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Submitted photo

Submitted photo

An unidentified driver exercises a standard-bred horse by running it around the quarter-mile track that used to lay where the Thames Valley Retirement Community now sits.

Slots program’s demise a reminder of racing past

Mary Smith, Historic St. Marys

This week’s photograph shows the covered quarter-mile horse track that stood for decades just north of Queen Street in the west ward. Many Journal Argus readers will remember the grounds as the site of the annual St. Marys fall fair. Some may also remember at fair time sitting in the grandstand that backed onto Queen Street to watch the program of racing and other horse show events on the larger outdoor track that circled the covered one.

The facility was built originally in the 1930s to train steeplechase horses year-round. It and the other buildings on the site were used through the years for a number of different ventures.

The facility may have had its greatest fame when it was owned and operated by Ted (Teeder) Kennedy, revered hockey legend with the Toronto Maple Leafs. A centre, he was a five-time all-star and part of the Leafs’ Stanley Cup wins in 1945, ’47, ’48, ’49 and ’51. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966. Always involved in thoroughbred racing, Kennedy purchased the St. Marys training facility and stabled and trained thoroughbreds there about 40 years ago.

But this week’s photograph clearly shows a sulky driver exercising a standardbred. The picture was taken by a Journal Argus photographer but is undated. There have been several suggestions about the identity of the driver. If anyone knows — or can make a good guess — please contact the St. Marys Museum.

Things change. The covered track was demolished in the 1990s and the old fairground is now home to the very pleasant Thames Valley Retirement Community. The Ontario government announced early in 2012 that it was removing slot machines from racetracks placing the horse racing industry under terrific pressure — not only small harness racing venues but also thoroughbred tracks, such as Fort Erie where Teeder Kennedy once worked as chief of security. (He died in his hometown, Port Colborne, in 2009.)

Racing is not without controversy. It always involved wagering on races and the slot machines intensified the association with gambling. But the horses are beautiful and the industry remains vitally important to many people in rural Ontario — not only the skilled and professional trainers and drivers but others who provide feed, accommodation, transportation, veterinary services, stable care of animals and much more. It is easy to understand why some see the move to “transition” the industry as another short-sighted attack by an urban-centric government on rural Ontario.

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