Updated on 06/21/2013 4:28PM

Fort Erie cancels Monday card due to lack of entries

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Michael Burns
Former jockey Sam McComb (left) was honored last week at Fort Erie.

FORT ERIE, Ontario – For the second consecutive week, Fort Erie has canceled its Monday card due to a lack of entries.

Fort Erie races Sundays and Tuesdays and had planned to add Mondays to the schedule beginning June 17.

“It wasn’t even close,” Fort Erie racing secretary Eric Johnston said Friday morning. “We looked at the situation going into yesterday’s entries for Sunday, and it was pretty obvious that we weren’t going to make Monday and make Tuesday also.

“So, we abandoned the ship for Monday. We used some of those races on Sunday, which we’re glad we did, and the rest will be brought back and used on Tuesday.”

Horses based at Woodbine make up 20 to 25 percent of Fort Erie fields. A restriction on horses shipping out of Woodbine due to horses testing positive for the equine herpesvirus there was a factor in the first cancellation.

However, those restrictions have been lifted, with the exception of one barn.

“We’re just running so light on horses,” Johnston said. “We have about 350 on the grounds, of which 30 are 2-year-olds.

“And you get horses trying to get ready that are just not quite there yet.

“We’re hoping we see some more horses come in from spots like Colonial Downs and that hopefully, in the near future, we can get back to our three-day schedule.”

On Friday, the Ontario Racing Commission approved a revised dates application by Fort Erie, which sought to cancel the first four scheduled Mondays, including the two already lost, and adding three days to the end of the meet.

The meet, originally scheduled to conclude Sept. 24, will now wind up with cards on Sunday through Tuesday, Sept. 29 through Oct. 1.

The commission cited the impact of the virus at Woodbine and the fact that there “will be some uncertainty moving forward for a number of weeks” in its reasons for approving the application.

Ex-jockey McComb honored

Retired jockey Sam McComb was honored last week with a special day at Fort Erie.

McComb, who will be 84 next month, is still as spry and as lean as he was in his riding days. He spent a good part of the day greeting fans while signing an excellent poster created in his honor that outlined his career highlights.

“It was great to see so many old friends, and I really appreciated the effort by the track,” McComb said. “It was amazing and brought back so many memories, some that I had completely forgotten.”

McComb was born in Northern Ireland in 1929. He decided at an early age that delivering milk was not his cup of tea. Horses and riding were much more to his liking, so as a 14-year-old he joined a five-year jockey’s apprentice program in County Mayo, Ireland.

“I graduated in 1948 and that same year went on to win my first career race on the flats of Ireland with the filly Lonely Polly,” McComb said. “I moved to England in 1951, where over the steeplechase course at Cheltenham I won with Punches Town Star.

“He was my first over the jumps, and I then continued my career and rode for some of England’s top steeplechase trainers, such as Fred Rinmell.”

He rode twice in the prestigious Grand National, a 4 1/2-mile steeplechase over some of the toughest jumps in the world.

“I did not finish in either of my two Grand National tries, but came close the second time when my mount fell with only three jumps to go,” McComb said. “The Grand National is truly a race to remember. Becher’s Brook was and is a distinct memory. In those days, once over it, you then faced a 16-foot drop. That jump was eventually declared too dangerous, and today the drop is only five feet.”

McComb moved to Canada in 1959 to continue his riding career. He followed the local circuit as the runners moved from to Greenwood to start the year, to Woodbine, and then on to Fort Erie in July and August.

“I won a number of stakes races in Canada, but two that were special to me were the Prince of Wales in 1965 at Fort Erie with Good Old Mort and the Canadian International at Woodbine in 1967 when I rode He’s a Smoothie to victory,” McComb said. “Both races were run on the turf, my favorite surface.”

McComb has owned two farms over the years.

“I got into the breeding business and owned the mare Color Her Fleet, by Fleet Path,” McComb said. “She had 14 foals, all winners. One of those winners, Wicket Lady, won a division of the Colleen Stakes in 1979. I sold her for $50,000 shortly thereafter, an excellent price in those days.”

Now retired, McComb lives on a farm in Dunnville, Ontario. He visits Fort Erie only on occasion.