by Garnet Barnsdale
When octogenarian Bill Megens steered his homebred trotter Willyorwonthe to a lifetime-best 1:54 score in the Georgian Downs Preferred 2 Trot on Tuesday night (July 2), it started social media buzzing.
The 85-year-old veteran seemed nonplussed by the win and didn’t sound like he had any plans of slowing down any time soon.
“My father lived to be 99,” he said. “And if he went to a doctor, he’d probably lived to 100. It’s all got to do with the genes and keeping busy, I guess.”
Megens added that he was qualifying a 3-year-old on Friday and he still has three broodmares and a foal on the farm along with his stable star Willyorwonthe.
Megens says that Willyorwonthe – a 6-year-old Angus Hall gelding out of Megens Eager Seelster mare Mikestory – feeds not only him, but also his three broodmares with his earnings. In 2019, he has garnered close to $74,000 and produced a 9-4-4 record from 22 starts and he has earned $293,600 and taken 31 wins from 122 lifetime starts.
Megens spoke of some of his favorite horses such as trotter Smoke Fog, who raced in the ‘70s. “He really got me going,” he said. “He was a tough old horse. He went from a four claimer all the way to the invitational.”
The Puslinch, ON native also remembered Miami Beach, who he won with for several months in a row at Greenwood Raceway as a 14-year-old without losing once. “He was a nice old horse; he’d sleep all day and he wouldn’t train more than 2:25,” Megens said. “But when he was in the race, he knew what to do. He won his last 12 in a row I think, and he’d have won 20 straight, but he broke a pastern in his last race.
“All you had to do was sit behind him and he knew what to do. You were just a passenger. He was always lower than even money and no matter how fast they went, he’d win – but never by more than a length. He wasn’t of the same class as Cam Fella, but he had the same attitude. Just go and win.”
Megens mentioned Snegem Bee as his best racehorse and noted that at the end of her 2-year-old season, she competed in a race where the four best fillies faced off against the four best colts. “KM Lazer – a colt – had just set a new mark the week before in Windsor. I was sitting third at the half and he must have been 10 lengths ahead of me, and I sent her to the outside and she went up and caught him.”
Snegem Flight was the first trotting colt that Megens raced and he did very well with him, also. But how he got him is the stuff of legend. “I loaned a fella $1,000 because his car was going to be repossessed,” he said. “But he didn’t have the money, so he said he was going to give me Snegem Flight’s dam, who was in foal to Tompkins. “He didn’t want me to keep the foal, and I didn’t think I was going to get my money back, so I told him to let me know when she has the foal then I’ll come ger her.” Only Megens wasn’t told when the mare foaled out. “And he bred her right back to Tompkins,” Megens said. “He was kind of leery and wasn’t going to give me the mare, but his sister told him that if he didn’t give me the mare that she’d testify against him in court.”
“So, he gave her to me, and the colt (Snegem Flight) turned out alright. He was 2-year-old trotter of the year, 3-year-old trotter of the year and at four he represented Canada in the International.”
Ontario Harness Horse Association general manager Brian Tropea raced against Megens and recalled his strong work ethic. “I remember my father racing against Bill when I was just a kid,” Tropea began. “Bill and his wife and all of the kids would be at Greenwood Raceway. They never shied away from hard work and Bill had horses at both the OJC and the Meadowlands at the time. He is one of the most respected guys in the business and to see him jump in the bike and win at his age is the type of thing that makes this sport great. He can still do what he loves and still do it well.”
So, when does a man who started out in the harness racing business in 1951 start thinking about hanging it up? “When I get old, I guess,” Megens said, laughing.