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The Race Of The Century

There was once a time when Windsor was well known as a horse racing centre. There was the Windsor Jockey Club where Jackson Park and Kennedy sit today, there was Devonshire Race Track, which is today occupied by a Shopping Mall of the same name, and there was a third one, located across Howard Avenue from Devonshire, which is today home to a crappy sub-division, but for a week in October of 1920 was the centre of the sporting universe.

Here is a postcard view of the track from the late 1920’s.

A photo looking south from the intersection of Howard Avenue and Division Road. This photo appeared in Michael Gladstone White’s book “Windsor – Days Before Yesterday”. However since Gladstone White, never gives credit to any sources, it’s impossible to say where this photo resides. Likely it is from either the Archives or Baby Museum.

An aerial view of the remains of the track from the 1960’s. As you can see the track surface was visible for many years.

Over the years, traces of the track vanished…

…and was replaced with a sub-division.

Today few traces remain, two crumbling pillars hold a decrepit sign along South Cameron Boulevard.

The pillars can be seen in the second photo in today’s post, they are immediately to the right of the train track crossing gates along Howard Ave.

Other than a street name in the sub-division (and a picture of a horse on a sign), there is very little to link this patch of land to what it used to be.

The typical McMansions…

…and cookie cutter housing, does little to recall October 12, 1920.

Just a little over 88 years ago, on this patch of land, one of the most anticipated and hotly contested horse races in the world took place at Kenilworth Race Track. It was the first horse race ever filmed in its entirety, and had a purse of $75,000 (about $747,000 in 2008 dollars).

A match race between two of the most famous and successful horses of the time.

Photo in the Public Domain

Sir Barton was owned by Commander J.K.L. Ross of Montreal.

Sir Barton was horse racing’s first triple crown winner, capturing the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes in 1919.

Photo in the Public Domain

Man o’ War was one of the most dominating and impressive horses of all time, Man o’ War is considered by many to be the greatest Thoroughbred racehorse of all time. In 21 career races, Man o’ War won 20 of them. The only one he lost was in 1919, was under dubious circumstances, and gave us a new phrase.

In the Sanford Memorial Stakes, he lost by a half length to a horse named “Upset”. Because of that race, to this day when the favourite loses to an underdog, the result is known as an upset.

The race at Kenilworth Park was filmed, and as you can see there was a capacity crowd. Reports at the time put attendance at more than 20,000.

In the end Man o’ War was too strong and crushed Sir Barton by what was officially written as 7 lengths, but in viewing the film, you can see it was actually much more than that.

A .pdf copy of the report of the results of the race from the New York Times can be found here.

So next time you’re out driving past the mall, look across the street and think back to that day in 1920, when the focus of the sporting world was focused on our city and Kenilworth Race Track.

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