Fredericton Raceway – 125 Years
By Brent Briggs
Canada’s second oldest racetrack marked a significant milestone in 2012.
On September 28 Fredericton Raceway celebrated 125 years of harness racing, and the fact that it has sustained itself for this long in the New Brunswick capital is a noteworthy achievement in this age of racetracks closing their doors.
Fredericton Raceway has celebrated many accomplishments during its 125 years including a world record and many Canadian records. In fact, it once owned both the Canadian trotting and pacing records, but it is also known for other notable happenings as well.
One of the greatest moments in Fredericton Raceway’s rich history came on September 20, 1923, when “as great a trio of harness performers ever assembled on one track at the same time” came to Fredericton for a $3,000 purse. Single G (1:58½), Margaret Dillon (1:58¼) and Sir Roch (1:59¾), the fastest stallion, mare and gelding of the time were brought to Fredericton by the Fredericton Driving and Sporting Club. It is estimated that 20,000 people witnessed the race. The result was Single G winning both heats in 2:04¾ and 2:05. The mile in 2:04¾ was a Maritime record while the times of 2:04¾ and 2:05 established a two-heat record for the Dominion of Canada. Fredericton Raceway was known as “Canada’s fastest half-mile track” at the time.
Four years later, Ruby P equalled the track record of 2:04¾ in the final of four heats. She won three of those heats, also winning in 2:07¼ and 2:06¼. Bessie McKlyo won the other heat in 2:05. The four heats brought about a Canadian half-mile track record and a world record.
On September 15, 1937, Walter Dale, a bay gelding from the Sullivan and Mawhinney Stables of Machias, Maine, established a Canadian win-race record for half-mile tracks of 2:02½ – the record stood for 18 years – in the second heat of a junior free for all. Henry Clukey drove him. Fractions for the historic mile were 30½, 1:01½, 1:31½ and 2:02½. Walter Dale also set the track record of 2:05 in St. Stephen two weeks earlier – a standard that will stand forever.
It took almost 42 years to break Walter Dale’s track record but Daily Special, a roan horse owned by David Kileel and driven by Mike Downey, became the first horse to beat “The Ghost of Walter Dale,” lowering the track record to 2:02⅕ on June 14, 1979.
Sub 2:00 speed was ushered into Maritime harness racing on July 19, 1982, when Clipper Seelster wired the field in 1:59.3. Willard (The Wizzard) Carr drove Clipper Seelster to victory.
On June 26, 1993, Shannon Commander became the first horse to pace in 1:55, which at the time was the fastest race over a half-mile track in the Maritimes. He was locally owned by Ashley and Joan Sloat and driven by Garry MacDonald.
It is one of the more fascinating trivia facts about Fredericton Raceway in that it recorded Maritime harness racing’s first miles in 2:05 or better (Single G, 2:04¾), 2:00 (Clipper Seelster, 1:59.3) and 1:55 (Shannon Commander, 1:55) on a half-mile track.
Of course, it is also known for other historical happenings as well such as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip visiting Fredericton Raceway on July 28, 1959, and witnessing their first harness race.
A horse from Fredericton, Bill Sharon, was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2000. He was foaled at Samuel J. Boyle’s Fredericton farm on September 1, 1915. He was undefeated in Fredericton as a four- and five-year-old and then sold for $25,000 – a record price for a Canadian standardbred horse.
On August 17, 1922, he became the first Canadian-bred horse to trot better than 2:05 at Narberth, Pennsylvania when he won consecutive heats in 2:05¼, 2:04¼ and 2:06¼ against world-class trotters. He also became the first Maritime-bred to trot or pace a mile better than 2:05 on any North American track. Bill Sharon raced for seven seasons and established two Canadian records and more than a dozen track records.
Editor’s Note: Brent Briggs was the general manager of Fredericton Raceway from 2003 to 2008 and a long-time race secretary in NB. He’s also been a race horse owner for many years. He trained Spudland Sierra (p.6,1:52.1s), one of the fastest NB-bred mares. Brent was inspired to write an ongoing series on the history of harness racing in NB as Fredericton Raceway celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2012. Visit his blog at thefrederictonscene.blogspot.ca or his Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/FrederictonRaceway125 for more historical data, pictures and stories.