Two years ago, driver Trevor Ritchie came to Legends Day at Clinton Raceway as a fan. On Sunday, June 23, he will be suiting up in his black and white colours as the newest addition to the Legends Day lineup.
In 2017, Ritchie and his wife, Gemma, sat in lawn chairs near Clinton Raceway’s quarter pole and reveled in the atmosphere surrounding local legend John Campbell’s last career drive.
“I’m a huge fan of John Campbell’s and have been forever, so I wanted to see him and say hello to him and see his last drive,” Ritchie said. “I decided to walk down to the tent and say hello to the guys and they were busy signing autographs, of course, but the activity going on down there…it was packed and pretty impressive to watch.
“There’s no better place to be on a beautiful sunny afternoon than at a fair track at Clinton. The atmosphere is just great.”
Ritchie will be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame on Aug. 7, an honour that earned him inclusion in the Legends Day lineup and a spot on the starting gate for the $15,000 Legends Day Trot that will also feature Hall of Famers David Miller, Steve Condren, Dave Wall, Ron Waples, Doug Brown and Wally Hennessey. Joining those legends for an autograph session will be retired drivers John Campbell, Keith Waples and Bill O’Donnell.
Ritchie hasn’t driven a horse in a race in almost five years, but said he’s not nervous about going behind the gate again.
“I think it’s like riding a bike, once you’ve ridden it you know how to ride it again. Racing, in my opinion, is pretty much the same,” he said. “Every winter when I’m in Florida, the last few years, I’ve been helping (Somebeachsomewhere’s trainer) Brent MacGrath train and he’s usually got two babies down at Sunshine Meadows, so I go down and sometimes I’ll go with one and he’ll go with the other…so it’s not like I haven’t been on a jogger or a race bike in five years. I just haven’t been in behind the gate.”
The 63-year-old London, Ont. native and Acton, Ont. resident retired due to injury in July of 2014, but not before competing in some 25,000 races over nearly 40 years. Ritchie drove the winners of more than $70 million on the track, much of it on Canada’s top circuit. He won 3,710 races, none bigger than when he drove Yankee Paco to victory in the 2000 Hambletonian in New Jersey for trainer Doug McIntosh. The victory, which came the same year the Hambletonian celebrated its 75th anniversary, marked the first time a Canadian-bred horse won harness racing’s premier event, making Ritchie the commander of a moon shot for the Canadian breed.
Ritchie calls winning the Hambletonian with Yankee Paco the highlight of a career that also included driving Hall of Fame filly Peaceful Way to victory over the boys in the 2006 Maple Leaf Trot at Mohawk Racetrack just three weeks before Ritchie won the $1-million Canadian Trotting Classic, also at Mohawk, with Majestic Son, who went on to be named Canada’s Horse of the Year. Ritchie also won seven Breeders Crowns; a $1 million Meadowlands Pace with Frugal Gourmet for trainer Blair Burgess in 1987; the 1986 North America Cup with Quite A Sensation; stakes races driving hockey Hall of Famer Mats Sundin’s trotter, Rotation, and even had the opportunity to drive in Sweden and Norway.
Ritchie said he’s excited about Legends Day and the opportunity to see old friends and faces and connect with fans. He saluted the work of Clinton general manager Ian Fleming, who will be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame this year as a builder.
“Obviously, Ian does just a fantastic job. It’s great to see crowds at a harness racing track. You just don’t see that all that often, unfortunately, anymore outside of big nights.”
Legends Day will again raise money for the Clinton Public Hospital Foundation. Previous editions of Legends Day have raised more than $210,000 for the foundation. In 2017, Legends Day raised a record $60,000 and Fleming said he is hoping to break that record this year.
An online auction featuring luxury boxes, tickets to major events, cottage rentals and more will be available between June 17-21. There will also be a chicken barbeque on June 23 at Clinton Raceway after the conclusion of Legends Day.