Bill Gale is one of the all-time great harness racing drivers. Gale has 43 Ontario Jockey Circuit Stakes victories to his credit. The Windsor/Essex County Sports Hall of Fame considers him to be one of the most underrated drivers in harness racing history.
Gale was born on October 18, 1948 in Toronto, where he attended Memorial Public School and York Memorial High School.
Gale’s interest in horses began in his early teens during visits to see his mother, who lived on a farm in Richmond Hill, Ontario. After taking a few rides on one of her next-door neighbour’s horses, Gale was persuaded to purchase his own. He was 15 years old.
A few years later, in 1966, Gale took a job at Cuddy Farms in Strathroy, Ontario. While it was primarily a turkey farm, owner Moe Cuddy also kept horses. Gale worked under Morris MacDonald, the farm’s trainer, who charged him with grooming, washing down, and jogging the horses. Under MacDonald, Gale earned his Standardbred Canada education in exchange for assistance in securing a licence to drive and train. Gale served in his role under MacDonald for four years. In 1968, Gale’s formal harness racing career began in earnest when he accompanied Louie Clark, one of MacDonald’s drivers, to the Garden City Raceway in St. Catharines Ontario. Gale spent the season in St. Catharines and continued on with Clark as they toured the circuit to tracks in Montreal, Detroit, New York, and Toronto. Eventually, Gale was named Assistant Trainer and Second Driver in MacDonald’s racing operation. He spent three years in that role.
Gale settled in Windsor in 1971, where he began to drive at Windsor Raceway and other area tracks. He also crossed the border to compete at Hazel Park in Detroit for three months each year.
He secured his Driver’s Licence by qualifying in twice-weekly races for would-be drivers at Hazel Park. There, he befriended Ross Johnston of Dresden, a horseman from a prominent multigenerational family of Canadian Stake Racers. Bill quickly married Johnston’s daughter Janice and, in 1973, left MacDonald Stable to start his own stable at Windsor Raceway with Johnston’s assistance.
Johnston loaned Gale some drivers as his fledgling operation took shape. Before long, Gale’s stable recorded his first big victories, taking two divisions of the Sires Stakes. Gale decided to wear maroon and black in honour of MacDonald and Johnston and the profound impact the two men had on his career.
Between 1974 and ’96, Gale won over 400 races in a single year on three occasions. He twice won over 300 races and 11 times won over 200. He recorded the most wins at Windsor Raceway in seven separate seasons. During the same span, he won over 20 Windsor Raceway Driving Titles in the spring and fall, including in each year of the 1980s. In that decade, Gale ranked among the top North American drivers in dash wins.
He won the 1986 Breeders Crown World Title with “Sunset Warrior,” the 1989 Provincial Cup and Confederation Cup at Windsor Raceway with “Mystery Fund,” and the 1991 Peter Haughton Memorial at the Meadowlands in New Jersey with “B.J.’s Mac.” Also that year, Gale enjoyed one of the greatest nights of his career as he took home a pair of Breeders Cup World Titles. First, “King Conch” submitted a world-record time of 1.56.2 in the $300,000 Two-Year-Old Colt and Gelding Trot. Later, his horse “Three Wizzards” upset the favoured “Artsplace” in the $357,406 Three-Year-Old Colt and Gelding Pace. He was a co-winner of the Canadian Driver of the Year award that year.
Gale left Windsor in 1993 to compete on the lucrative Ontario Jockey Club circuit. On October 28, 1997, he suffered a tremendous setback at Mohawk Raceway. Gale sustained a severe leg injury, involving multiple fractures, in a five-horse pileup. He underwent five hours or surgery to repair the damage and was unable to race until April 25, 1999 – 18 months later. Unfortunately, he suffered another spill on May 26 of that year, which resulted in a cracked pelvis. He was back on the horse a few weeks later, but his luck did not improve. He suffered another broken leg, this time while training a horse, and was sidelined a third time. Over the course of his career, Gale suffered 27 broken bones.
In 1993, Gale won the Maple Leaf Trot with “Program Sped” at Toronto Greenwood. He is a six-time winner of the Arden Downs Stakes in Pittsburgh, a five-time winner of the Princess Series at Toronto Woodbine and the Harvest Stakes at Mohawk Raceway, and a four-time winner of the Simcoe Stakes at Mohawk Raceway. In 1996, he drove “Riyadh” to the fastest mile in Canadian Harness Racing History (1:48.4) at Woodbine.
In 1999, Gale’s “Botany Bay” won 7 of 12 starts to earn $258,792 and set two world records. The first was a 1:58 time in the $100,000 Ontario Sires Stakes Gold Final and Rideau Carlton, which was a new record for a freshman trotting gelding on a five-eighths-of-a-mile track. Next, a 1:56.4 time at Mohawk was a world record on a mile track. The horse won an O’Brien Award as the top freshman trotting male in the country.
Gale won 3,500 races at Windsor Raceway and is the track’s all-time leader in wins. For his career, Gale started 34,494 races, winning 6,234 with 5,137 second-place finishes and 4,400 thirds. He earned $40,234,851 over his career. He is the 18th highest earning driver of all-time, and the 17th leading dash-winning driver in the history of harness racing. In 1995, he became only the 12th driver in history of harness racing to reach 6,000 career wins.
Gale earned over $1 million in 16 consecutive years between 1982 and ’97. He earned over $2 million in eight of those years, and over $3 million in ’91, when he took home $3,285,364.