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INTRODUCTION

INTRODUCTION ORIGIN AND HISTORY The standardbred breed dates back to the 1860s when the first North

ORIGIN AND HISTORY

The standardbred breed dates back to the 1860s when the first North American stud book was compiled and published by John Wallace. It contained the pedigrees of over three thousand horses that met his definition of a standardbred horse –

basically any horse that could trot a mile

in 2:30 or had produced one with the same

record. Most of the early breeding and development of the standardbred took place in Kentucky and New York and the light harness breed that evolved quickly found its way into the Maritimes.

Harness racing has a rich history on Prince Edward Island. A Guardian account in 1879 records that on June 19 th a large crowd of 5,000 attended the Upton track to witness a best of five heat exhibition match between Stephen MacNeill’s French Sporter and A N Large’s mare Fairy for a purse of $400. The first recorded race event was a match race held at the Summerside Raceway on

July 1 st , 1886 where 7,000 people attended

to witness the race between the imported

speedster Hernando and the Island bred Black Pilot, won by Pilot in the “blazing” time of 2:35 ½. The match was to be repeated two years later with the same outcome, with Black Pilot shaving three seconds off his previous winning time.

In the same year, 1888, the new Charlottetown Driving Park staged its first races with two classes in a best of five heat format. Before the Hernando-Black Pilot race you can be sure there were many similar match races on the country roads of PEI that pitted neighbour against neighbour to prove who had the faster horse. Such was the starting point for the evolution of Colt Stakes racing on Prince Edward Island.

A dispute between two prominent horse

owners, attending the ice races on Summerside harbor in the spring of 1933, led to a “flurry of wagers” according to the newspaper accounts of the day. The two gentlemen involved were Gordon Dawson of Summerside and Wilbur MacArthur of Kensington, and they chose

to disagree on who had the best colt in training that year. One thing led to another and the result was a challenge to prove which was the better horse. Lacking a venue they came up with an idea for a racing event for young horses and Colt Stakes racing was born.

event for young horses and Colt Stakes racing was born. Summerside races in 1953 Up until

Summerside races in 1953

Up until that time racing was conducted primarily with older horses. The reason was simple. The start of races in the early days was done by a method called open scoring in which all horses attempted to approach the starting line together. Invariably someone would try to get an edge on the competition and the starter would announce a recall to try again. On occasion it took several attempts to get all horses away on an equal footing and since most contests required three or more heats to settle the winner, it could get rather wearing on the horses and the spectators alike. The problem was worse when dealing with young horses. The upshot was that few race promoters were willing to risk the dissatisfaction of their patrons by programming many races for young, inexperienced horses. As a consequence there was little market for the sale of young unproven horses.

horses. As a consequence there was little market for the sale of young unproven horses. 1930’s

1930’s Pacer

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Dawson and MacArthur found others who were in sympathy with their cause to provide more racing opportunity for young horses and after several informal meetings and discussions they formed a plan to create an organization, the Prince Edward Island Harness Racing Club, through which they could organize such an annual event.

There were nine men involved in the early planning and they found a willing leader in George Callbeck, then a principal in the Canadian Silver Fox Breeders Association headquartered in Summerside. The first formal meeting, at which the executive was elected, was in fact held in the offices of the Silver Fox Breeders on Water Street in Summerside on May 15 th , 1934. There were around forty horsemen present at that historic meeting and George Callbeck was elected President of what was to be the first stakes organization in Canada.

The first Colt Stakes races took place that fall in Charlottetown, on September 20 th , with two races contested for total purses of $655. The winner of the two-year-old race was Bud Aubrey owned by Gordon Dawson. His horse won two of the three heats, losing one heat to his fellow Colt Stakes founder, Wilbur MacArthur, thus settling their argument, at least for that year, as to whose colt was the better.

at least for that year, as to whose colt was the better. This 1960 Guardian photo

This 1960 Guardian photo shows the PEI Harness Racing Club executive making plans for the annual meeting. Left to right are Bill Gillespie, Charlie Willis, Earle MacDonald and President Jack Annear.

There have been nineteen Presidents through the years with our current President, John Clarey, holding that office since 2004. The day-to-day business of running the organization has been managed primarily by three individuals

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with current managing director Norman Hall having served for the past twenty-six years in that position. With nine directors serving for three-year terms there have been over 150 individuals who have served in that capacity, some for several terms, including current directors Allie Carr and Ralph Annear. They, in fact, are two of the earliest living members having joined the PEI Harness Racing Club in 1953 and 1957 respectively, preceded only by Doug Hill, the oldest living member, who joined in 1951.

The oldest living past participant in the Colt Stakes races as a driver is Jack McGuigan of Montague who drove his own horse to a stakes win in 1948 at the age of sixteen. At the time he was also the youngest person to ever win a stakes race anywhere in North America.

Members of the PEI Harness Racing Club were instrumental in introducing several innovations in the 1950s. The first make- shift mobile starting gate in Canada was put together by Willard Kelly and the next year in 1957, a more dependable one was provided by Colt stakes director Rankin McLaine. It was in use for twenty years.

director Rankin McLaine. It was in use for twenty years. Canada’s first starting gate is still

Canada’s first starting gate is still running and is still used for ceremonial occasions.

Night racing under the lights was another innovation introduced for the first time in Canada at the Northam track, and the first photo finish took place in Montague.

In a sport dominated by men, there have been some significant contributions from the fairer sex as well. Mrs James “Ma” Poulton was the first woman to breed and own a Futurity winner and she did it two years in a row with different horses.

Ladies such as Norah Longworth, an avid horsewoman, and Ida (Yeo) Sudsbury, the long time clerk of the course in Charlottetown, were staunch supporters of

the club with Ida serving on occasion as secretary. Morah Kerr of Truro, is currently President of the Atlantic Sires Stakes, and has been a successful owner of stakes winners. On the track it has also been a woman from Nova Scotia, Clare MacDonald, that has made her way to the winners circle in Colt Stakes racing more than any other competitor, with thirty one wins as a driver and sixteen of those wins as an owner.

one wins as a driver and sixteen of those wins as an owner. Ida Sudsbury was

Ida Sudsbury was the Clerk of the Course at the CDP for many years and also served on occasion as recording secretary for the Colt Stakes.

Many of our top breeders have been strongly supported in their operations by women such as Bernie MacArthur, and Nina Webster of Hollylaine Island Farms, the top standardbred nursery of Island Colt Stakes winners, and Diane and Shelley Gass. There have been women serving on the board of directors too including Carole Gass and current director Sandra Cole.

too including Carole Gass and current director Sandra Cole. The PEI Colt Stakes Select Sale An

The PEI Colt Stakes Select Sale

An important development in the Island breeding industry was the creation, in 1977, of an annual yearling sale, the brainchild of Bradford Murray. The sale became known as the PEI Colt Stakes Select Sale and it gave Island breeders the opportunity to sell their yearlings and for twenty-five years it was consistently one of the best sales in the Maritimes.

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In 2003 the running of the sale was turned over to the PEI Harness Racing Industry Association and it was renamed the Atlantic Classic. The Atlantic Classic sale is now operated by a committee of the consignors. In 2005 the sale had the achievement of being the only sale in Canada to sell a yearling for $100,000.

Since its beginnings in 1934 there have been many changes and additions to the racing program. With the increase in the horse population the format of racing moved from “heats” to “double dashes” and finally to “divisions”. The number of races grew from two classes with three heats to six classes with twenty-six divisions in 2008.

Over the past 75 years the various governments on Prince Edward Island have proven supportive of the efforts of the PEI Harness Racing Club and The PEI Colt Stakes in providing racing opportunities for Island bred horses. This support has fostered a vibrant breeding industry on the Island, with a definite future as an important part of our agricultural and sporting heritage.

From humble beginnings the Colt Stakes has grown to be an event encompassing races held over three race dates and with total purses of $140,000 in 2008. The total money paid out over the past 75 years amounts to over $2.3 million. Along the way, the Colt Stakes racing on PEI has evolved into the Island Breeders Series with races at the Summerside track to complement the annual PEI Colt Stakes in Charlottetown. The best horses return for the Island Breeders Championships at the end of the season. The Island Breeders Series paid out over $320,000 in 2008.

In the statement of purpose for the original PEI Harness Racing Club the following was reported in the Guardian account of the first meeting as follows:

“This Club would encourage the breeding of Standardbred horses on the Island and would bring back the Island horse into the spotlight.”

Mission accomplished.