by Bob Gates
It's been 57 years since Jack Hardy resurrected our Manitoba Derby in 1960 and this year's Derby is the 69th running of what was once touted as the "Run for the Tartan."
I've never been a math genius, but those figures just don't add up. The problem relates to the first 11 years of the race, which were run from 1930 to 1940. In so many ways these years have been largely forgotten and little is known about them. That's understandable, as they go back almost 90 years and the history of the early Derbies has not been well-documented.
We're about to fix that!
Ask the keenest of horse racing aficionados and they'll tell you, "Bocage" (1960) won the first Manitoba Derby. Ask how many Manitoba-breds have won the race and they'll say, "two" - Merry's Jay (1976) and Royal Frolic (1993). Ask how many fillies have found their way to the winner's circle and they'll tell you, "one" - Fanfreluche (1970).
These answers are all correct if qualified by the phrase "run at Assiniboia Downs," but what about the "Forgotten Years," don't they count?
It was the Father of Horse Racing on the Canadian Prairies, James Speers, who sacrificed our Derby for the benefit of the nation in favour of the birth of the Canadian Derby in 1941. By the way, the good folks of the Canadian Derby have claimed title to the 1930 to 1940 races as a part of the history of the Canadian Derby. I guess we can't stop them, but don't the Forgotten Years from 1930 to 1940 really belong to the Manitoba Derby?
Time for a little history!
The first “Derby” was run in 1930, but from 1930 to 1933 it was known as the Manitoba Stakes. In 1934 the name of the race was officially changed to the Manitoba Derby. Speers established the race for horsemen in an effort to showcase thoroughbreds that were foaled in Western Canada. In 1936 the Derby was opened to all horses bred in Canada. The race was run annually at old Polo Park race track in all years except 1937, when it was run at Whittier Park in St. Boniface. In 1941 the Canadian Derby was born.
1930 Winner - Jack Whittier
No less than seven of the thirteen starters in the race bore the name "Whittier" because they were bred by Jim Speers on his Whittier Park Stock Farm in St. Boniface. Notable jockeys in the race included Don Hurlburt, who rode the winner, Don Meade, "Red" Pollard of Seabiscuit fame, and the legendary Johnny Longden.
1931 Winner - Parisienne
Tom Burton's brown filly was the first of her gender to win the Derby and she equaled the track record for the mile! Johnny Longden had no better luck than he did in 1930, as his mount finished fifth in the field of five. Once again Speers' Whittier Park Stock Farm breeding operation was front and center, with three of the five entrants having "Whittier" as part of their name.
1932 Winner - Lady Marnock
It took three tries but Johnny Longden scored his first and only win in Manitoba's feature race for 3-year-olds foaled in Western Canada in 1932. Lady Marnock, a gorgeous bay, was the second filly to win the Derby, which at the time was called the "Manitoba Stakes" and she did so while just missing the track record by 2/5ths of a second.
1933 Winner - Carhan Queen
Ruth Leavitt's brown filly made it three in a row for the girls when she dominated the 7-horse field in 1933. Queen set a new track record under the expert hands of jockey Scotty Craigmyle and his 123 pounds. Of note was the fact that she beat the "Toytown Express," the popular Joey, who would go on to an illustrious lifetime career on the tracks of Western Canada.
1934 Winner - Caramar
Mrs. Leavitt stuck gold again in 1934, this time with a brown colt. Caramar had the distinction of being the first to win the race after it was officially renamed the Manitoba Derby. What made the race a little unusual was that Caramar wired the field and broke his maiden winning the Derby. Yes, that's right, going into the Derby the lightly raced colt had never won a race. He was the first and only horse to ever make his Derby win, his maiden victory.
1935 Winner - Nellie Quince
Big 4 Stable's bay filly Nellie Qunce outlasted 11 rivals going 1 1/8- miles in 1935, and continued the female dominance in the Derby. Nellie was the fourth lady to win the race in its 6-year history.
1936 Winner - Sweepden
Toronto's Harry Hatch haltered the first Manitoba Derby that was opened to all horses bred in Canada. Sweepden made every post a winning one in the 11/4-mile race and established a Derby record for the distance. Sweepden was one of five fillies in the field of six. With this win the Derby girls had five wins in seven years!
1937 Winner - Goldlure
Harry Hatch returned to Manitoba and won his second straight Manitoba Derby in 1937 with Goldlure. The race only attracted a field of four and was referred to as the "Skeleton" Derby, with two of the four horses being fillies. Hatch's King's Plate winning chestnut colt was such a prohibitive favourite in the short field that no betting was allowed on the Derby for the first time. The only Derby to be run at Whittier Park almost featured the upset of all upsets. Goldlure was fully extended to beat the filly, Flying Craig by a short neck!
1938 Winner - Gowerlace
The Manitoba-bred chestnut scored the first ever win for the "home team" in our Derby. Yes, you bet she was a filly to boot! Gowerlace beat the highly favoured Hi Ginny making it six wins in nine tries for fillies in the Manitoba Derby.
1939 Winner - Larry Eckhardt
Once again the Derby only had four competitors and was run as a no betting race. One of Canada's finest jockeys ever, Scotty Craigmyle rode the winner, his second win in the Derby, and became the first jock to double up on the Derby.
1940 Winner - Sir Trapseth
John Hazza's celebrated "cripple" won the 11th running and for the time being last Manitoba Derby. The Hazza colt never really showed much going into the Derby. His works prior to the race were lackluster and the horse was just plain sore. In short, he was a mess and in true "Rodney Dangerfield" fashion the Hazza entrant just never got any respect. Following the race, the talk on the shedrow was that a crippled, sore horse won the Derby, but win he did!
And now you know just a little more about the "Forgotten Years." The Derbies from 1930 to 1940 may not have been run at the Downs, but they are as much a part of our storied past and the history of the Manitoba Derby as is the 69th running that takes place on holiday Monday, August 7th.
The Forgotten Years, let us not forget…
Happy Derby Day Folks!