Greatest Canadian Bred Mare of All Time: Part 1
By Guy Weadick, High River, Alta.
You find horse lovers everywhere, in every walk of life. For years cow-punchers on every range have bragged of their top cuttin’ and ropin’ ponies. Old-timers of the range delight in telling of their “long circle” mounts, whose stamina was never equalled. Ex-roundup cooks work themselves into a lather in vivid descriptions of their “special” four-horse team that they steered off some pinnacle while feedin ’em slack, making speed that was close to nothing in order to “make camp” with their chuckwagon ahead of an approaching storm. Other old-time “drivers” will orate for hours in their word pictures of trotters and packers, hitched to sulkies that “never broke” in making record time. Thorobred (sic) enthusiasts from millionaire owners to stable punks will cite without number, horses that for various stated reasons have been in a class by themselves. Most of them tell of horses bred, foaled, trained and worked in faraway places.
The little mare that I’m going to tell about has about as interesting a history as any, and the story of her and her mother and father is all tied up with the early ranching history of Alberta. She is May W, sired by “Eagle Plume,” her dam being “Frolia.” She was foaled in Calgary in 1884, raised, trained and first raced there. She was sent to the United States where from July 1, 1896 until August 12, 1902, she established a reputation from the Atlantic to the Pacific. After being sold in New York she was shipped to England, where as a brood mare she produced several colts that developed into outstanding horses in that country, the original home of the Thorobred.
Now I’m no authority on Thorobred race horses but when I titled this article “Greatest Canadian Bred Mare of All Time” I was quoting directly from a man who is recognized as one. He is no other than R. James Speers, noted racing tycoon and Thorobred breeder of Western Canada. It was during a recent conversation that Jim was telling me about May W and her record on American tracks at Anaconda and Butte, Mont.; Milwaukee, Wis.; Cincinnati, Ohio; Harlem, Ill.; Lakeside Ind.; Hawthorn, Ill.; San Francisco, Calif.; Saratoga, N.Y.; Aqueduct, N.Y.; Yonkers, N.Y.; Morris Park, Coney Island and Brighton Beach, N.Y., for over a period of six years, where the official record books show that she won 43 out of 114 starts, was second 28 times, third 18 times, fourth 12 times and she was only 25 times worse than third out of 114 starts. In those days no money was paid for fourth place.
She won the magnificent sum of $14,185 in those days of small purses. Had she been racing today she could have easily multiplied her winnings by ten.
The record books show she was foaled in Calgary in 1894, sired by “Eagle Plume” and her dam at that time around Calgary was know as “Sangree,” who also did some racing in Western Canada, under that name as far east as Winnipeg. This mare also had another colt by “Eagle Plume,” a full sister to May W, but not as good a mare, named “Plumeria.” She was sold in New York the same time May W was and was for some years afterward used as a brood mare in the vicinity of Omaha, Neb.
There were several stories in circulation at the time as to how come that her dam’s name was “Sangree,” yet after she went to the States, the record books show her name as “Frolia.”
After she was sold in New York, the folks out West lost track of May W until some years later, and what finally happened to her I will tell a little later on, after I have straightened out the how-come of the dam having two names, “Frolia” and “Sangree.”
First as to the sire, “Eagle Plume.” He was an imported stallion belonging to the Quorn ranch on Sheep Creek, an outfit noted for raising some of the best light horses ever in Alberta. Old-timers who know “Eagle Plume” all agree he was the finest stallion ever imported into Alberta, as well as the best looking.
Along in the late ’80s and early ’90s there were some real racing fans in Alberta, some good horses, cleaver trainers and sporty owners. One such owner was Duncan Cameron of Calgary, whose son, Don Cameron is today one of the leading trainers on the American tracks. Another man always owning a race horse or two was Tom Lynch, who along with George Emerson as a partner were among the first to bring in large herds of cattle from various points south of the border to stock up some of the larger ranches, as well as furnish foundation herds for smaller outfits. Lynch was also a great horseman and trailed in several horse herds. His ranch was on the Highwood close to High River. He branded T L. “Oregon George” Wentworth of Calgary was also prominent as an owner and trainer of race horses.
About that period a man named Reynolds arrived in Calgary from the States with four race horses. According to history he got into some financial difficulties and his string of race horses were tied up and it was evident he could not pay up on his obligations and it looked like he was going to lose his horses.
He approached Tom Lynch whom he had been told knew every trail in and out of the country, and asked him if he would undertake to trail four head of horses for him from Calgary to the American boundary line? But he did not want them to go south over the main thorofare (sic) known as the Macleod Trail, rather down the west side of the mountains, in the direction of the Tobacco Plains country.
A deal was made and Lynch and a cow-puncher named Ben Rankin took the horses up Fish Creek to a pass in the mountains and went south to deliver them to Reynolds near the border. (It is not recorded for history how the four horses tied up for debt were obtained, nor by whom, whether by Reynolds, Lynch or someone else.)
Part 2 of this saga will appear in our October 2016 issue of Canadian Cattlemen, plus here in the History section of our website next month.