By Beverley Smith for woodbine.com
TORONTO, July 4 – In Canada in the autumn, the multi-hued maple leafs fall, drifting and swirling in the wind. On Canada Day, they multiply.
The maple leaf is an emblem close to the country’s heart. Since 1965, a red maple leaf has been the centrepiece of the national flag. Some of the best stables in the land have turned to the maple leaf to splash onto their silks, as if it was a pulse beneath their wings.
American-born owner Garland Williamson embraced the maple leaf in his colours, saying: “I’m a believer that if you live in a country, you must be part of the country. Why don’t you be proud of it?”
Born in Georgia, Williamson came to Canada during the country’s centennial year, 1967 and felt the tug of horse racing by 1974. When it came time to choose his racing colours, Williamson opted for grey and yellow, a colour that can be seen easily from afar. Yellow maple leafs and yellow stars adorn the front and back.
The yellow maple leaf represents his chosen country; the stars are a nod to his previous home in the United States. While his daughter was born in the United States, his son was born in Canada.
While Williamson may straddle two countries, his allegiance falls to the north side, especially since he married Marie, a Quebecker. Marie is not only a Quebecker, she’s the granddaughter of Canada’s 12th Prime Minister, Louis St. Laurent, who led Canada between 1948 and 1957. Marie’s father, Jean-Paul St. Laurent, was a Liberal MP from Quebec, too.
The Montreal Star once called Louis St. Laurent one of the “great Canadians, who…put country ahead of party, duty before self-interest.” Historian Desmond Martin said of the man that “His era was such a golden age that many Canadians believed that peace, order and good government were their destiny.”
Former federal cabinet minister Jack Pickersgill noted that St. Laurent had “as fine an intelligence as was ever applied to problems of government in Canada. He left it a richer, a more generous and more united country that it had been before he became Prime Minister.”
Years later, Williamson’s yellow maple leaf has sallied forth successfully, representing his Hillsbrook Farm in Erin, Ont., with aplomb inside and outside Canada’s borders. His grey filly Like A Gem, lived up to her name, with her greatest claim to fame an upset of Kimchi in the Wonder Where Stakes, the third jewel of the Triple Tiara. Like A Gem foiled her bid as a 48 to 1 shot in 2006. (Another Williamson grey, Camp Creek, cheekily won the Breeders Stakes last year at Woodbine as a 25 to 1 shot, carrying those distinctive colours.)
Like A Gem’s grey daughter Hard Not To Like has been the star of the yellow maple leaf, showing her dusky heels to the boys while winning the Cup and Saucer Stakes as a 2-year-old, then finishing fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies’ Turf at Churchill Downs. While carrying Williamson’s colours, Hard Not to Like won the G1 Jenny Wiley Stakes at Keeneland in 2014, before being sold in Kentucky for $1.5-million and then going on to win two more Grade 1 races, the Diana in 2015 (when she defeated Tepin) and the Gamely Stakes.
Atlhough the Williamsons no longer own the filly, Marie’s cell phone is loaded with photos of an almost white Hard Not To Like with a strong-looking foal by Speightstown from this year. She is to be bred back to North America’s top sire, Tapit.
Williamson has had his family here, and his business (Trophy Foods, which sells nuts, dried fruits and chocolates) with no urge to live anywhere else. Fifty years after he first set foot here, he will celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday.
Williamson is not alone with his respectful bow to the maple leaf. The patriotic war soldier Conn Smythe, who built – what else? – Maple Leaf Gardens during the depression years, adopted a blue maple leaf on white silks to represent him as he won the Queen’s Plate in 1958 with Caledon Beau and fittingly enough in 1967, Canada’s centennial year, with the filly Jammed Lovely.
Reade Baker was so enamoured with Smythe’s silks and what they represented after years of working for the stable, that he wanted to adopt them when he created his own. But the Smythe maple leaf was already enshrined in the Jockey Club registry, until one day, Baker noticed an owner using the famed Seagram colours of black and yellow sash.
“How could this be?” Baker thought, until he discovered that the owners had tweaked the design just enough to make it their own. So Baker tweaked Smythe’s colours by adding blue cuffs on the sleeves. And the blue maple leaf was his for years.
The Kingfield colours of Catherine Day Phillips…
A maple leaf by any other colour is just as sweet. L’Enjoleur carried Jean-Louis Levesque’s green maple leaf when he won the 1975 Queen’s Plate. That green maple leaf travelled south of the border, too, and carried the country’s pride, when La Prevoyante stormed through an undefeated 2-year-old season in 1973, sweeping all of the major U.S. stakes in her division.
Jim and Alice Sapara also honoured the maple leaf in their colours. In 2006, Edenwold sported red silks with gold sash, sprinkled liberally with red maple leafs. Jockey Emile Ramsammy dyed his hair red just before the race, in recent years run in the shadow of Canada Day.
Canada’s top jockey, Eurico Rosa da Silva celebrates his adopted homeland by decorating his riding britches with a Canadian flag. That flag flies at the top of his boots, too. He’s found his footing in Canada.
Following a powerful family tradition, Catherine Day Phillips adopted a green maple leaf when she formed her own stable, and following the death of her grandparents, Charles and Janet Burns, added two black hoops on each sleeve in their memory. That maple leaf at one point had even been stencilled on the stable’s manure bins. It adorns the doors of the stalls.
Burns and his Kingfield Stable had had a green maple leaf from the time he started racing at Woodbine in 1958: a rustic maple leaf on a white body. Highland Wedding did not wear these colours when he won the 1969 Grand National Steeplechase, because Burns and co-owner Tom McCoy alternated colours when the horse competed. But Highland Wedding won at least one other race in England with this simplified version of Burns’ colours.
“It’s Canada,” Day Phillips said of the colours. “It’s special. It’s my family, my heritage and racing all rolled into one.”
Jambalaya, a horse that Day Phillips and her husband, Todd, bought for $2,500 as a yearling, carried the green maple leaf when he won the 2007 Arlington Million in Chicago.
“It seemed almost funny, crazy, to be in such a big race and with such international competition, with our little maple leaf,” Day Phillips said. “Then to see it streaking across the wire:”