by Bob Gates
The Manitoba Centennial Derby celebrates its golden anniversary (1970-2020) this year. Go figure. It doesn’t seem like it, but 50 years have passed since the historic Centennial Derby was run at Assiniboia Downs as "The Queen of all Britons" and her family looked on.
What better way to revisit the day "The Queen of Canada's fillies" Fanfreluche, the only filly in the 14-horse field, won the race, than to do it through the time capsule of the Winnipeg Tribune. For 90 years the Tribune was Winnipeg's other daily and this August 27th marks the 40th anniversary of the day "The Trib" died.
The Derby coverage appeared in the "Tribune Sports Parade" section and was provided by its Turf Journalist, Harold Loster, with a supporting effort by eastern columnist Jim Coleman. Does it get any better than the headlines, "Fanfreluche, the only filly, was a dilly" and "Mr. Turcotte has a sweetheart."
Loster spent 31 years covering horse racing for the Tribune and later the Winnipeg Sun. For several years you also heard his dulcet tones on CJOB with the race results "direct from Assiniboia Downs." Harold passed at the age of 81 on November 22, 2008.
This week we remember a special Derby Day half a century ago as captured by The Trib's horse racing specialist. Queen Elizabeth and family members toured Manitoba to mark the provinces 100th birthday and this included a Royal appearance at Assiniboia Downs for the $70,000 Manitoba Centennial Derby.
The presence of Queen Elizabeth and family was the highlight of the 1970 Derby. Her Majesty brought along with her "The Queen's Cup" which would remain at the Downs for annual competition. Loster reported that unofficially there were more people at the Downs than any other day in the 13-year history of the westend oval. The crowd was estimated to be 15,000, but the official tally came in at 9,127.
Who Knew? Race winner “Fanny” was part of an entry with Croquemitane for the green and white colors of Jean Louis Levesque. The pair went postward as even money favourites, with Fanfreluche winning and paying $4.30, $2.90 and $2.60 across the board for the team. Her stablemate, ridden by Bobby Stewart, finishing 5th. Fanny was conditioned by Hall of Fame Trainer Yonnie (Johnny) Starr and she had Ron Turcotte in the irons. Yes, the same man that would go on to pilot Secretariat to the Triple Crown in 1973.
Fanfreluche was never in trouble throughout the 11/8-mile classic, but there was concern about the condition of the racing surface. Winnipeg had received a couple of days of heavy rain and the arrival of clear skies and the hot summer sun created a gnarly drying track. No one knew whether the filly would be able to handle the heavy going.
The racecourse was just plain ugly! How bad was it? Well, the filly's time for the race was 1:54 1/5, more than five seconds slower than the track record of 1:49 set by Pool to Market in 1967.
Lost in the hubbub of Derby Day was Jimmy Anderson's hat trick that included both ends of a $37.50 Daily Double. Other horses winning on the day were: Hari's Song, Zorf, Tallyho Joe, Wise Glance, Chicle's Jaco, Fall Session and Inti-Raymi. Remember any of those names?
Derby coverage wouldn't be complete without a column by Jim Coleman. Jim always provided a unique view of some obscure happening. Here's his slant on one of the members of the four-horse mutuel field that day:
"One hypersensitive colt, Parade Square, couldn't endure the humiliation. He didn’t even complete the course - he stopped to a walk, four furlongs from the finish, and attempted to sneak out of the track to drown himself in the Assiniboine River. This Beast, owned by the Assiniboia Downs blacksmith Cecil Filby, looks like a horse and eats like a horse but runs like a walrus. He has started in a total of 10 races and had finished dead last in eight of the those. Since it cost Mr. Filby $670 in nomination fees and starting fees to run Parade Square in the Derby, one must assume that dear old Cecil makes a handsome profit on his shoeing activities. Or, possibly, Cecil has an oil well hidden under his house."
Jim had a way with words, didn't he?
As the 2020 edition of the Manitoba Derby goes postward on Monday August 3, let's pause and reflect on that historic Derby Day 50 years ago when The Trib's Harold Loster covered the story of one Queen's visit to Assiniboia Downs to watch Canada's Queen of the Turf …
Show the boys how it was done. Thanks Harold!
My grateful thanks to Mike Janssens for his donation of the July 16, 1970 Tribune Sports pages and a July 15, 1970 Derby program.