Sorry, Seabiscuit didn’t race here, but now that I have your attention let me tell you the story of a horse much like the “Biscuit” who raced in our fair city in the “dirty ‘30s” and early ‘40s.
Joey was a champion racehorse whose career spanned 10 years from 1932 to 1941. He was a little horse who won 22% of his races, finished in the money a whopping 58% of the time and won multiple stakes, but he was so much more!
Like Seabiscuit, Joey was a fan-favourite and drew enormous crowds whenever he raced. He was one of very few horses that truly deserved the title, “The People’s Horse.”
Consider the times. Joey made his mark on racing during the Great Depression, when people longed for a symbol of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel as it were, and Joey was it! But talk about humble beginnings, his sire was Dr. Joe, a broke-down racehorse, and his dam, Aileen Hoey, was a crippled cart horse.
Joey may well have been the only horse to register wins at River Park, Whittier Park and Polo Park. Some trivia buffs may wonder how this was possible given that racing at old River Park ended after the 1925 season.
Well, “Mr. Horseracing,” Jim Speers convinced the authorities to approve a one-time race meet at the old racing oval at River Park to coincide with Winnipeg’s Great Exhibition in 1934, and sure enough, it was at that special meet that Joey found his way to the Winner’s Circle one more time!
Joey was known as the “Toytown Express” and was said to have been the most popular horse ever to run in western Canada. He won the Winnipeg Futurity, the Speers Handicap, and the much heralded Western Canada Handicap twice. He also finished second in the 1933 Manitoba (Derby) Stakes.
In 1941 Joey made a special trip to Winnipeg and led a Victory Bonds parade up Main Street to City Hall in aid of Canada’s War Bonds cause. His last public appearance here came on July 5, 1941, when he was galloped at Polo Park racetrack and had his picture taken in the Winner’s Circle one last time.
In 1976 Joey was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame, not too shabby for a horse from such humble beginnings!
Some say Joey’s finest accolade came from James Speers himself, after a win in the Western Canada Handicap. Joey was a horse who liked to come from off the pace and Polo Park’s racetrack was a sea of mud on race day. Accounts of the race said that when Joey crossed the finish line his face was so caked with mud they weren’t sure he could even see. It was following this race that Speers was quoted as saying:
“If Man O’ War himself had raced here today, he would have received no greater acclaim!”
Thanks for the memories, Joey.