And they're off!
a few glorious years in the 1930s, Stan was a regular at Windsors
Devonshire and Kenilworth Racetracks. He might have just been
a kid with no money, but that didnt stop him.
noon people started making their way down Parent Avenue singly,
in twos and
threes and in larger groups. It was a good three-mile hike to the
track so any adults willing to walk that far had to have betting
blood in their veins.
Canada was in the depths of the Depression and few people had money
to scrape together to buy the necessities of life or a car let alone
for luxuries like gambling on the ponies, yet many people still
scrounged up a buck or two to bet on the nags.
Hope springs eternal in the human breast, so the saying goes, and
these folks had hopes of bringing back more than they took with
them to the betting windows. Most of course, made the even longer
walk back home after the races somewhat lighter in the wallet.
I must have been about eight years old when I was allowed to go
to the track with my brother Joe and another boy in the neighbourhood.
Of course we didnt do any betting. Even had we been old enough,
we didnt have any money to bet.
We didnt go just to watch the horses gallop around the mile
track however. We went for the whole gamut of experiences that have
been firmly rooted in my memory for over seventy years.
Without a doubt, outside the coming of the circus to town, my war
experiences and a certain few events of my adult years, Id
have to say the four years or so every summer and fall when thoroughbred
racing meets were held at Devonshire and Kenilworth racetracks were
amongst the most exciting periods of my life.
The three of us loved hanging around the stables petting the horses.
We came to know the docile ones, the ones whose foreheads you could
stroke without fear of being nipped. Wed feed these favourites
carrots lifted out of pails stored nearby, to the chagrin of the
trainers and grooms. Most of them were amiable fellows and didnt
get all riled up about it, but there were the odd, ornery types
who chased us away. Of course this didnt stop us we
just made sure no one was looking when we treated our favourite
On Saturday afternoons there had to be ten thousand people at the
track and at least eighty percent were Americans. From scanning
the license plates in the parking lot I saw that they came from
practically every state in the Union.
Pari-mutuel betting was not allowed in the States, so the only place
for inveterate horse bettors to satisfy their desires was to travel
to Canada, either to Torontos Thorncliffe Park, Woodbine,
Fort Erie, or to Windsors Devonshire and Kenilworth Racetracks.
The latter two tracks were close neighbours, separated only by the
New York Central Railway.
Every year there were two meets, the summer and fall meets, with
each track holding races for two weeks. In those days only seven
races were on the daily cards. After the fifth race, the gates to
the grandstand were thrown wide open and everybody was let in without
charge. There were always at least a hundred people hanging around
the gate including the three of us. We would work our way through
the press of the crowd to reach the concrete apron between the rail
and the grandstand.
By the last race we were always pretty hungry, but with no money
in our pockets, we resorted to picking up discarded half-eaten hotdogs
or hamburgers. Of course we only picked up the ones still on a napkin.
Wed break off the end where it had been bitten into and wolf
the rest down.
We also picked up discarded betting slips. We must have picked up
hundreds every day we went. We stuffed them into all our trouser
and shirt pockets, with the overflow carried home in our hands.
There my brother Peter would check them against the results marked
on programs we picked up.
Winning tickets were few and far between, but when we did find one,
it was a cause for celebration, even if the ticket was only worth
a few dollars. One lucky day, I came up with a betting slip worth
$17.75 a veritable bonanza worth at least $200 in todays
dollars. This slip certainly helped alleviate some of the money
woes our family suffered back then.
Ill never forget the hawkers outside the grandstand before
the races got underway shouting their spiel in that drawn-out, almost
musical quality, Racing Form and Entries, Read All About The
Running Horse! Or the guy who sold programs, shouting in his
unique, clipped style, Programs here, programs! Again
and again and again hed shout, not changing his delivery one
To add to these enchanting sounds were the sales pitches of the
food vendors under the stands, especially the guy selling hot dogs,
Get em red hot, red hot, red hot! Or the man selling
frost bites in a mournful chant, as though he was about to break
down crying, Frost bites. . . .get your frost bites here.
In 1937 when pari-mutuel betting was passed into law in the States,
the Detroit Fair Ground Track was built shortly after and this spelled
the end of thoroughbred racing in Windsor. There simply wasnt
enough patronage from the people of Windsor and surrounding district
to support racing.
before Stans time, horse races, band performances and other
community events were held at the Driving Park now Jackson Park.
was a blow for me to know there would be no more racing in town,
no more strolling through the barn area, no more tickets to pick
up, no more tickets to cash, no more excitement of mingling with
the throngs of people that came out to lay their bucks on the line.
But those sounds have stayed with me forever, to help fuel my wonderful
memories of those stimulating afternoons that so influenced me as
a young lad.
Get your red hots, red hots, red hots...