Blue Acres Set New Standards During Short, Spectacular History



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Blue Acres Set New Standards During Short, Spectacular History
It was 1946, the Second World War was finally over and all Atlantic Canadians like everyone else were trying to put their lives back in some sort of order. It would not be an easy task for many.
Some of the big names in horses for the Maritimes that year were, Watchim, Pine Ridge Alex, McKylo Cash, Harry Direct, Christie Budlong, Chuck worthy, My Partner and Kavola, according to the “MacKinnon Report" on that year.
Drivers Joe O'Brien, Harley Harrison, Worrell Lewis and Willard Kelly were the leading drivers (on points) in our Maritime Provinces in that order.
Three new racetracks would open, Blue Acres at McLellan's Brook (New Glasgow), Moncton N.B., and Ferguson Memorial Track at Pictou, N.S.
Following are a few historic moments or happenings at one of these half mile ovals, Blue Acres.
"Blue Acres", the very name sounds romantic and exciting even today doesn't it? David Neima's track would have a short, but spectacular history from the very opening day of its brief existence and set standards especially in purse money, that would be difficult for many tracks to follow.
The first official race and opening day was on Wednesday, June 26, 1946, and a huge crowd overtaxed the new 1,200 seat open grandstand. The first score card, price 10 - cents, boasted of a 50 - foot wide track constructed of the finest possible loam and restrooms provided with attendants in charge of those rooms.
The 2:33 class trot and pace for a purse of $1,000! After finishing last in 2:16 to Mona Direct and her driver Harley Harrison, Ensign Joe won the next two heats in 2:16 1/2 and 2:18 1/2 for owner - driver Heber Sweeney of Bridgewater N.S..
The free - for - all was a $500 affair and after three very close heats it was won by the brown pacing stallion Anti Aircraft driven by the late Cobb Miller. The horse was owned at that date by C. H. Horton of Murray River P.E.I. At the end of the day, Anti Aircraft's 2:11 3/4 was painted on the boards at trackside.
Several more heats were held that year of 1946. One held on Aug. 3, would forever put David Neima's Blue Acres in the Canadian and Maritime history books. New track records on both gaits were set that particular day, but everyone, and it was an enormous crowd that day, had come to see Blue Acres Stake No. 1.
The purse, listen to this, was guaranteed as $2,000. The rules were fairly simple, the entries must be eligible to the 2:30 class trot or pace and the horse had to have less than $50.00 on his or her papers. The horse must have resided in the Maritimes for six months previous to the day on which the stake was raced, namely Aug. 3, 1946.
Eleven starters went to post that day. The final purse was listed on Page 216 of the USTA Yearbook for 1946 is given at $3,340, but we think that the actual purse was $3,400. Anyway, the purse is believed to have been a record for Green or slow class (2:30) horses in Canada at that date.
The race itself was sensational. Betty Budlong, a bay pacing daughter of the great Calumet Budlong won in three straight heats. The times themselves were outstanding with miles in 2:12 1/2, 2:15 1/2 and 2:13. Remember that this was a 2:30 trot or pace stake. The driver of Betty Budlong that day was none other than Earle Semple.
On Aug. 24th of the same year, Colleen Scott, a bay pacing daughter of Scotland, entered the record books at Blue Acres by becoming the first pacer to ever pace miles in 2:10 or better here at this little track. Her miles that day were 2:10, 2:12 and 2:09 1/2 for owner W. G. (Bill) Stewart of New Glasgow and driver Harley Harrison. By the way, the late W. G. (Bill) Stewart, one time owner of one of the best stables in Canada at the time, would later join David Neima as partner of Blue Acres.
As a matter of local interest, Mighty Hanover, one of the free - for - all stars owned by the late Bill Stewart once held the pacing record for nearby Union Track (New Glasgow). The late Harley Harrison gave that track a record of 2:06 on June 25, 1945.
The 2:06 standard was finally obliterated this past summer when on July 16th, Union Track held a matinee race on that day.
Nuclear No No, Rogue Almahurst and Mark Seelster, driven in order by Jason MacDougall, Tim Jamieson and Ernie Laffin, all helped in the record breaking as miles of 2:03/4, 2:03/4, and finally 2:01/4 were officially recorded. Well done Cyril Reddy and fellow committee members.
But back to Blue Acres.
The year of 1947 sae the pacing and trotting records both lowered. Wilken driven by Harry Bailey paced to a new track record at this beautiful track in 2:09/1. Earlier that same year, the great trotter Watchim, in his last racing year, would give a trot record to Blue Acres of 2:13/1. Billy Hood, his usual driver, was up behind Frank Adam's Maritime and triprovincial champion on that day. Both records would last forever. June 5, 1950 saw the last official race at Blue Acres.
Truro Raceway was now conducting races under lights, the starting gate and win - place and show betting, all firsts in Nova Scotia, were taking place at Truro. Blue Acres and many other matinee tracks just couldn't compete and slowly they faded away.
David Neima, the man who brought the dream of Blue Acres to reality in 1946, is still going strong. He recently celebrated his 83rd birthday. I don't wish to embarrass you, good friend and fellow horseman that you are. Your presence at any racetrack gives it respectability. You are a great promoter of our standardbred sport, just as you always were.
From your numerous friends and fellow horse people may I simply say thanks for Blue Acres and all the great memories.
Port Elgin Track Reopens In 1994
One of the most remarkable happenings of the 1994 racing season was the intense action on the matinee circuit. On Prince Edward Island the matinee tracks have survived since early times and as far as I know there are about a dozen operating on a regular basis. We have attempted to compile a list of trotting and pacing records, but unfortunately it is very incomplete. Will anybody help?
Last year (1994) saw intense interest in matinee racing in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In Nova Scotia for example, we saw the second card of matinee racing at Union Track in New Glasgow. Good weather and a crowd reported in excess of 1,000 watched as Mighty Hanover's 2:06 pacing record, set 49 years ago, fell by four and one - fifths seconds.
Tatamagouche, where the last public race was held 64 years ago, opened a new track and held two meets. We have no official records as yet as to what is their new pacing record.
Bruce Kennedy and his Easy Bruce gave Port Hood a new pacing record of 2:07/2 on Aug. 5th. Several meets were held and the 69 - year old track saw a new trotting record of 2:05/4 set by Island Margaree and Doug Polley Sr..
In New Brunswick, the matinee track at Buctouche kept on operating just as it has done for the past 57 years. A new track opened at Chatham and the first public race, just 12 years after the old Chatham track was turned into a parking lot. The new pacing record is said to be 2:03/4 set by Horton Lite and driver R. Vautour.
The biggest story of all, however, was the rise of Port Elgin, N.B. literally from out of the alder bushes, thanks to the efforts of Terry Wood, Terry Oulton and a host of volunteers. The Port Elgin track has a rich and honorable history and we thought it appropriate to list a few facts about its past history.
The Botsford and Westmorland Agriculture Society, organized in 1849, started the Port Elgin fair.
We haven't found any "official race" results from 1861 to 1894 so it may be safe to say that if there was racing connected with the Fair during this time period it was not standardbred racing.
Port Elgin is thought to have opened on what was then Dominion Day, July 1, 1896. No official results are given in the Wallace Yearbook of that particular year. If one has the patience and eyesight one must go through a long list of about 25 pages called "horses that won heats in 1896 in times slower than 2:30 trotting, or 2:25 pacing, wherein they lowered their previous accepted records".
Your writer was just about to throw in the towel when we found some horses that raced at Port Elgin on July 1, 1896. They were all trotters, Minnie Slick, Ham And Breadalbane Boy, and they trotted in 2:48 3/4, 2:46 3/4 and 2:46 1/4 respectively.
Next year on Aug. 14, 1897 a trotter Mary Mack gave Port Elgin an official track record of 2:30 and Fred, a pacer, set a pacing standard of 2:29 1/2.
Two years later, in 1899, the trotting record was a fast (for that time) 2:21 1/2 set by the chestnut horse Provider.
A sensational race took place in 1908 and the Maritime - bred Will Be Sure and the black mare Peacherina lowered the pacing record to 2:18 1/4 and 2:17 1/4 respectively.
In 1921 Lady Kip, a bay mare, held the pacing standard of 2:16 1/4.
Some outstanding trotting took place in 1925 and Silver Belle, a grey trotter thought to have been driven by the late Waldo Currie of Truro, trotted in 2:18 1/4. On the same card, Batonette, a bay trotting gelding driven by the late Ollie Rudderham, a Cape - Breton based driver, recorded a 2:15 1/2 track record. It would stand for a decade.
In 1936, the year of this writer's birth, pastoral Port Elgin Raceway enjoyed a big season. Josie The Great, a Maritime - bred future sensation of NSAC's Captain Aubrey, would pace under the 2:15 barrier for the first time at this track in a 2:14 3/4 effort.
Probably the most memorable year ever at Port Elgin was the year before the start of the Second World War; horses like Signal Senator, Walter Brown and Bud Wenger tore the pacing standards into shreds. The fans came in droves to witness these historic events.
Numbers were sometimes exaggerated a bit, but the late Jimmy Power stated that over 8,000 (including himself) were present at a matinee in Buctouche and there was standing room only in tiny Port Elgin.
Some of the other New Brunswick tracks operating in 1938, besides the above two, were Clair, Dorchester, Campbellton, Woodstock, Sackville, St. Stephen and Fredericton.
Bud Wenger, under the careful hands of Leonard Barrieau put a 2:12 3/4 pacing record on the boards at Port Elgin in 1938. The pacing record fell here four times that memorable year.
The late Lloyd O'Brien, driving the trotter Dude Potempkin, became the first to beat the 2:15 trotting barrier in 1939. The mile was in 2:14. It was equalled by Marjorie Hanover, driven by Art Burbine in 1947. As far as I know the 2:14 trot standard still stands.
Pine Ridge Alex and the legendary New Brunswick born Hall of Famer Earle Avery recorded a mile in 2:11 1/2 on the pace in 1946.
The last "official" race at Port Elgin was held on July 17, 1957 as racing came to a halt for the next 37 years. Alder bushes grew up over the tiny raceway where some of the great horses and drivers from the past once battled for supremacy over the dusty half - miler.
Saturday, Aug. 27, 1994
Organized matinee harness racing returned to Port Elgin after a 37 - year absence and caused a traffic jam.
A crowd reported in excess of 1,500 stood and watched in awe and wonderment as Port Elgin literally rose from out of the alder bushes, thanks to Terry Oulton, Terry Wood and a score of local volunteers. On the new surface, H B's Mayflower and driver Clair Sweet paced the first mile under 2:10 (2:09/4). What a day!
Another matinee was held on Sunday, Sept. 25th. It exceeded all expectations! The numbers this time were in excess of 3,000 people. This is a very fast matinee track! On this card, 7 of 8 heats went in 2:05 or better.
The rejuvenated old track now boasts a pacing record of 2:04/3 thanks to Most Special Fella driven by Paul Roy. The pacer is owned by Jason Whelan of Moncton and is an 11 - year old gelding son of Most Happy Fella out of the dam Nanette Almahurst.
At the close of the racing season we read in the Sackville Tribune - Post that harness racing in Port Elgin for 1995 is still in doubt (Nov. 2, 1994). The one - page story ends on a positive note however and states: "Wood and Oulton said they're still considering their next move. One option is to apply for a limited license which would allow a handful of races during the year. The other is to continue operating as they have been, featuring only the occasional matinee.
Both men are confident however that one day there will once again be a traffic jam and harness racing in Port Elgin".
We have attempted to trace some of the history of trotting and pacing in Atlantic Canada from earliest available records to the present.
If one looks at the Maritime - bred trotters on our difficult half - mile tracks it has taken more than 130 years of organized breeding and racing to accomplish what Clare MacDonald and her homebred West River Exotic have done this past September.
When Israel trotted the Old Riding Grounds at Halifax in 1891 in 2:28, old men said that "this was the limit" for Maritime - bred performers.
Arc Light, driven by Charley Bell trotted in 2:24 3/4 in 1893 and the sensational Minota erased the 2:20 barrier with a 5th heat in 2:19 1/4 at The CDP in 1897.
Two sensational homebred trotters by the names of Brage and Bill Sharen (in the same race) erased the 2:15 Maritime half - mile barrier in 2:11 1/2 and 2:11 1/4 in 1920.
Who knows what would have happened if they had not gone the next year to the Grand Circuit and taken records of 2:07 1/4 and 2:04 1/4 respectively?
The Stewiake, N.S.- bred and Canadian half - mile champion Peter Pokey blew the 2:10 standard away in 1934 in 2:07 at Fredericton. He was a gelded son of NSAC's Captain Aubrey and the legendary Henry Cluckey was behind the reins that day.
For 46 years the 2:05 or better trotting standard withstood the test of time against locally bred trotters in these provinces.
Exit Smiling and Jim MacGregor shattered it at the CDP and Truro in 1980, going what seemed easy miles in 2:03/4 and 2:03/3. Scarlet Nite, Rustico Hotshot and Kin O Classic in 2:02/1, 2:01/2 and 2:01 respectively gave us a brief peak into the future and made us and Maritime breeders of trotters beginning to think a 2:00 or better mile on our half - milers was possible after all!
And now West River Exotic and breeder, owner, trainer and driver Clare MacDonald in 159/4h on September 3, 1994 at Saint John!
Let me simply say publicly, Clare, on behalf of all lovers of Maritime - breds, thanks for making the "impossible dream" a reality.
Watchim Has Another Track Record
I have a fairly think file on Maritime Champion Watchim. not only did this handsome son of Volomite - Cita Worthy once hold about a dozen Maritime trotting records at various racetracks, he was great at drawing crowds and later, after retirement, a fairly successful sire. Watchim, also, at the end of 1945, held the triprovincial trotting crown and the Maritime trotting record of 2:06 3/4h.
We were asked to look up a particular race for an older fan last July. It had taken place at Foxboro, Mass., in 1947. While searching through the USTA yearbook for that year, I uncovered one more track record for Billy Hood and Watchim.
Foxboro opened in 1947 and was, and still is, a favorite racing place for many of our past and present driving stars. It was initially called Bay State Raceway and I knew that this had been the place where the late Joe O'Brien had stabled and raced when he departed our Maritime scene for good in the fall of 1947.
What I failed to realize was the late Hall of Famer, Earl Avery and the legendary Billy Hood, were also there at the same fall meet to continue the turf battles that they had waged all summer in the Maritimes.
In fact, Avery won with a pacer called Hollyrood Cochato on the very first card on Sept. 1, 1947.
Joe O'Brien was winning with Maritime - owned horses like Mac Fingo, Mr Partner, Tip Abbe, Money Maker, Lee's Nightmare and others.
But back to Watchim and his Foxboro track trotting record. The brown son of Volomite, driven by Billy Hood, set a short lived record of 2:11/3 on Sept. 9th. Owned by Alderman Frank Adams of Halifax, Watchim was indeed a bargain, having been purchased by Adams for a mere $450 at the Old Glory Sale in the U.S..
Old timers will remember the name Frank Adams. Not only did he own and drive (in his early years) some outstanding racehorses, he was a key figure in returning the Old Halifax Exhibition Raceway to its former glory after the great explosion of Dec. 6, 1917 between the Mont Blanc and the Imo in the Halifax Harbour narrows.
Some of Watchim's Maritime and individual track records would last for decades until Father Time and faster trotters would erase them.
There are four of this historic trotter's records that will last forever, 2:06 3/4 at St. Stephen N.B.; 2:13/1 at Blue Acres, New Glasgow, N.S.; 2:08 1/2 at Chatham N.B. and 2:07 at Bridgewater, N.S.
A high school sits at St. Stephen where Watchim and legendary Billy Hood once set the Maritime record; at Blue Acres, our good friend David Neima's once famous track can be seen as one passes on the Trans Canada Highway. It is now, at least in the summer, the location of beautiful beds of flowers. The late Heber Sweeney's oval is now under pavement and part of the Bridgewater Shopping Plaza and Chatham closed in 1982, is now, I believe a parking lot. (Note: a new track opened in Chatham N.B., on July 24th, 1994 at a different location).
We noticed in the Northeast Harness News of October, 1994, that the Orleans County Fair pacing record had finally broken on Aug. 20th. Editor Jean Emerson produces an excellent publication and this particular story caught my eye as I am always interested in long - withstanding track records, either on the trot or pace on half - mile ovals.
Gerald Batcheldor goes on to state that the pacing record had lasted for 56 years to the exact day. The long - standing record broken was set on Aug. 20, 1938 by Little Pat and Atlantic Hanover. The time 2:03 3/4. Royal Napoleon equalled the record next year in 1939.
The new records is now 2:03 and held by Donar Star, an aged mare driven by Russell Vance and owned by Mr. and Mrs. Preston Billigsen of Lyndonville. Now what is the Maritime connection here at Barton, Vermont? Well, a rather famous Canadian - bred, once Truro - owned horse, held the pacing record at Barton also. It was none other than Lambert Todd, 2:02 1/4, a former Grand Circuit and later Maritime star that the late Collie MacKenzie imported down here in 1927. Collie MacKenzie was a rather famous local horseman who once managed what is now Truro Raceway and literally helped save it from becoming a low - cost housing development.
Readers will recall from our past writings that Lambert Todd, driven by the late Collie MacKenzie, became the first pacer to ever beat 2:10 on a half - mile track in the Province Of Nova Scotia.
It was July 1, 1927 at the Old Halifax Exhibition Raceway and the 2:09 1/2 time, in an exhibition mile against an automobile, was at that time, considered a monumental happening. That day Collie paraded to the winner's circle 8 out of the 12 dashes.
We finally traced the racing history of Lambert Todd, and this horse and the late Collie MacKenzie, will occupy a place of honor on Volume 2 of our history. That is if we ever get Volume 1 finished!
Just for the record. Lambert Todd's racing record is 311 heats with 137 wins, 65 seconds and 49 thirds, finishing 1 - 2 - 3 in 80% of his starts.
Unless someone can correct me, Lambert Todd still holds the Yarmouth, N.S. pacing standard of 2:12 1/2 set 67 years ago. He also held or co - held pacing records at Valleyfield and Dalhousie Station in Quebec, Sydney and Inverness just to name a few.
Speaking about other records that stood for a long time, we should mention Blue Hill, Maine. Last year, after 55 years of waiting, fans saw their pacing record bite the dust as a 2:05/3 record was hung up. Yes, "the Maritime connections" are here also. The old record was set by Federal, a double gaited son of Peter The Brewer on Sept. 5, 1938. That day after finishing second to Forbes Direct (a brother to former world champion Billy Direct) in 2:08 3/4, Federal rebounded to win in 2:06 3/4 and 2:05 3/4 for the legendary Henry Cluckey.
Federal would later end up in the Maritimes as a sire and stand at the breeding farm of the late Leonard Barrieau at Central Acadie, N.B.
The late Henry Clukey, a name familiar to older Maritimers, will always be remembered with great pride and affection. Clukey's records at Fredericton with the legendary pacer Walter Dale and the sensational Maritime - bred trotter Peter Pokey lasted for 42 and 35 years respectively.
We will mention one more Maritime connection in regard to famous horses and long - standing track records.
We briefly checked the 1994 USTA Trotting and Pacing Guide for assistance. A track record in Atlanta, Georgia (1:59) for 73 years that once raced in the Maritimes. You probably guessed his name. He was world famous, a world champion and some say the best of all time (even, including Dan Patch!). He was the first standardbred on a Maritime half - mile oval. He was "the horse that time forgot" - the famous Single G, 1:58 1/2.


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