Mohawk legends recognized at Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame reception
by Melissa Keith
Harness racing symbolically returned to Woodbine Racetrack on Wednesday (May 24), although the live sport left the Etobicoke, ON track in 2018 to race year-round at Woodbine Mohawk Park.
The occasion was the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame (CHRHF) President’s Reception, which managing director Linda Rainey called “a well-established tradition.”
“Each spring, once the induction class for the year has been announced, the Hall holds a reception in the Hall of Fame to unveil the permanent display plaques of the previous year’s class, and to introduce and welcome the class of the current year,” Rainey said. “The reception also serves as a thank you to all those who support the CHRHF.”
The COVID-19 pandemic previously prevented the official unveilings of wall panels illustrating the career achievements of 2019 Hall of Fame inductees.
“This year’s President’s Reception fulfilled that commitment by including the unveilings of the Class of 2019, who were inducted prior to the pandemic, but had not yet had their plaques unveiled, as well as the Classes of 2020 and 2021, both of which were inducted at our 2022 Induction Gala,” Rainey said.
Approximately 100 guests attended last Wednesday’s event, including Hall of Fame members, their family and friends and horsepeople recently named to the Hall. Volunteers present included members of the CHRHF board of directors, the standardbred and thoroughbred nomination and election committees and the planning committee, which oversees the Hall’s ongoing operation. Invited representatives from industry organizations, sponsors, donors, and industry media also attended the lively afternoon presentation and social gathering.
The structured part of the reception was emceed by Woodbine Racetrack racecaller Robert Geller, who introduced the honored horses and horsepeople by year. Video presentations showing career highlights of each year’s class of honorees drew appreciative murmurs during and applause afterwards.
The history of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame dates back to 1976.
“For 20 years it was a Hall of Fame without a home,” Rainey said. “On August 22, 1997, the dream of those who founded the CHRHF became a reality when the Ontario Jockey Club provided a permanent site at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto. It should also be noted that the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame is the only national organization in Canada that represents both standardbred and thoroughbred racing.”
Today, racing fans are free to visit the CHRHF in person. Rainey pointed out that because the Hall is located immediately inside the primary entrance to Woodbine, it “is accessible to visitors around the clock, and throughout the year, in part due to the building also currently housing a casino that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” Although live harness racing has left the building, standardbred industry legends are showcased as equals alongside their thoroughbred counterparts.
Rainey said being elected to the CHRHF holds special importance for the trainers, drivers, jockeys, owners, breeders, industry builders, and all connections of equine inductees.
“Induction to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame honors an individual’s complete body of work throughout the duration of a career,” Rainey said. “It is the highest honor available to acknowledge the significant contribution of the people and horses who have excelled in racing throughout the sport’s over 250-years on Canadian soil. It is not unusual for a newly named inductee to tell us Hall of Fame induction has been a long-time hope and how much it means to join those who preceded them as members of the CHRHF.”
Long-time WMP driver Chris Christoforou who drove at Woodbine Racetrack but is presently based at Woodbine Mohawk Park, is among the class of 2023 inductees.
Fellow WMP driver Paul MacDonell was also at the President’s Reception and said he was “a little bit” surprised to make the list as a 2020 CHRHF inductee.
“I thought about it one day, but it just seemed to come along a little quicker… It was nice to get that recognition, though, it really was,” MacDonell said. “We had to go through quite a few people to get to that, so I’m pretty proud.”
He said his career-defining victory as a driver took place at Mohawk on June 14, 2008.
“My biggest accomplishment, I think, was [winning] the North America Cup, with ‘Beach’ [CHRHF 2009 inductee Somebeachsomewhere],” MacDonell said. “It’s the biggest race in Canada: in North America, for that matter. So, to get that one was pretty cool.”
He said he was still awaiting word from owner/trainer Brent McGrath about 2022 O’Brien Award finalist Beach Glass’ return.
“The dream’s not over,” MacDonell said. “We’re hoping for good things to come.”
The now-4-year-old pacer, Beach Glass, is awaiting a 2023 comeback after complications from a past surgery. On June 4, 2022, MacDonell piloted the Somebeachsomewhere—Im With Her colt to a second-place finish in the Woodbine Mohawk Park stake named for Beach Glass’ late sire. MacDonell also qualified Beach Glass at WMP last Nov. 11, prior to Beach Glass’ subsequent victories for U.S.-based catch driver Yannick Gingras in a Progress Pace elimination and final at Dover Downs.
Like Somebeachsomewhere, Bulldog Hanover was readily voted into the Hall of Fame upon retirement from the racetrack. Trainer Jack Darling was voted into the Hall as a member of the Class of 2022, alongside Bulldog Hanover’s sire Shadow Play. Darling proudly represented Bulldog Hanover (Class of 2023) at the President’s Reception, noting that he had recently visited the stallion at Seelster Farms. He said the world champion looked happy, and joked that he may have even recognized him.
Rainey said that induction of a first-time nominee is not inevitable, but rather singles out the sport’s most highly-visible stars.
“Being voted into the CHRHF the first time a horse or person appears on the ballot as a finalist has happened a number of times over the Hall’s history and is most often a reflection of truly exceptional accomplishments achieved by an individual,” Rainey said.
President’s Reception attendees browsed the wall panels dedicated to past and present-day champions, speaking with many of the most recent CHRHF inductees and those being formally inducted at the upcoming 2023 ceremony. The 2023 Induction Gala is scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 9 at the Mississauga Convention Centre.
“There are some incredible synergies amongst the list of 16 people and horses who are part of the CHRHF Classes of 2022 and 2023, including trainer Jack Darling, and the amazing Bulldog Hanover, as well as thoroughbred fan favorite Pink Lloyd and the jockey who piloted him to his biggest wins, Eurico Rosa Da Silva,” Rainey said.
A complete list of honorees, plus ticket and sponsorship information can be found on the CHRHF website:
The Grand Circuit returns to Woodbine Mohawk Park on “Super Saturday” (June 3), with seven events on the 11-race card, including the Somebeachsomewhere (three divisions for 3-year-old male pacers), Graduate Series (one trot and two pacing events for 4-year-olds), and the second leg of the Miss Versatility Series for trotting mares.
The year’s first WMP qualifiers for 2-year-olds are coming up this week, with the track stating that the date/s are still to be finalized.
“Should the number of entries require two days, regular qualifiers will be held [today, June 2] and 2-year-old qualifiers will be held on Saturday.”
The qualifiers begin at 10 a.m. both days.