Sunday, November 27, 2011
Our last stop on our historic visits of Toronto's race tracks of the past. Was "Long Branch". This historic Toronto race track was located in southern Etobicoke. The main entrance of the track can still be seen off of Horner Ave. The Maple trees that lined the entrance to Long Branch are still there. Also one of the huge stone pillars that marked the entrance way to Long Branch Race Track has survived!
All we would have to do. Is get rid of all. Of the ugly factories that have replaced Long Branch. To have this classic Thoroughbred Race Track spring from the ashes. Just like a mythology Phoenix. To become a classic venue for horse racing once again!
Of course I am just dreaming. As this will never happen. First of all to consider. Is the 56 years since Long Branch has been closed. Time has changed society dramatically. The advance and reliance on the computer and techno devices. As well as greedy and unscrupulous politicians obtaining almost all the money that they almost need. To supplement our government's income. To run our society. By using legalized casinos and lotteries have become extremely popular by the masses. Also very sad to say. This has made Horse Racing very unpopular with the sports and the gambling fans of Toronto.
Oh yes the so called sports fans of Toronto. All they really care about is the Toronto Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup. No other sport, or sports team really even matter or exist. According to Maple Leaf Fans! You to have to be almost a millionaire in order to afford a ticket to go to see the Maple Leafs play.
Then you have the animal activists. Who are determined to stop horse racing. Because it is cruel! Well my opinion on this issue is. If horse racing is cruel. I have to agree it is a very tough sport. And yes horses and jockeys get injured and sometimes die in there sport. Then why don't these same animal activists also petition to put and end. To NHL Hockey, NFL Football, Car Racing, Mixed Martial Arts Fighting and Boxing. Lots of human athletes also continually get seriously injured or sometime even killed in these sports. Also horse racing has proven to be a life line to the horse. I am afraid if horse racing does disappear. Then these brave and proud animals. Just like there former classic venues. That Al and I just visited. Will also disappear forever! That would be a very sad day!
Here is a little history about Long Branch. The race track stood on a 39.7 hectare site. The boundaries of the race track were; Horner Ave. to the south. Kipling Ave. to the east, Evans Ave. to the north, and Canadian Pacific Railway lines to the west.
Most of the Long Branch Site today is dominated by a Goodyear Tire factory. There is also a "Wings" factory replacing the track's Grandstand. There is a historic plaque located where the entrance of Long Branch Racetrack was located. Also it was huge bonus. Enjoying the fact. That the Maple tress that lined the entrance way to Long Branch have survived! It must of been an awesome site when this track existed. Watching the horses on the run down the back stretch heading north paralleling Kipling Ave. Just close your eyes when you are there. Along with a little bit of imagination. Then this amazing part of Toronto Sports history will never be lost!
The Cup And Saucer Stakes Race was a regular part of the racing year at Long Branch. Also the Canadian Championship Stakes Race was first run at Long Branch Racetrack in 1938. The Canadian Championship remains Canada's most prestigious Thoroughbred horse race.
I have to admit a large part of the fun of the day. Was visiting old Dufferin Park. The neighborhood has not changed much. Where Toronto's fan favorite Race Track once existed. Sadly it was replaced with a tacky shopping plaza. When Dufferin park was closed in 1955.
This racetrack had a very colorful history. Only being a 1/2 oval. This gave horse racing fans a very intimate chance to enjoy the "Sport Of Kings".
It was a normal part of race days at Dufferin Park. For the local people living in the homes that surrounded the racetrack. To enjoy watching the horses race. No need for T.V. in those days. The action and excitement was part of the neighborhood.
Youville who is a special part of Canada's Horse Racing Hall of Fame. Made it the hard way! Winning 49 of 284 career starts. Quite a few of his wins were won at Dufferin Park. Back in the late 1940's and early 1950's. A thrilling sound at Dufferin Park was the voice of race announcer Buck Dryden yell " And Here Comes Youville". This classic racehorse's racing style. Was to lag far behind in his races, and rally to win from as far back as 1/4 from the rest of his competitors. Endurance and a late quick charge around the tight turns of Dufferin Park was Youville's contribution to delighting horse racing fans! Which Youville and Dufferin Park will always be fondly remembered.
Of interest. A small part of the original wooden fence. That separated Dufferin Park from the neighborhood, in which it was a part of. Still exists! I took some photos during my visit, with Al.
After a provincial racing charter was granted in 1894 to the York Riding and Driving Association to operate horse racing and sell liquor, a half-mile track was laid out on 25 acres (10 ha) of land on the west side of Dufferin Street owned by Charles Leslie Denison. After Denison died, Abe Orpen purchased the land for $400 and opened Dufferin Racetrack in 1907. Horse race gambling was controversial at the time and the charter was revoked in 1909, although this was due to a legal technicality as the charter had not been used for several years prior to 1907.
Orpen appealed to Canadian Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier directly and was granted a federal charter. Orpen, along with other businessmen incorporated the Metropolitan Racing Association of Canada, under a federal racing charter, which allowed betting on the site beyond provincial controls. The Association was originally capitalized for $4,060, divided into 40 shares of $100 and six of $10.
The track had its stables to the south of the track, along with a winter barn which was also used for offices. The public entrance was at the south-east corner of the property, through the stable yard. Betting was handled by bookmakers who operated in front of the grandstand and in the infield, and bets were also made on races at other tracks. Admission was charged to the patrons, although free admission was granted after the first few races. After Abe Orpen died in 1937, his son Fred Orpen took over and operated the racing syndicate.
Racing was held into November, and often races were held in dim light in the fall, at which judges would hold lanterns to judge the finishing order. In one infamous incident during these "midnight races" a long-short horse named Mulock held up at the turn and waited until the horses made a lap of the track and then raced to the finish ahead of the others. Despite the controversy, the bets on Mulock were paid.
The track was a financial success, one of several successful tracks in the Toronto area. In 1917, Orpen was an investor in the Thorncliffe Park Raceway. In 1925, Orpen opened the Long Branch Racetrack. Thorncliffe closed in 1952 and the Orpen tracks were sold to the Ontario Jockey Club and closed down in 1955, with racing consolidated at the new Woodbine Racetrack. The Jockey Club paid a reported $4 million for Dufferin Park. The site was then sold for redevelopment. The Dufferin Mall is located on the site today.
The four top pictures are from the history books. The third photo from the top is an aerial shot of Dufferin Park. The way the racetrack looked. The second picture is of the immortal "Youville" winning one of his 49 career wins at old "Dufferin Park". The top picture is of an original advertising poster.
Saturday, November 26, 2011
Visiting the site where "Thorncliffe Park" once proudly stood. Was our first stop on our travel back in time today. Once we passed the bridge that croses the Donn Valley. We could picture in our mind where this popular racetrack once stood. Thorncliffe Park was located where Millwood Road and Overlea Blvd meet.
The power relay station is still there. Which marked the entrance to Thorncliffe Park. When Thorncliffe Park was closed by the new owners in 1953. The newly formed Ontario Jockey Club sold the land to property developers. The land was turned into a mix of high-rise apartment buildings. The first such development to go up in the City of of Toronto. Just the beginning of too large of a population in Toronto. With too high real estate prices. This is called progress!
Several streets where the racetrack once existed. Uses names that represent the horses that use to race to win. Where people now call home. The names used are; Thorncliffe Park Drive, Grandstand Place, and Milepost Place.
Three famous races that use to be run at Thorncliffe Park. Which are; The Price of Wales, My Dear, and Claredon Stakes Races. Are still a important part of the horse racing scene in Ontario, today.
I did take some pictures of what Thorncliffe Park looks like today. But what an awesome site this racetrack must of been. The horses running in a beautiful scenic area located just outside of Toronto. Overlooking the Donn Valley.
The bottom picture is from the Toronto Archives of the original Throncliffe Park Grandstand.
Today I went on another great adventure. I was not solo for this trip. I had the advantage of travelling with great friend, Allan S. Al and I worked together at Woodbine racetrack back in 1986. Working for my dad Sheldon Wolfe. We have stayed great friends ever since.
Today Al and I ventured back in time. To relive a part of Toronto history. To relive part of Toronto's horse racing history. After World War 2. Thoroughbred Horse Racing. Would become a very popular spectator sport in Toronto. Back in the late 1940's and early 1950's the city of Toronto sports fans. Loyally supported 4 horse racing venues located in Toronto. The Original Woodbine Racetrack that was located at Coxwell and Queen. Thorncliffe Park that was located in Leaside. Located in a packed residential area of downtown Toronto. Dufferin Park was Toronto's horse racing version of Wrigley Field in Chicago. The final Toronto horse racing facility was Long Branch Park, which was located at the intersection of Horner and Evans avenues in south Etobicoke.
Now sit back and enjoy a chance of visiting the 3 old Toronto Race Tracks. That are now just a distance fond memory. When horse racing was the king of sports in the city of Toronto!
The posted picture is of a huge crowd of horse racing fans. Betting at Dufferin Park Cica 1910.