Victoria Park – Never Quit Attitude
“I believe that one day in Canada a horse will be bred that can win the Kentucky Derby. I have many friends in the game tell me the climate is not suitable that such a horse can be developed in my country, but I beg to differ. I hope to prove them wrong”. E.P. Taylor said these words in 1957. Little did he know how close he was to fulfilling his mission.
That same year at the National Stud in Oshawa, later to be known as Windfields Farm Ontario, a bay colt sired by Taylor’s stallion Chop Chop out of the Windfields (the stallion) mare Victoriana was foaled. The little colt was a grandson of foundation mare Iribelle, a full sister to Mona Belle, Taylor’s first star racer in his historic career as a patron of the turf. The colt had a star and blaze down his forehead, a white hind foot and one front foot was toed-in. He would be given the name Victoria Park. A new chapter in Canadian racing was soon to begin.
E.P. Taylor was the leading breeder/owner of thoroughbreds in Canada and was dominating the racing scene in the great white north. He had instituted an annual yearling sale at his Willowdale farm in which he invited as many of his fellow racing enthusiasts to participate as he could. Taylor and his right hand man Joe Thomas would put a price on each and every yearling offered at the sale. The prospective buyers would then inspect the yearlings and if they wanted the colt or filly for their racing stables, they could purchase said youngster at the pre-arranged price.
The price for the Chop Chop – Victoriana colt was $12,500. Not an outlandish price, but still a bit stiff for a Canadian bred. Victoria Park was bit on the small side, he would eventually be 15.3 hands tall at full growth, and did not have attractive knees that many horsemen look for when assessing a young racing prospect. He also had a feisty determined attitude, that some might find too aggressive to handle. There were no takers, so the colt went into the Windfields racing stable and was given his name.
Victoria Park was well bred for a Canadian horse of 1957. His year older half brother Bull Vic would win the Coronation Futurity a few weeks after the Windfields yearling sale in which Victoria Park had been passed over by Taylor’s clients. His sire Chop Chop had established himself as the top stallion in the Dominion. Iribelle had established herself as a broodmare of quality stakes winners. It may not have been a silver bit in the mouth of the young Victoria Park, but he did come from proven bloodlines.
Gordon “Pete” McCann was the Windfields trainer at Woodbine in Toronto and was given the colt to prepare for his racing career. Victoria Park took to his new activities with enthusiasm. His early workouts quickly showed that although he had the toed-in front foot and suspect knees, he was very fast and worked hard every time he was asked. As stated, the bay colt was a feisty dude, and he could be a handful for even the most experienced horsemen. On the track Victoria Park was all business. Defeat was not something he cared to accept.
Around the stable Victoria Park was known as “Parkie”. This name would stay with him for the rest of his life.
Victoria Park’s two year old campaign was stellar. He captured four stakes wins and went on to be named as the champion juvenile of 1959. His first stake win was the five furlong Clarendon Stakes defeating a good colt in Hidden Treasure. As the two year old races lengthened in distance, Victoria Park started to assert his domination over the rest of his Canadian peers. Parkie captured the richest and most prestigious juvenile races in Canada, the Cup and Saucer Stakes and the Coronation Futurity, again with his rival Hidden Treasure finishing second in each race. Victoria Park had now won stakes sprinting and at a distance, on both grass and dirt tracks. He had nothing left to prove in Canada so it was off to the U.S. to test his class and resolve.
The Remsen Stakes in November at Aqueduct was the target for Parkie to show what he was made of. Now in the barn of Taylor’s U.S. based trainer Horatio Luro, Victoria Park captured the historic Remsen with a commanding display that gave his owner a chance to think he may have a viable contender for the upcoming Kentucky Derby in six months time. Taylor had raced some good horses in the U.S. before such as Canadiana, Windfields and Bull Page, but never a contender for the big prize on the American racing scene.
Victoria Park wintered in Georgia at Luro’s farm and put on some muscle. Luro kept Parkie in good condition and mapped out a plan to get the colt ready for the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs.
The three year old crop of 1960 was a very deep and talented group. The reigning champion two year old was a grey colt by Determine named Warfare. There was also multiple stakes winner Bally Ache. Washington Park Futurity winner Venetian Way and Arlington Futurity winner T.V. Lark both from the Chicago circuit. From the New York scene came Tompion, Celtic Ash and the soon to become legendary Kelso. As time would tell, this was a very good group.
Victoria Park raced predominantly in Florida for his journey to the Kentucky Derby. His first start of the year saw him finish second to Tompion in the Forerunner Purse. Parkie then captured a nine and one half furlong allowance race at Hialeah in track record time. He beat fellow Derby hopeful Bally Ache in the process. A second in the Flamingo Stakes to Bally Ache followed by a third place finish in the Florida Derby to Bally Ache and Venetian Way was the result of his next two starts. In Parkie’s final prep for the big Derby he was second to Tompion in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
The Kentucky Derby had no clear cut favourite and was considered a wide open affair before the start. The good three year old crop had taken turns in beating each other but by post time Bally Ache was given the nod by the betting public. Tompion on the strength of his Santa Anita Derby and Blue Grass wins was the second choice. Warfare had fallen by the wayside with an injury, while T.V. Lark switched to become a grass specialist after disappointing early in the year in California. Kelso did not come to stride until just after the Triple Crown races had run.
The 1960 “Run For The Roses” was won by Venetian Way, who ran the race of his life at the right time to take home the Kentucky Derby trophy. Bally Ache ran a good second but could not catch the winner at the finish line. Third was none other than the Canadian colt Victoria Park. It was the first time in the history of the Kentucky Derby that a Canadian bred had placed in the money in an American Triple Crown race. E. P. Taylor was elated with his steed. His first attempt at the Derby and he finished in the money. Parkie came out of the race in fine condition, so on to the Preakness Stakes at venerable old Pimlico in two weeks time.
In the Preakness, Victoria Park would do one better by finishing second to Ball Ache, with Celtic Ash behind in third. Venetian Way failed to place in the event. Parkie was getting closer to winning a Triple Crown race and had earned considerable praise from the turf writers for his consistent and game performances. He may not have been racking up wins, but he was certainly finishing each race determinedly, which boded well for the upcoming Belmont Stakes.
There was one problem however. The Belmont was due to be run on June 11, which just happened to be the same day that the Queen’s Plate was scheduled to be run at New Woodbine. Many turf writers and backstretch people were of the opinion that Victoria Park should be the favourite for the twelve furlong “Test of Champions” due to his never say die running style and his consistent performances. E. P. Taylor, Joe Thomas and Horatio Luro met to discuss which classic race they should prepare their star for. In the end it was Taylor’s decision to make. Patriotism won out and so Victoria Park would return home and start in his native country’s premier race.
An overflowing crowd at the still new Woodbine Racetrack greeted Victoria Park as the field of would be challengers entered the gate alongside the newest Canadian equine idol. Needless to say that Parkie was the overwhelming favourite at the betting windows and he did not disappoint. He won the Queen’s Plate in a time of 2:02.00 which was two fifths of a second faster than Venetian Way’s time in winning the Derby. Victoria Park became the ninth winner of the race bred by E.P. Taylor and the sixth in which Taylor collected the trophy and traditional purple bag of fifty sovereigns personally in the winner’s circle.
Meanwhile, the Belmont Stakes was won by Celtic Ash, a horse Victoria Park had never finished behind whenever they met. Venetian Way was second and Disperse was third. The debates raged in the press about Taylor’s decision to skip the Belmont and go for the Plate, given the result. It was agreed that “Ol Pigeon Toes” as the press had dubbed him, would have had his way in the Belmont.
E.P. Taylor never lamented the decision. He was a Canadian and winning the Queen’s Plate meant more to him than anything. He did take considerable pride however that his plan to improve the class of Canadian bred horses was on the right path, and that he and his Windfields Farm staff were going about their breeding and foal raising with improving results.
Victoria Park seemed to be getting better with each race he ran. He came away from his record breaking Queen’s Plate victory, he would hold the record for thirty years, as sound as could be. Luro pointed him to the valuable and prestigious Leonard Richards Stakes. Parkie was improving and he sped around the Delaware track in a record time of 1:47.40 and took the race over Tompion and Conestoga. Alas it would be the last race of his career. Victoria Park saved his best performance in his swan song event.
This was not intended to be Parkie’s last race because an ambitious campaign in California was planned for the star colt, but he returned from a workout with a bowed tendon in California and had to be retired from racing then and there. He retired as the leading money winning Canadian bred at the time and would go to his owner’s National Stud in Oshawa and begin his stud career. He was named as Canada’s Horse of the Year.
Joe Thomas once remarked “Victoria Park always showed up. He gave his all in training and in his races”. This comment summed up Victoria Park perfectly. He never mailed in a race. He had what all breeders and owners hope for in any race horse, HEART! Parkie always gave his best try no matter the conditions or the opposition. His combative nature was perhaps his most redeeming quality and always stood him in good stead when he raced. Now Victoria Park would pass on his competitive desire to a new generation of racers.
Victoria Park had what can justifiably be called a solid if unspectacular stud career. He has however been a vital contributor toward future champions, especially within the Windfields breeding domain. Parkie sired a total of three hundred and forty-six foals. Twenty-five became stakes winners. While these numbers will not jump off a page as to being great, there was plenty of quality within the numbers to warrant Parkie’s inclusion as being a successful sire.
He sired three consecutive winners of the Queen’s Plate in Almoner, Kennedy Road and Victoria Song. Kennedy Road became a Canadian Horse of the Year and a good stakes sire. Another Canadian Horse of the Year sired by Victoria Park was his son Victorian Era, who was the epitome of a fast and durable race horse. Purchased by Allan Case from the Windfields yearling sale in 1963 for $25,000, Taylor re-acquired the horse in September 1966 for an undisclosed price. He made forty-eight starts in a four year career, winning twenty-three races, eighteen of which were stakes races. He added twelve second place finishes and placed third six times. Victorian Era won with as much as 136 lbs on his back and is a member of the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame.
Where Victoria Park has made an everlasting name for himself in breeding is as a broodmare sire. Daughters such as Victory Chant, Chou Fleur, Arctic Vixen, Flaming Victress, Greek Victress, Solometeor, Song Of Victory, Victorian Queen, and Floral Victory have produced champions or daughters that have produced champions. The line has continued proudly through Victoria Park. Two of his daughters take pride of place in the legacy of their sire.
Lady Victoria, a daughter of foundation mare Lady Angela, produced a chestnut colt by Northern Dancer in 1971. The colt was sold to Zenya Yoshida and for whom the colt won the group one Prix de la Foret. Yoshida had named the colt Northern Taste and retired him to his Shadai Stallion Station in Hokkaido Japan. Here the flashy and uniquely coloured Northern Taste became a revelation in Japanese breeding. He led the sire list an unprecedented ten consecutive years and established himself as the most successful sire in Japanese breeding up to that point in time.
Another daughter that has kept Victoria Park in the breeding spotlight is Fleur, a daughter of two Queen’s Plate winners as her dam is the legendary Flaming Page. Fleur was also bred to Northern Dancer and she produced a flashy chestnut colt herself that was sold to Robert Sangster, Vincent O’Brien and partners. They named the colt The Minstrel. The Minstrel won the Derby Stakes at Epsom and the Irish Derby for a rare Derby double. In his last race he bravely won the prestigious King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes as a three year old against the top older horses in training.
The Minstrel won seven of nine races finishing second once and third once. He was undefeated as a two year old. The Minstrel later became a very successful stallion standing at Windfields in Maryland and later at Overbrook Farm in Kentucky before his early death at the age of sixteen. The Minstrel sired five hundred and eleven foals, of which fifty-eight won stakes races for an 11.4% strike rate.
The fact that his two most influential descendants are bright red chestnuts with predominant white markings is actually quite intriguing, given the fact that Parkie was a dominant bay and did not sire any chestnut coloured foals. The colour of Northern Taste and The Minstrel came from their female side of their pedigrees, but the determination and will to win was definitely Victoria Park influenced.
Victoria Park was one of the key horses in not only Windfields history, but also Canadian racing history. He was generally a spirited and tough customer with an iron constitution, but he mellowed with age. His hallmark was his determination to do his best at all costs. He was able to pass on this admirable trait to his offspring.
I spent much time with him in his later years and found him to be somewhat aloof to my presence until he got used to seeing me around. He eventually visited me looking for a treat and even gave me a little nibble on the arm (playfully I should add) when I was a bit tardy in producing his treat for him. I found him to be all man in his demeanor. He died due to the infirmities of old age in 1985, and is buried at the former Windfields Oshawa site in front of the stallion barn he called home for most of his historic life.
Victoria Park was the first signal that E.P. Taylor was about to show the world that his Windfields Farm was ready to compete successfully on the biggest stages in racing with Canadian bred horses. The memory of Parkie’s contributions has faded through time, and up staged by the incredible later successes of Canadian bred horses. We should always keep the memory of Victoria Park alive, because he started it all. As the saying goes, “The first is always the most special.”
(Photo courtesy of Windfields Farm archives and Tony Leonard Collection)
(Photo of Victoria Park and stud groom Allan Kerr taken in 1983 by the author)