Dresden, August 13, 2014 -- The Dresden Raceway's new Hall of Fame will honour Malcolm MacPhail as its first inductee in a ceremony during the harness racing track's Aug. 24 Dresden Derby card.
MacPhail, an 82-year-old farmer from Dover Centre, Ont., has been a fixture at Dresden Raceway since 1972 as an owner, trainer and long-term Ontario Harness Horse Association director, who also served two terms as the association's president. Some of his most important work may have come in August of 2013 when he steadfastly refused to vacate the Dresden barns when asked to do so by Winrac Development Inc., the Windsor-based company that managed the track at the time.
"I said, 'I'm not moving out.' If the Agricultural Society and the horsemen had decided to close the place, then fine. But somebody in Windsor wasn't going to close it without me fighting over it," MacPhail said. "I think Winrac just figured we'd just pick up and leave. I just said I wasn't moving and that's all there was to it... Winrac was ready to get out of the barn part of the operation. They just wanted to shut it down and keep taking the money out of the slots and forget about the racetrack part and the grandstand. Something had to be done."
Lucille Laprise, the president of the Dresden Agricultural Society said MacPhail's stand not only emboldened others still stabling at the track to stay, it directly influenced the Ag. Society's decision to return to operating the track for the first time since 1997.
"We said, 'If he is that adamant about staying and if he's willing to fight the fight, then we should be side by side,'" Laprise said.
Dresden Raceway is currently nearing the end of its 11-race 2014 meet that will conclude Sept. 1 with its traditional Labour Day card featuring the Shelly Goudreau Memorial. Raceway manager Greg Blanchard said attendance has been strong this summer and handle is up over 40 per cent over 2013.
"We're just happy that now we have so many more horses in the barns," Laprise said. "The racetrack itself has improved. We've been doing some painting and some sprucing up and everything else. Everybody seems happy. That's the thing. People are encouraging and people from the community and all over come and they tap you on the shoulder and they say, 'Oh, we're so glad the Ag Society's taken this over. Anything we can do to help you, don't hesitate.'"
When it came time to decide which person to honour with the first berth in the Dresden Raceway Hall of Fame, Laprise said it was a short discussion.
"Malcolm has just been a really big influence on all of us over the years. He's been really pushing for us to take back the racing and bring it back to Dresden the way it's supposed to be," Laprise said. "It's just the right thing. He's the right man at this time."
MacPhail's longtime friend and former OHHA colleague Dr. Ted Clarke, the general manager of Grand River Raceway, said MacPhail is "one of those people that is really committed to racing and supporting standardbred racing participants. He has demonstrated just a tenacious commitment to racing. He has the unique ability to be both very committed and also a realist, seeing things as they are and acting accordingly. He is fair minded, honest as the day is long and embodies those qualities that I certainly admire greatly in a person who takes a position and is prepared to hold to it and has the courage of his conviction to see things through."
MacPhail joked he's being inducted, "because I've been around there the longest," but, in truth, he said he is touched by the honour despite his four decades of work to keep racing in Dresden being "just a matter of doing what had to be done. Somebody had to do it."
A farmer since the age of 16, MacPhail's lifelong love of horses led him into the standardbred game in 1972 when he bought a load of hay at an auction in Dorchester. He sold some of the hay to horseman Bert Madill and took a half-share in a racehorse as payment. That horse was a dud, but MacPhail was hooked. His third horse was a J R Bret pacer named Hot Spurs Honour, who as a two-year-old in 1974 made approximately $28,000 in the inaugural year of the Ontario Sires Stakes (OSS) program.
MacPhail's next good one was a Blaze Pick colt named Young Blaze who made $211,206 lifetime and raced at the Meadowlands for three years. MacPhail owned the colt with his brother, Bob.
Apart from helping his nephew, son and brother farm some 400 acres of cash crops, MacPhail still has three racehorses - one racing at Dresden, one racing at Mohawk and a third that's turned out at the moment.
"It's been good to me, the horse business," MacPhail said.
MacPhail will be honoured during the same Aug. 24 card in which the inaugural Dresden Derby will be staged and prizes will be awarded to the patrons with the best hats.
On this weekend's Aug. 17 card, Dresden Raceway will have a free corn giveaway as part of its Dresden Business Improvement Association Day. The Aug. 31 card will be Kids Day, before the season draws to a close on Sept. 1.
"I don't know how you can beat it," MacPhail said. "On a Sunday afternoon or on a Holiday Monday you can come out and watch a few races. It doesn't cost you anything to get in. If you want a hot dog or something, you buy it. If you want to bet a bit, you bet. It's just a little entertainment."
By Dave Briggs for Dresden Raceway