On August 5, 1967 the stars above Assiniboia Downs aligned perfectly for rider Robert Roy "Bobby" Stewart and his chestnut charge Pool to Market, and the pair put on a fabulous show for the 5,000-plus patrons that filed into the track that evening.
The closest thing to a perfect race you've ever seen.
Pool to Market, a chestnut son of the notable stallion Farm to Market, was purchased by John Sifton as part of a 30-horse package from a Montana man named Nichols. In addition to Pool to Market, the package included Gentry, Liz, Toward and Clique. Pool to Market was a big strapping gelding that stood more than 17 hands high, and according to Dr. Norm Elder "had a mind of his own, but he was a nice horse to be around."
Mere words cannot describe the wonder of Pool to Market's run in the 10th annual Assiniboia Downs Gold Cup in 1967, which is regarded as one of the greatest individual equine performances in the 56 year history of the Downs.
Pool to Market carried the brown and gold silks of John Sifton's Stoneacres Farms, but the field was so deep that press coverage heading into the Gold Cup seemed to mention Pool to Market as an after thought.
"John Sifton also brought in his Pool to Market from a successful visit to Ontario tracks," said the Winnipeg Free Press. The Free Press Graded Selections listed Pool to Market as their fifth choice along with the comment "must be considered," so it was no surprise when Pool to Market was sent postward at 10 to 1.
Bobby Stewart, following instructions to a tee, took Pool to Market right to the front, but it wasn't long before 1966 winner Over Current challenged him for the lead. Pool to Market was cruising however, and put away Over Current with ease. Klondike Prince would be the next to take a run at the leader, but he only lasted to mid-stretch.
The last and most serious battle came from closer, Wild Deuces who caught Pool to Market at the sixteenth pole. Wild Deuces put on a stretch drive that would have won many races, but not on this night. Pool to Market dug deep and found more under a vigorous hand ride from Stewart to find the wire first!
Pool to Market set a new track record of 1:49 for the 1 1/8-miles, bettering the previous mark which had stood for almost eight years, by two-fifths of a second. It would be another four years before his record would be broken, and another seven after that before Overskate would set the existing mark of 1:47 3/5 on September 9, 1978.
The fractions in the race were so torrid that Pool to Market's first challenger, Over Current, was left in his wake and tired to a walk, finishing last.
The opening quarter was run in 22 seconds and the half went in 45 1/5, a full 2 4/5 seconds faster than the track record. The three-quarter time of 1:10 2/5 equaled the track record that had been set nine years earlier, a record that would not be bettered until 1973. And the time for the mile was 1:36 3/5, one second faster than the track record set in 1964, and another record that would not be bettered until years later in 1972.
Bobby Stewart's brother Wayne spoke often of his late brother's fondness for Pool to Market's victory in the Gold Cup, and the respect he had for the gelded son of Farm to Market. Wayne said that Bobby always considered Pool to Market the best horse he had ever ridden. High praise indeed!
Pool to Market raced until 1970, after which he turned his attention to the equestrian ring, winning titles as a hunter champion for the Sifton family.
About Pool to Market's Connections:
Bobby Stewart, the Hallock Minnesota native known for his cherubic grin and swagger, amassed 724 career victories at Assiniboia Downs and won a record six leading rider titles.
It was said that Bobby always gave the appearance of "going nowhere and having all day to get there." He was a great judge of pace and it was never put to better use than in Pool to Market's Gold Cup run. One of Stewart's other fine qualities that distinguished him from his peers was his ability to "sit chilly" on a horse.
The 1967 Gold Cup win gave Stewart his first win in the race. He would win it again in 1968 while riding another Sifton charge, Clique.
And what can you say about trainer and Downs' patriarch, A. E. "Bert" Blake, that hasn't already been said? Quite simply Albert Blake was the best we've ever seen here at Assiniboia Downs!
John Russell conditioned horses for Sifton in California and in Ontario, while Blake handled the training duties in Winnipeg.
Speaking of Pool to Market's Gold Cup performance:
Dr. Norm Elder - "outstanding, dynamic"
Carl Anderson - "awesome"
Murray Duncan - "exceptional horse"
Gary Danelson - "extraordinary, almost unbelievable"
Pool to Market was a classy horse that always raced at the highest levels. His Gold Cup victory was probably his finest win, but he gave other quality performances, finishing second in the Louisiana Handicap in 1966 and second in the Chicago Handicap in 1967.
The chestnut gelding left an indelible memory on the Downs. At the HBPA awards in 1968 Sifton's steed was named best older horse of the 1967 season, even though the Gold Cup win was his only race at the Downs. It was a mammoth effort that rates above all others, and odds are we will never see another like it again, but if by chance we should be so lucky...
Let's hope we are all track-side to witness it up close and personal!