by Bob Gates
Mays Relic came to Jack and Yvette Hardy's J. Y. Stable as a 5-year-old gelding by Bandit out of Georgia May, by War Relic. By the way, War Relic just happened to be the son of Man O' War. Their trainer, George Howell claimed the chestnut in January 1966 at Florida Downs for $5,000.
The story goes that one morning Howell was walking the latest addition to the J. Y. barn while still at the Florida track. The pair inadvertently went by Strother Griffin's barn. Griffin was the man who bred, trained and owned Mays Relic until Howell haltered the gelding for J. Y.
Griffin politely asked Howell to let the horse go free. He then spoke to the horse and called out "Mr. Ed." Without hesitation, Mays Relic walked over to Griffin and nuzzled his old friend. It was obvious to all that Mr. Ed was the family pet, as well as Griffin's top performer on the racetrack.
George Howell returned to the Downs, where the good-looking chestnut was given a much needed four-month rest prior to the Downs 1966 season. As a three and 4-year-old Mays Relic had raced 39 times and the state of his legs wasn't good. Howell hoped the lay-up would give his legs a chance to rehab. He described the chestnut as having "three out of four bad wheels."
Howell started off slowly with the new acquisition, racing him but five times at the Downs in 1966. The result was two second-place finishes. Mays Relic's leg issues wouldn't allow for him to be raced too hard. In 1967 Mays Relic again raced only five times, registering three wins and a second, but his leg issues worsened to the point where he was given all of 1968 off.
Following his one-year hiatus, he successfully returned to the track. In 1969 and 70 he went to post eight times and compiled a record of 3-2-3. A record of 6-5-2 from 18 starts at the Downs from 1966 to 1970 was as good as it gets for a horse with bad legs that was running in handicap company.
Mays Relic Career Highlights:
- - Won the Inaugural Handicap in 1967. A race he would win again in 1970 at the ripe, old-age of nine, when he caught unsuspecting bettors off-guard, paying $36 to win.
- - On June 24, 1967 he bettered the 7-year-old track record for seven furlongs by a fifth of a second, stopping the timer in 1:25 flat.
- - Won the prestigious Speers Handicap in July 1967.
- - Won on July 14, 1969 while running for a claiming price of $3,000-$3,500. It was trainer, George Howell's 100th lifetime career win at Assiniboia Downs.
Mays Relic ran with and beat the likes of: Marketable, Rangatira, Glorious Pete, Ruling Lark, My Game, Mama Bluebird, Over Current and Phantom's Flower. How many of these names ring-a-bell?
There are a great many more facts and figures that could be detailed here, but instead let’s allow for some reflection by those who knew the star of J. Y.'s Stable best.
Murray Howell, the son of trainer George Howell:
"He was retired to the farm at Ste. Adolphe where he lived for many years. He was a favourite of Jack and my Dad's.
"From time to time I would gallop him on the farm while he was still racing at the Downs. You had to keep a good hold of him, otherwise he would drop his head and run-off. If he took off like that there was no stopping him. He'd run until he got tired or just decided he'd had enough.
"Once he was retired and away from the track he calmed down a great deal. I used to put my young son on him and walk him around the farm yard. He was as quiet and docile as could be."
Carl Anderson, who galloped the big guy back in the day:
"He was a grand-looking big chestnut. A good feeling horse. Always playing around. He was never mean, but didn’t know his own strength.
"He was one of the best-looking horses on the grounds."
Dr. Norm Elder had George Howell as one of his first clients when he started his veterinarian practice in 1966:
"I remember taking him to race in Florida in 1967. He had some chronic wear and tear issues.
"You knew how he was going to run by the way he left the paddock and took those first few steps onto the racetrack. If he was feeling good and liked the way the track felt, he'd have a spring in his step and you knew he was ready to go!
"He had great character and was a joy to be around. He was the epitome of a class horse. He had a presence. He was a high energy guy - a big powerful animal."
Mays Relic's 1970 record was telling. While respectable, going two wins and a second from four starts, it was the lightest racing schedule he had ever experienced. His legs were tired and battle-weary, as you might expect for a 10-year-old handicap horse.
You could sense the end of his career was not far off. Bobbie Dimma, sporting the coral and black colours of J. Y. Stable would get the honour of seeing the classy chestnut through the 1971 season to his retirement years. But there were no miracles to be had in what was to be his final year. The gelding's fire-in-his-belly spirit was writing cheques that his aging body could no longer cash.
The Free Press' Graded Selection comments foretold the tale of the once majestic beast with comments like, "Has time caught up?" and "Not himself!"
Mays Relic finished eighth in a field of 10 in an allowance race in May and last in a field of seven in a $3,000-$3,500 claiming race in June. In both of those races he was sent postward as the betting public's choice. His final appearance before his adoring fans in July was in a $2,500 claimer, where he was made the race favourite, one final time. All to no avail. He finished last in the field of nine.
The classy chestnut had reached the pensionable age of 10 and was retired to the farm. No longer facing the rigors of a competitive racing thoroughbred, Mays Relic proved to be resilient and enjoyed a lengthy retirement. It would be many years before Father Time would come calling.
My humble thanks to Murray, Carl and Dr. Elder for their memories of Mays Relic. These men have had many thoroughbreds come through their lives and yet there was something in their voices that suggested Mays Relic was genuinely special.
Through these conversations it was almost as if Jack, Yvette and George's classy chestnut, was once again a healthy, robust youngster with a full career still ahead of him. Alas… it was only a series of fleeting memories.
To be forever savoured.