Greenwood Raceway. A Long Time Ago.
Cangamble’s blog had a neat link to a post from a player who used to ride the train to Aqueduct. It made me think of the old trips as a student to Greenwood Raceway on the waterfront in Toronto. For those that know Greenwood, and have been there, here are some memories. For those who had not been to Greenwood, think of this as a primer to Ontario’s only real metro-downtown track. Greenwood is gone now, sold by the then OJC for a nice sum. It is a housing development. I drove by there about a month ago, going somewhere or another, and I had to laugh. In someones backyard I was clocking warm ups not so long ago.
In first year University, the ride to Greenwood was easy for a small town kid - the Queen streetcar was right by school. I had already been indoctrinated to the streetcar my second day in town, when I had to take it to the exhibition for an ACDC concert. If I could get through that, I could get through anything. It cost like a buck, and it would give you plenty of time to study the program. Not that we needed to - we had read it cover to cover the last 48 hours and could pretty much recite the racelines without looking. At the beginning of the ride you would be on with a few business types, which would drop off when we got to Regent Park. Then the fireworks would begin. A good deal of horseplayers, approximately 50% of which needed a serious shower, would flood the car. Listening to them try and pick winners with words like “who is stiffing tonight”, “Steve Condren’s uncle told me he is going with the seven in the third” and “Doug Brown could win nine tonight” was always fun.
Getting off at Coxwell was an adventure. It was crowded and crossing the street makes one wonder how lives were not lost. Heading in the west exit you were met with a man selling “the green sheets”. I never bought one, but I think they were two bucks. I think the fella was a good handicapper. There were no scams with the green sheets, like printing them off with all winners and throwing them on the floor after the races. It was good old-fashioned horseplaying.
Being broke we would not head to the clubhouse, it cost an extra few bucks. The smoke filled grandstand floor was never good for spectating, so we would go to the grandstand. Usually it was pretty packed and if you got there late you would have to head to the top level, where Toronto’s Jamaican community was well represented. They were quite vocal. For some reason they were Michigan invader John Moody fans. I don’t know how many times I would hear “c’mon Mr. Moody” in a thick Jamaican accent. Most days the air smelled funny up there, too.
Fortunately we were usually there early where we would clock warmups. You learned pretty quickly that Cal Campbell warmed up in a jog cart, and J Wade McCoy would do a 45 last three eighths in a race bike. Sometimes though you would catch some good winners when people did things out of the ordinary.
If a longshot won the 5th, out came the sellers. They are alive in the pick 4 and they want to sell. Rarely, if ever they would, but they would try. If I knew then what I know now, I might have taken them up on it from time to time. I bet there was some value. If it was super-7 carryover day and someone was alive after the fourth or fifth leg, watch out, they’d be looking for investors. I never once hit a super 7, and I don’t think I have today either.
Race 7 was a good time to get a roast beef sandwich. $4 for a slice of heaven. I don’t know where they got the beef from, but there was nothing better at Greenwood.
Heading home on weeknights was usually done after the last, but on weekends that time was reserved for a restaurant called the Mecca. They had a satellite dish and you could watch the Meadowlands. A beer, some awesome food and the Meadowlands while hanging with horseplayers was a staple. It was extra special if you had a good night.
Summers at Greenwood were especially fun. Sitting outside was a blast. So many horseplayers, all with opinions, and generally good people to chat with. I don’t know how many people I met that I know today during that time, but the number is large. Most are not playing the races today, broke, lost interest, whatever, but those were good times.
The North America Cup was huge. I remember watching Jate Lobell and Frugal Gourmet way back when, but I did not see the whole race. I saw it in snippets, as I could not find a spot to watch and I had to jump to see over the metal thing in the aisles. I wished I was 6 foot 5.
Earl Lennox calls were fun. I remember he used to say "and here comes Peter Cottontail coming from the east end parking lot" when he made a wide sweep at the top of the lane.
Tips were always there. So many tips. I learned quickly why (I think it was) Harvey Pack said he wants to come back as a bookie in the jocks room after he dies. One night however, I remember the tips were fabulous. There were two good sources and they gave two bang up winners. $8 and $26. I hit a few more things that night, and I walked away with about $900 profit. Big day. Steak at the Mecca that night.
Schoolers for 2 year olds would be run before the races started and they were fun to watch. I got to see a good many quality racehorses during that time, at a young age. Doug Arthur, of Cam Fella fame, would always have some solid US breds qualifying, which would stick out with the Armbro Splurge’s, Fundamentalist’s and Jade Prince’s. I remember Bo Knows Jate’s first schooler. He was way behind, made up a ton of ground pacing about a 28 flat third quarter, and then took a complete right turn at the head of the lane. Doug somehow got him pacing straight and he exploded to victory.
This time was one where the ‘off the claim’ trainer started happening, with the relatively new practice of milkshaking, which was not outlawed at that time. Gosh they would drop time. And more and more people would be handicapping trainers. It took awhile, but we were beginning to see what we see today - certain folks opening up at 3-5 off the claim, and staying there. The edge was good early on though. Programs did not even print who the last trainer was, or if there was a barn change. It was worth keeping a whole stack of programs in the closet!
Winter racing in the afternoon was interesting, and during that time at Greenwood we began to see the changing of the game. Simulcasting started from Florida. You would have tons of thoroughbred bettors hammering the Calder and Gulfstream simulcast all winter. The place was completely packed.
It was a different time, a different era. It is, of course, not like this any longer, and it will never be. As RG, our regular reader and contributor spoke about in the comment section below:
On my block when I was a kid we had a drug store where they sold forms and scratch sheets. When the early papers came out around 3:30 they would have the first few results from the eastern tracks on the front page. Later in the evening probably a dozen older horse players would gather waiting for the evening papers with all the days results. The guy that owned the poolroom took bets. Saturdays special at the grill on the corner was pancakes with a form. The barber on the next block took the horses and always had the form and scratch sheet sitting around. The Fairgrounds was only about 3 miles on a steetcar. There was always somebody from the neighborhood who would bet for us. So how could I not grow up a horseplayer?
That could have been anywhere in North America in this different time. And it most certainly could have been at Coxwell and Queen, at Greenwood raceway.
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