Rare Jewel: A Hockey and Horses Story
By Margaret Evans
1930. The Great Depression. Money wasn’t flush anywhere. But savvy and successful businessman Conn Smythe had become the newly minted owner of the Toronto St. Patrick Hockey Club, or Toronto St. Pats. This hockey club was no slouch. It had won the Stanley Cup in 1922.
Smythe had two passions – ice hockey and horse racing. When the chance to buy St. Pats came up in 1927, he cobbled together a syndicate to purchase the club for $200,000, immediately renaming it the Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club.
Conn Smythe as a lieutenant during World War I. Photo: Canada Dept of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-007522
Smythe wasn’t satisfied with just owning a hockey team. He wanted a winner. To turn the Maple Leafs into Stanley Cup potential again, he needed a great defenseman. He set his sights on Francis “King” Clancy, arguably Canada’s best defenseman who, at the time, was playing for the Ottawa Senators.
But the catch price for Clancy was $35,000, big money Smythe didn’t have. Undaunted, he had another ace up his sleeve.
Enter Rare Jewel.
Smythe’s other love was horse racing. On a hunch – or maybe a vision – be bought a filly named Rare Jewel for $250. She had never won a race and, by all accounts, no one thought she ever would. But relying on instincts and the fact that she been training well with William Campbell, he entered her in the Coronation Futurity Stakes. Inaugurated in 1902 at Toronto’s Old Woodbine Race Track, the Futurity was created for Canadian-bred 2-year-olds in celebration of the August 9, 1902, coronation of Edward VII in the UK.
Conn Smythe (far left) enlisting for service in World War II at Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, 1939. Photo: Wikimedia
Riding Rare Jewel would be top jockey Normal (Dude) Foden who became known as “King of the half-milers.” In a 37-year racing career, he rode more than 1,000 winners in Canada, the US and Mexico and, in 2000, he was inducted in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame. But that race day, September 20, 1930, would be one for the history books. And it didn’t hurt that Smythe was not only placing heavy bets on his horse, but getting friends to do the same.
Rare Jewel entered the starting gate at 107-1 odds as a crowd of some 15,000 watched with huge anticipation. Foden used all his skills to guide the filly and place her by the rail, and just at the right turn, Rare Jewel leapt in front and held back the field. She won the (then) six-furlong race by half a length in 1:15:00 minutes, beating future Queen’s Plate winner Froth Blower.
The crowd had a collective case of shock when the filly paid out $214.40 on a $2 bet. That one race brought Smythe over $10,000 – enough for a down payment on Clancy. Once more leaning on investors, a month later Smythe gave the Ottawa Senators $35,000 plus two players – forward Eric Pettinger and defenseman Art Smith. It was the largest amount of money paid for a player to that moment in hockey history.
The trade was the perfect leg-up for the Toronto Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup in 1932. With Clancy in the Leafs’ barn, Smythe had bargaining power to bring in investors to build Maple Leaf Gardens, the go-to hockey arena of its day. Smythe was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder in 1958.
With the exception of that one race day in 1930, Rare Jewel never won another race and faded into horse racing history. But in that 1:15 minutes of fame, she helped Smythe score a big goal that gave him a superstar, a Stanley Cup, and a hockey arena.
The least she deserves is an assist.
Photo: Dreamstime/Marya Sushchina