Magna Entertainment chairman Frank Stronach will be one of four Canadian Hall of Fame inductees being honored Aug. 29 in Toronto. The other honorees are Ted Atkinson, a top jockey during the 1940s, leading trainer MacDonald "Mac" Benson, and two-time Horse of the Year Chief Bearhart.
Stronach, 69, is an Austrian-born self-made millionaire who immigrated to Canada with his family in 1954. Starting with a small tool and die business in his garage, Stronach built an automotive-parts manufacturing giant called Magna International. His success allowed him to indulge in his passion for Thoroughbred racing. In 1965, Stronach won his first race in 1965 and earned $8,280. Now he owns three farms operating under the name Adena Springs--one near Aurora, Ont., Lexington, and near Ocala, Fla., and last year raced 127 winners and earned more than $6.5 million. Stronach has been honored with 10 Sovereign Awards as leading owner or breeder.
Atkinson raced right alongside the 1940s preeminent jockeys--Eddie Arcaro, Johnny Longden, and George Woolf. Twice the Toronto-born rider topped the North American jockey standings in both races own and money earned. He led the standings in 1944 with 287 wins and became the first jockey to earn more than $1 million in a year in 1946. Atkinson won the 1948 King's Plate at Woodbine Park with All British. That same year he won the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) with Capot, who had finished second in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). War Relic was credited with putting Atkinson in the spotlight when they defeated Whirlaway and Arcaro in the 1941 Narragansett Special. Atkinson, now 86, retired with 3,795 victories and a 16% win rate. He is a member of the U.S. Hall of Fame and received the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in 1957.
Benson, 72, became an immediate hit when he moved from Wilmington, Del., to Toronto in 1978 by scoring an upset victory in his first start in the prestigious Queen's Plate Stakes. He upset favorite Overskate by a neck for his new employer, E.P. Taylor's Windfields Farm, and gave Taylor his first Plate since winning in 1964 with Northern Dancer. Benson received his trainer's license in 1958. Through the mid-1970s, he ran a public stable and race on the Maryland, New Jersey, and Delaware circuit. His stable was struggling when he got a call from Taylor's manager Joe Thomas who invited him to become Windfields' exclusive trainer. Benson jumped at the chance. He went on to campaign champions Choral Group, Bounding Away, Legarto, Deputy Jane West, and Santa Amelia.
Chief Bearhart thrilled racing fans with his late running style. One of his most dramatic performances came in the 1997 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. I) where he sat eighth in the field of 11 until a half-mile from the wire. The son of Chief's Crown advanced through the final turn, then hooked up with a rallying Borgia in the stretch. The two rolled past the shoulder-to-shoulder through the final sixteenth of a mile. Chief Bearthart won by three-quarters of a length. His victories in the Turf and the Canadian International (Can-I) earned him championship honors in the United States. Bred and owned by Ontario's Sam-Son Farms, Chief Bearthart retired in 1998 as the second richest Canadian-bred with more than $3.4 million in earnings. He won 12 of 26 races and was in the money 20 times. The colt won six Sovereign Awards.
The Hall of Fame ceremonies will be held in the evening at the International Congress Centre, about two miles from Woodbine Race Course.