laughing and telling jokes.”
Anderson personally created the match-ups of stallions and mares that produced so many top class Canadian-bred thoroughbreds, most notably Alydeed and champions such as Pinafore Park, Larkwhistle, Prince Avatar, Bounding Away, Triple Wow, Northern Craze, Fifty Proof, A La Reine and Raymi Coya. Another key to his success as a breeder was the stallions he bred, Alydeed, National Assembly and Ascot Knight, who sold for $1.4 million in 1985. Ascot Knight, who stood at Windfields Farm, sired champions Pennyhill Park, Hey Hazel, Influent, Plenty of Sugar and Southdale, who was owned by long-time friend and business partner Rod Ferguson.
In 2000, Anderson Farms became involved in Standardbred racing and immediately found success with such champions as Pampered Princess, who earned $1.7 million, Southwind Allaire, Cabrini Hanover, who earned close to $1.5 million, and The Pres. It is estimated Anderson Farms was the birthplace of some 1,400 horses.
Anderson was a complete horseman, delving into every facet of the game. He was a director of the Ontario Jockey Club (now Woodbine Entertainment Group) for 25 years, president of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society, director of the Hambletonian Society, board member of The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, a member of The Jockey Club of Canada and the Ontario Racing Commission. He was also the first chairman of the Guelph Equine Centre for Equine Research and a member of the E.P. Taylor Equine Research Fund.
He was the guy you wanted to have on your team,” David Anderson said “I always said: stand behind him or stand beside him; but don’t ever stand in front of him”
During his four-year racing career Mine That Bird won five races, four at Woodbine, the other in a monumental upset in the 2009 Kentucky Derby at Louisville’s Churchill Downs. He went off at odds of 50-to-1 and galloped from 19th place to win going away by six lengths and paying $103.20, the second largest payoff in Derby history. He was just the second gelding to win the Derby since 1929. The other one was Funny Cide in 2003. Bred in Kentucky by Toronto’s Peter Lamantia and partners Jim Blackburn of Chicago, and Kentucky horsemen Phil Needham and Bill Betz, Mine That Bird’s Canadian connections trace back to Northern Dancer on both the male and female lines of his pedigree.
Accepting the induction for Mine That Bird was Dr. Leonard Bloch, who still seemed a bit surprised to this day that the gelding with Canadian connections won the world’s most famous horserace against all odds. “Who would have thought that a 50/1 shot coming out of New Mexico that hadn’t won since we bought him would win the Kentucky Derby?” he said. “It had to be divine intervention.”
Like the grandsire of Mine That Bird’s dam, Mining My Own, the bay gelding had not celebrated his real birthday before the Derby. Both the Dancer and Mine That Bird were late May foals. The gelding was viewed as being a little small, with a crooked leg and was withdrawn from the Keeneland September yearling sales. “He was small because of his May birth date and we figured it might help if we sold him later,” said Needham.
The following month he went through the sales ring at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky October mixed sale and was bought for $9,500 by Woodbine-based trainer Dave Cotey on behalf of Dominion Bloodstock owners Derek Ball and Hugh Galbraith. Another Canadian connection was the gelding’s dam, Mining My Own, a daughter of Sam- Son Farm’s champion sire Smart Strike. The acquisition of Mine That Bird, a son of Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone, was profitable for his owners. At Woodbine he won the Swynford, Silver Deputy and Grey Stakes and was named Canada’s champion male two-year-old in 2008. He earned $324,000 as a juvenile and was sold to New Mexico owners, Double Eagle Ranch and Buena Suerte Equine for a reported $400,000.
He was transferred to New Mexico to begin his sophomore campaign for trainer Chip Woolley Jr. He was second in the Borderland Derby in New Mexico before Woodley vanned him 1,450 miles to Kentucky. The graded-stakes earnings from his win in the Grey Stakes at Woodbine earned him a place in the starting gate at Churchill Downs. Its track was rated as “sloppy” after an overnight rain and Mine That Bird, ridden by Calvin Borel, had trouble out of the starting gate and was left about eight lengths behind the rest of the 18 starters. His gallant trip from 19th place escaped the attention of NBC announcer Tom Durkin as the field sped down the backstretch. Borel, using his ground-saving, rail-skimming riding technique, made up 21 lengths, moving into contention at the turn for home. Durkin, focusing on the leaders, didn’t see Borel steering his mount past tiring horses along the rail until he was three lengths in the lead, pulling away with each stride. Borel selected the great filly Rachel Alexandra for the Preakness, defeating Mine That Bird and jockey Mike Smith by a length. He closed rapidly in the stretch but the finish line came before he could catch her. Borel was back on the gelding in the Belmont but was third.
A movie called “50/1” was made about Mine That Bird’s career – and more specifically his improbable Kentucky Derby win – and Bloch said he brought the horse to several premieres in the United States for which he sometimes gets recognized. “Hey, you’re the guy that won the Kentucky Derby,” he said people will stop him and say. “I reply: No I’m not. The horse won the Derby!”
Photos from the 2015 Induction Gala can be found at photo gallery.