The day that shaped the face of Assiniboia Downs, September 25, 1957

Jul 2, 2015 | ASD History

R. J. Speers and Scotty Kennedy. 1948 Canadian Derby.

R. J. Speers and Scotty Kennedy. 1948 Canadian Derby.

by Bob

If it is possible to single out a date that marked the “birth” of Assiniboia Downs, Wednesday September 25, 1957 would be that day. On that historic Wednesday Jack Hardy, President of James Enterprises Ltd. announced the appointment of Alexander Gardner “Scotty” Kennedy to the post of General Manager of the “new” Assiniboia Downs.

Looking back there could have been no other choice for GM. Kennedy was a natural for the position. With a background in almost every facet of sports including management positions with Western Canada Racing Association, the Winnipeg Blue Bomber Football Club and the R. J. Speers Corporation, not to mention owner and breeder of thoroughbreds, Kennedy was a perfect fit for the job.

When the Downs opened its doors on June 10, 1958, the grandstand contained 5,500 cubic yards of concrete and 225 tons of structural steel. The roof was made up of an additional 214 tons of steel. Seventy thousand cubic yards of sand and gravel were used in the making of the parking lot and roads, but at the heart of the new racing plant, termed by experts as “Canada’s newest and finest track,” was Scotty Kennedy.

As GM, Kennedy oversaw every aspect of the running of the Downs. There was no detail too small that would have escaped his watchful eye! He knew everything that happened on the grounds, whether it involved the business office, matters concerning Downs’ patrons or affairs of the backstretch. Scotty knew all and saw all!

Kennedy hailed from Ecclefechan, a small village in the south of Scotland, and came to Canada as a toddler in 1912. It wasn’t long before young Kennedy became fascinated with the sport of horse racing. At the age of 12 he climbed the fence at old River Park to get a better view of the races and climbing fences became his signature move.

Jack Hardy, Premier Walter Weir and Scotty Kennedy, circa 1969.

Jack Hardy, Premier Walter Weir and Scotty Kennedy, circa 1969.

The story goes that in 1924 he hopped the fence at Whittier Park in St. Boniface on opening day. A year later, when Polo Park opened, yep you guessed it, he scaled the famous white fences of Polo to gain entry on its official opening.

Prior to going overseas in 1944 Sgt. Kennedy married Nancy Bissett in Calgary. He served with the South Saskatchewan Regiment and was the recipient of the Military Cross medal when he was wounded in Germany in April 1945. Some 23 months after reaching Europe, he returned home to Winnipeg in April 1946 to carry on with his post military career.

Special Accolades:

  • Founding member of the National Association of Canadian Race Tracks.
  • Director and vice-president of the Canadian Thoroughbred Horse Society.
  • Jockeys Benevolent Association’s 1959 Man of the Year.
  • Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association’s 1970 winner of the “Good Guy Award.”
  • Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association’s 1981 honouree for his contributions to the horse racing industry in Manitoba.
  • Inducted to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in the “builder” category in 1983.

Scotty will forever be remembered for his purchase of the filly Omar’s Gift from Jim Speers for grand total of 37 cents, a story which I previously told on this blog here: Psst, Hey Mister, Wanna Buy a Horse?

Omar’s Gift went on to win the Winnipeg Futurity and in two years made almost $3,000. In addition, she was a success in the breeding shed. Her foal, Victory Gift won the 1948 Canadian Derby and a foal of Victory Gift won the 1960 revival of the Manitoba Derby. His Name? Bocage!

1960 Speer's Handicap presentation (L-R) Joe Johansen, Kennedy, Gene Pederson and Scotty's daughter Joan in front.

1960 Speer’s Handicap presentation (L-R) Joe Johansen, Kennedy, Gene Pederson and Scotty’s daughter Joan in front.

Kennedy had horse racing and Assiniboia Downs in his blood. He managed the Downs from 1958 to 1970. On New Year’s day in 1970 he suffered a massive heart attack which forced his retirement from a sport that he ate, slept and drank.

Following a lengthy recuperation period he served in the stewards’ stand for several years during thoroughbred meets, a position for which he was well-suited.

It isn’t possible in this allotted space to adequately detail the impact Scotty had on racing at the Downs, but if I had to choose one example … I’d tell you that Kennedy was the primary reason that the last race Quinella pool would routinely reach the $30,000 mark and on special days $40,000 or even $50,000!

The reason?

As long as Scotty saw people in the mutuel lines, he would see to it that the race was quietly delayed until the last two dollars had been handed to the ticket seller. It wasn’t unusual for the eighth race to go to post many, many minutes later than was scheduled. In the days before track lighting had been installed there were races where jockey caps should have been equipped with special head lamps so riders could see the finish line in the diminishing light of a late summer’s evening.

On November 16, 1982 another heart attack claimed the life of A. G. “Scotty” Kennedy. He was 72. Put simply, a piece of the Assiniboia Downs died that day. Quite honestly, and this is no exaggeration, the void created by his passing has never been filled.

Victory Gift wins 1948 Canadian Derby.

Victory Gift wins 1948 Canadian Derby.

Mr. Kennedy was an original, one of a kind guy and he, more than anybody else in our history, was responsible for the shaping of the face of Assiniboia Downs. And I mean no disrespect to the likes of Jack Hardy or Jim Wright, but Scotty Kennedy’s relationship and importance to the Downs was different.

Thank you for your many contributions to our history, Scotty! Assiniboia Downs has never been whole again. It all began September 25, 1957 and on November 16, 1982 it was over.

An integral part of the heart and soul of Assiniboia Downs was taken from us.