Viewed 2839 times
On November 9th, at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto, a three-year old colt called “Parise” won the six-furlong maiden allowance race. With jockey Emma-Jane West aboard, he took off like a “bat outa ----” and never stopped running, even after the race was over, according to owner Mario Forione. He has named several of his horses after NHL’ers, including “Pronger”, “Kovelchuk”, “Lucic”, “Stamkos”, and “Reimer”. But, he maintains that “Parise”, tagged with that moniker in honour of the Minnesota Wild’s rambunctious forward, Zach Parise, is his best prospect.
As we shall see, calling fillies after pucksters is not new—but it is not nearly as common as it used to be in the “Original Six” era.
Association with the “sport of kings” has long been a sideline of shinny icons, and some titillating tales from the game’s archives are as much connected with the game as Stanley Cup presentations.
Certainly one of the most unbelievable stories (it is no exaggeration to say one that is “stranger than fiction”) involves that human dynamo, the late Conn Smythe, the founder and long-time owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
As most of the game’s serious fans know, he bought the struggling Toronto St. Pats, and on February 15, 1927 he presented a new image for the Queen City NHL franchise, announcing they would be henceforth known as the Maple Leafs.
With his Blue and White sextet lagging behind the league front runners in 1930, the “Little Major” took steps to turn the club’s fortunes around. He succeeded—and mainly because of a horse! He purchased a filly called “Rare Jewell”, whose pedigree was betrayed by her first name. She RARELY did anything on the track. Smythe himself admitted “She kept running last!”
He had bought her for $250. from a disillusioned lady owner, Mrs. L.A. Livingston. He put her in the hands of trainer Bill Campbell—but she still kept running dead last. Yet, typical of this entrepreneurial gambler, on a hunch, he strode up to the window and “laid sixty across on Rare Jewell”. Against all odds, she came in a winner, giving him a purse of $3,570., plus between ten and eleven thousand dollars in winnings.
Bolstered by a lot of downright daring, and scrounging monies here and there, he was able to add Art Smith and Eric Pettinger to a package worth $50,000. to snag “King” Clancy from the Senators. The rest is history. With this “missing ingredient” on his roster, his Leafs went from second last to second that season, and copped the Cup the following campaign. Not bad for just horsing around!
The Toronto team owner was involved in the sport for several years, but finally, in 1945, he liquidated all of his interests in his stables. He cited the need to give all of his time to hockey as the reason. He claimed to have lots of thrills from this venture—that he had won virtually every stake except the King’s Plate—but enough was enough. He was one who personally tagged one of his ponies in honour of his bullish right winger, Charlie Conacher—naming it “Big Blue Bomber”.
Another hockey icon who was also bitten by the horse racing bug was T. P. “Tommy” Gorman, sometimes referred to as “Ottawa’s greatest sports impresario”. He was that city’s representative when the NHA governors met to squeeze E.J. Livingtsone out of the league, by simply creating a brand new fraternity—the NHL. He was manager of no less than seven Stanley Cup championship teams, and piloted four different clubs over the years—Ottawa, Chicago, Montreal Maroons, and the Canadiens.
The one-time reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, had his finger in countless sports pies, including lacrosse as a star player. He was connected with professional baseball, basketball—and horse racing.
He was the manager of the Ague Caliente raceway in 1929 when a bizarre incident took place. The easy winner, entered as “Little Boy”, but turned out to be a ringer imported from south of the border, named “Westy Hogan”. When the heat was finished a hose was turned on him, and his colour changed drastically. The odds makers took a half million dollar drenching on that one.
After World War II, while managing the Montreal Canadiens, he acquired the Connaught raceway near Ottawa, among other promotional moves he installed floodlights, introducing night racing in that city.
“Butch” Keeling spent 12 seasons in the Big Time, commencing with the 1926-27 campaign, the bulk of his career being with the New York Rangers. A solid winger, he was a member of the Stanley Cup winning Blueshirts in 1933. After his retirement he refereed in the NHL for three years. By the time he was a six-year veteran in the world’s premier shinny loop, he owned seven race horses. That year, his entry, “Circulet” from the Seagram Stables, won a handsome silver trophy donated by the famous Maurice Chevalier of the Palace Theatre. The fifth race of that day, run at the Rock Point course, with a winning purse of $600., was named after the renown entertainer. Jockey Frankie Mann secured a good jump at the start and kept him in first place the entire heat.
By 1935 Keeling was acknowledged as the “second highest purse winner” in Canada that season. His “Mrs. Foster” had won seven straight races. Later in his career he became known as a successful seller of platers in Ontario.
Mervyn “Red” Dutton was another shinny big-wig whose ventures went far beyond the ice game. Both player and manager of the New York Americans, he was also President of the NHL for four seasons. He also owned and managed a construction company in Western Canada. But the equestrian game also caught his interest. In 1937 it was reported that he had three horses competing on prairie tracks. The star of his stable was “Broadway Breeze” (doubtless related to New York City’s nickname, “Broadway”). In the previous racing season he had carted off the honours in nine straight races.
One more puckster who enjoyed time at the track, was goalie Mike Karakas, the first NHL backstop to use a first-baseman’s trapper on his catching hand. It is said that when he played in Providence he used to travel to Pittsburgh to play the ponies a bit; and, he actually worked at Lincoln Downs.
A Canadian breeder by the name of Harry Giddings took a shine to the small goaltender and named a two-year old after him. It is said that Gidding took it slow in introducing the filly to competition, starting him out on smaller tracks. On one occasion in 1945, he entered him at Parkland in Hamilton. The first heat saw him come in seventh. Quite coincidentally his trainer, Tim Mann, was given $40. and asked to “build it into something!” He took a chance on a long shot and bet it all on “Karakas”—who won by a nose, and returned $38. for every $2. wagered.
He was still winning races in 1949, having stepped up a notch, competing at Connaught Raceway in Ottawa.
Probably the scenario which best falls into the category of personal interest revolves around the experiences of Max “The Dipsy-Doodle-Dandy” Bentley. The slightly-built pivot was given not one, but TWO race horses—all within a matter of weeks.
The first incident coincided with his first tally of the 1948-49 schedule. One of Maple Leaf Gardens directors, George McCullough, was so pleased when hockey’s most famous hypochondriac scored the winning goal against the Red Wings that he game him a colt.
But the second incident is the more famous of the two tales. He was about to jump over the boards to taker a regular shift on Garden’s ice, when stable owner, Charlie Hemstead, shouted from his rail seat near the Leaf bench: “”Max! If you score on this shift I’ll give you a horse!”
In about 20 seconds he was back to shake hands on the deal. He was given the choice of 12 yearlings, with the promise that if he kept on scoring winning goals he might even given him the saddle and bridle too. The thoroughbred was named “Four-Bo”, but Max insisted he was going to change that moniker. In honour of his captain, he would name it “Lucky Teeder”. This coincided with the news that he and his brother Doug were showing interest in getting involved in the equestrian business.
And, speaking of “Teeder” Kennedy, after whom Bentley’s filly was named, the former Maple Leaf captain made a second career in that business. A follower of the “sport of kings” since he was nine years old, after his retirement from the ice lanes, he owned a quarter mile track with 36 stalls for nine years. He was a horse breeder as well, with two registered stallions, “Winter Rules”, and “Outboard”. He operated a training centre at St. Marys, Ontario for years, and was Director of Security at Fort Erie, as well as being Track Steward for 11 seasons.
Bruce Norris, owner of the Red Wings, was into racing in a big way. While it was a hobby, he was very serious about its business element too. In 1961 he claimed that his nags had been involved in $100,000. stakes, and in that sport a good deal of luck was involved. He claimed one could invest in mares and have only one foal turn out to be a successful runner.
In 1968 his three-year-old, “Another Nell” was a big winner in the Gazelle handicap at Aqueduct; and in 1972 his “Wing Out” came in third in the famous Gold Cup competition at Hawthorne. But his sentimental favourite was “Boot Nose”, named after his Red Wing’s captain, Sid Abel.
Other hockey personalities were connected with the equestrian scene in a different way. For instance, Gilles Villemure used to regularly climb aboard a sulky and steer trotters around the racetrack. Even while he was goalie for the New York Rangers, his off-season was taken up with his avocation—training and driving trotters. When not hanging tight on the seat of the race cart, he was busy training 15 horses at Richelieu Park. He owned one pony, “Gay Bristol”. During the summer of 1969 he crossed the finish line first 50 times. He retired from hockey in 1974 to devote himself full time to his “other love”.
When it comes to Larry Robinson and Steve Shutt they moved up a notch, climbing right on the horse’s backs for their off-season pleasure—polo. The former was the first of the two to get involved. Even though he had grown up on a farm, he didn’t get seriously interested in horse back riding until his mid-twenties. An invitation by friends to take in a polo match prompted him to take an immediate interest in the sport, and in 1984 he took steps to participate in the strenuous activity. It is expensive. Each rider must have six horses for each match. It cost the “Big Bird” $25,000 for a pair of thoroughbreds, so the mathematics is not hard to figure. In a candid comment about the game he asserted that the rider must “one with his steed”—or he will meet failure.
The All Star rearguard broke a leg during a match in 1987, which hardly brought smiles to his employer, the Montreal Canadiens He continued to participate following his retirement from hockey.
Steve Shutt, who also wears the colours of the Montreal Polo Club, joined his Hab teammate after he saw how much Robinson enjoyed it.
Several other hockeyists have been connected with these stately animals in one way or another over the years. They include “Black Jack” Stewart, Ted Lindsay, Al McInnis, and even Wayne Gretzky, who shared ownership of 12 ponies with Bruce McNall at one time.
Like every other connection, with so many pucksters involved, there is bound to be an oddity or two worth mentioning.
One, which takes us back many, many years, to before the turn of the 20th Century, involves Frank “Butch” Seibert, father of Hall-of-Famer Oliver, and grandfather of Earl, also a Hall of Fame inductee. He was part of the Seibert family hockey team, although he was better known as a speed skater. On one occasion he raced a horse, which had covered a mile in two minutes and thirteen seconds—he on the Grand River, the trotter on land.
Still in “the good old days”, this one is anything but amusing. Dick Irvin Jr. once shared that when his father, Dick Sr., was a member of the Winnipeg Monarch Allan Cup champions in 1915, each player received a motorcycle as a gift for winning. Subsequently he became an expert on the machine and this led to his becoming a motorcycle courier in World War I.
“He was right in the thick of the war carrying dispatches to and from the front lines”., related Junior. “But, ironically, he suffered only one injury in the war; he was kicked in the head by a horse!”
Syl Apps slid into a goalpost in January 1943, putting him out of action for several weeks. Because of his fame, the news spread south of the border and ended up the magazine, “Blood Horse”, published by the U.S. Thoroughbred Breeding Association. Because the knowledge of hockey was somewhat lacking in several circles in that country, when the accident was reported, they referred to the smooth-skating centre as a racehorse.
Finally—the most bizarre item—Kevin Lowe once said to the injured Mark Messier: “I heard a farmer from Saskatchewan phoned to say that your knee would get better sooner if you put horse manure on it”.
To which the burly forward replied: “Yeah! I heard that it enhances the growth of the medical collateral ligament!” It’s hard to argue with logic like that.
The aforementioned Gilles Villemure always maintained that it was easier to drive a horse than to stop a puck. Probably therein lays the reason for so many pucksters owning and racing steeds. This hobby was a welcome distraction from the pressure-filled lifestyle connected with their game, both on and off the ice.
Viewed 2839 times
Second Thoughts on Penalties
Posted April 14, 2019
His Night to Howell
Posted March 30, 2019
Posted March 18, 2019
Humour - A Way to Catch Your Balance
Posted March 03, 2019
The Revival of Hockey's Lost Art of Stickhandling - Part 2
Posted February 15, 2019
The Revival of Hockey's Lost Art of Stickhandling - Part 1
Posted February 01, 2019
The Rise and Fall of Sweater Number 9
Posted January 23, 2019
Penalty-Free NHL Games
Posted January 09, 2019
The Greatest of These is Charity
Posted December 22, 2018
Minor League 'Davids' Defeating Major League 'Goliaths'
Posted December 07, 2018
The Shadow Knows
Posted November 25, 2018
Lying Down on the Job
Posted November 04, 2018
The Perils and Pleasures of Water
Posted October 19, 2018
Hockey's Cinderella Teams
Posted October 07, 2018
Posted May 19, 2018
Hockey's Classic Embarrassing Moments
Posted May 10, 2018
Playing in a Fog
Posted April 21, 2018
Posted April 08, 2018
First Game, First Shift, First Goal!
Posted March 26, 2018
Always a Bridgroom
Posted March 12, 2018
The Year the Canadiens Almost Died
Posted February 24, 2018
Tangled With the Law and the Lawless - Part 2
Posted February 17, 2018
Tangled With the Law and the Lawless
Posted January 28, 2018
Lucky Black Cats and Number 13
Posted January 17, 2018
Concussions in Hockey Nothing New
Posted December 30, 2017
The Best Christmas I Remember
Posted December 18, 2017
Filling the Gap
Posted December 01, 2017
Off Duty Injuries; mishaps away from the rink
Posted November 13, 2017
The Most Cruel Bird of All
Posted October 26, 2017
Las Vegas — NHL's 31st Team — Knights or Knaves?
Posted October 13, 2017
Playing Under the Influence - of Pain
Posted May 29, 2017
In Tune Pucksters
Posted May 14, 2017
Laughter - The Best Medicine
Posted April 29, 2017
The Last Straw
Posted April 15, 2017
Whose Side Are You On Anyway?
Posted March 30, 2017
Ferreting Out Phantom Hockey Stars
Posted March 17, 2017
A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 2)
Posted March 08, 2017
A Woman's Place...is On the Ice (Part 1)
Posted February 19, 2017
Tales From the Sin Bin!
Posted February 04, 2017
Happy 100th Birthday N.H.L
Posted January 25, 2017
New Year's Resolutions that Might Have Been
Posted January 06, 2017
It Happened on December 25th
Posted December 21, 2016
The Best of Hockey's One-Liners
Posted December 10, 2016
The Price of Stardom
Posted November 18, 2016
Is There a Doctor in the House?
Posted November 03, 2016
Auston Matthews: Liberator or Lemon?
Posted October 14, 2016
Hockey's Multi-Generation Families
Posted June 16, 2016
Picture Perfect - A Dozen Classic Hockey Photos
Posted June 08, 2016
Anatomy of the Penalty Shot
Posted May 17, 2016
Hockey's Honourary Indian Chiefs
Posted May 04, 2016
Posted April 17, 2016
Records That Will Never Be Broken
Posted March 31, 2016
Right Church — Wrong Pew
Posted March 23, 2016
Does "Captain" Mean Much Anymore?
Posted March 02, 2016
Posted February 21, 2016
Now That's Not Pun-ny!
Posted February 07, 2016
A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 2
Posted January 26, 2016
A Century of Leap Year Landmarks - Part 1
Posted January 06, 2016
Posted December 29, 2015
Practice Can Be Precarious
Posted December 11, 2015
How Much is a Body Worth?
Posted November 25, 2015
Brooklyn Bridge is Falling Down...
Posted November 15, 2015
Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part Two)
Posted November 01, 2015
Did You Have a Good Summer? (Part One)
Posted October 16, 2015
From Champs to Chumps
Posted June 07, 2015
CLEAN PLAY……CLEAN PLAYERS….TRUE SPORTS
Posted May 11, 2015
Putting the Bite on the Opposition
Posted April 24, 2015
One Eyed Wonders
Posted April 12, 2015
Captain Cage Cop
Posted March 26, 2015
Trade Deadline Deals — Blockbuster or Bluster?
Posted March 17, 2015
Fun In the Snow
Posted February 27, 2015
Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated
Posted February 16, 2015
It's not what they said - it's what they meant!
Posted January 31, 2015
Posted January 18, 2015
Hockey's New Years Babies
Posted January 03, 2015
Strange Gifts - Christmas or Otherwise
Posted December 20, 2014
Two Dozen + 1 Wacky Wonders
Posted December 06, 2014
The Last of a Long Line of...
Posted November 24, 2014
A Compendium of Referee Non-Calls
Posted November 09, 2014
40th Anniversary of the 1974 Summit Series
Posted October 25, 2014
The Many Faces of Training Camp
Posted October 13, 2014
The Rise and Fall of Playoff Heroes
Posted May 30, 2014
Boston Bruins Celebrate 90 Years
Posted May 17, 2014
A Curse Upon Ye!
Posted May 01, 2014
For the Birds
Posted April 20, 2014
They Were Not Fooled By Their Birthdates
Posted April 08, 2014
Bitten By The Hand That Feeds
Posted March 22, 2014
Tongue in Check
Posted March 08, 2014
A Few L.A.F.F.S. to Relieve your S.A.D.
Posted February 21, 2014
The Ultimate Valentine - A Kiss
Posted February 08, 2014
Hats Off to Hockey
Posted January 25, 2014
New Year's Revelations
Posted December 30, 2013
Posted December 23, 2013
Esposito vs Esposito - Smith vs Smith
Posted November 30, 2013
Just Dying to Play Hockey
Posted November 17, 2013
What's In 50 Years
Posted November 02, 2013
The Ongoing Resolve - NHL Season is Too Long!
Posted October 20, 2013