Let’s take a time out from our usual activities this week and remember James C. Hardy, the founder of Assiniboia Downs.
The year was 1957, R. James Speers had been dead for two years, Polo Park race track had closed its doors in July 1956, and the demise of horse racing in Manitoba was being widely reported by naysayers everywhere.
Along comes the “car guy” Jack Hardy, owner of National Motors and James Enterprises. Hardy was a quiet man and referred to by many as a true gentleman, but there’s no question he had an interesting mix of ice water and horse racing in his blood. Ice water for the courage it took to take on the race track project and horse racing, well what can we say -- Jack just loved horses!
The result? The rescue of Manitoba’s horse racing industry.
Assiniboia Downs was termed by experts of the day as “Canada’s newest and finest track.” The Downs held its first race card on June 10, 1958. Keep in mind that when Hardy built the Downs it was located in the “middle of nowhere” and “just left of nothingville.” The Perimeter Highway didn’t exist! Directions to the Downs went something like this: Head west on Portage Ave. and just outside the City of Winnipeg look for the grandstand. Then follow the gravel road.
This Saturday will feature the 19th running of the $30,000 Jack Hardy Stakes. A route race for 3-year-old fillies going 1 1/16-miles, the Jack Hardy pays homage to the man responsible for saving horse racing in Manitoba. It has been a long time since we have seen the coral and black colours of his JY (Jack & Yvette) Stable, so let’s take a look at the Jack Hardy you may not know.
Jack Hardy was born in Winnipeg and graduated from Norwood Collegiate Institute. They say he saw his first horse race in 1934 at the age of 16 after scaling a fence at old Whittier Park. It was love at first sight for the young Hardy, because for him it was always about the horses!
Pilot Officer Hardy joined the R.C.A.F. in Winnipeg in 1940. As Captain of a bomber crew overseas he was shot down in the Mediterranean in February 1942. He spent nine months in a German internment camp in North Africa before being freed by American forces.
Hardy was responsible for many more things in racing than most of us will ever known. Why? Because he wanted it that way. He wasn’t one to seek out the spotlight, and that was exactly why he hired A. G. “Scotty” Kennedy to be his General Manager. Kennedy was the perfect man for the job because of the way he complemented Hardy’s personality.
Hardy will forever be remembered for re-introducing the Manitoba Derby and playing host to the Queen at the Manitoba Centennial Derby in 1970. He was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in the “builder” category in 2001.
More than 20 years have passed since Hardy’s death in September 1991, but we should all take a moment to pause and reflect on his vision and contributions to Manitoba’s horse racing industry. If not for Jack Hardy, there would likely be no thoroughbred horse racing in Manitoba. And you wouldn’t be reading this.
Thank you, Mr. Hardy.