Monday, February 7, 2011

Horsing Around

At the start of every National Hockey League season, each team has a goal of posting a winning record and having Stanley Cup playoff success. For the Chicago Black Hawks of 1958-59, early success came at the expense of the Toronto Maple Leafs. In a contest played on October 11, 1958, the Hawks spoiled the Leafs home-opener with a 3-1 victory. The following night in Chicago Stadium, the Hawks made it two-for-two with a 5-2 win. For the Chicago players, it was a satisfying and productive weekend.

In Toronto, Maple Leafs assistant general manager, George "Punch" Imlach, wasn't impressed with the effort of his new club.

"I was amazed at their lack of fire. They failed in front of their home fans when they should have been giving their best shot. In Chicago, they tossed in a second period that was a disgrace" said Imlach.

Tommy Ivan
 Imlach's counterpart in Chicago, Tommy Ivan, was humming a much nicer tune, "We're in the money". Literally. Ivan was accompanied on the trip to Toronto by Hawks owner Jim Norris. The boss was in town not only to attend the hockey game, but there was another sporting event on his agenda. On the Saturday afternoon of the tilt with the Leafs, the Jockey Club Gold Cup was being run at Woodbine race-track. The racing stable owned by Conn Smythe  had an entry which was near-and-dear to Jim Norris' heart. The Smythe-Larkin Maloney (a partner) horse, Kitty Girl, was bred by the Norris farm. The filly ran third in the Gold Cup race.

In addition to hockey, Conn Smythe loved the excitement and potential financial rewards of horse racing. His participation in the Sport of Kings dates back to the late 1920s. On September 20, 1930, he entered another filly, Rare Jewel, in the Coronation Stakes at Woodbine. Smythe purchased the horse for $250. which reflected the fact her name had yet to appear in the win column. Being new to the sport, Smythe was of the opinion he had nothing to lose by having Rare Jewel run. As luck would have it, jockey Dude Foden rode Rare Jewel to victory. The pay-off for Smythe was huge - $3,570 in purse money and $9,372.70 for his bet. The 107-to-1 long shot paid $214.40 to win, $46.75 to place and $19.95 to show.

With his winnings, Smythe made another investment in an athlete. This one only had two legs, but a massive heart - King Clancy. The cash from the track helped Smythe purchase Clancy from Ottawa.

Although Smythe and Norris didn't have a winner with Kitty Girl, one member of their entourage did have a fruitful day at Woodbine. Tommy Ivan, who wasn't known as a track regular, made the trip to the track with Norris. Like most novices, he was examining the names of the horses as a hunch for a placing a wager. One name, in particular, caught his eye - Hot Ice. Now, I ask, what hockey fan wouldn't slap down a couple of bucks on this nag? Tommy Ivan certainly grasped the hockey connection. He held a winning ticket, but didn't disclose how much money he walked away with.

Hot Ice in the 4th race
 By late October, Ivan and the Hawks luck had taken a nasty turn south. In a game played on October 23, 1958 in Montreal, the Hawks were blasted 9-1 by the Habs. Tommy Ivan fined 18 players $100. each for their lackadaisical play.

Less money for the players to spend at the track.

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