During the primeval years of Queen’s Plate history, many of the races in the “Gallop for the Guineas” were plagued by crises that produced events that were inexplicable and bizarre. The 12th running was little different than others. It manifested more unanswered questions for turf reporters, as well as later-day Plate historians. About the only fact of which they are unanimous was that the race occurred on May 24, 1871, the Queen’s birthday, at Kingston’s Cataraqui Course.
The identity of the winning jockey, the age and spelling of the horse’s name, and who owned the bay mare was contradicted by the Kingston Weekly Whig reporter and the correspondent for The Globe. Toronto’s Evening Telegram said Kingston won the race, confusing the site with the name of the winner. The Toronto Daily News had the owner and trainer also riding the winner. The Toronto World was uncertain of the race’s outcome, stating that one of Robert Davies’ horses won the Plate, but he was the rider and not the owner. All five newspapers differed slightly on events that occurred at Kingston.
In defense of the press coverage, it should be stressed that newspapermen assigned to racing in this era had to cope with unnumbered horses, jockeys wearing similar silks, and the skimpiest information from race officials. It is surprising that so much detail, coloured or erroneous, was recorded of early Plate races. Horses changed names frequently. For example, Spring was third in 1864 at Guelph, but the following year in London he was entered as Beacon (late Spring) and was disqualified.
But more details of that later.
Five horses journeyed to the head of Lake Ontario in 1871. Floss won easily over Murella, a bay filly owned by Henry Quetton St. George. It was the only horse the Toronto man would ever run in the Plate. A few years later he would dominate the culture and drinking habits of Torontonians. He was a wine merchant, an aristocratic Frenchman and amateur painter who cloaked his booze-selling business in the halo of medicine. In a 2015 article in the Toronto Star, Angus Skene, an architect and historian, wrote “Civilized man must drink.” That was the big idea behind Quetton St. George and Co., quoting a book describing how wine – good wine – was a tonic for the old and a cure-all for the sick. Of all his customers, he said, the ‘medical men’ were the most enthusiastic about his wines – though he never said whether for themselves or their patients. A customer of Quetton St. George was our first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, who placed a pre-Christmas order for 324 bottles in 1881.
St. George owned a French vineyard and sold the better wines of France, Spain and Germany – none of the local, adulterated dreck many Torontonians guzzled with pretentious, ill-informed relish. St. George needed to be a strong salesman because “pouring out of the Protestant pulpits of English Canada was an ever-increasing doctrine of temperance, advocating restriction or even outright banning of alcohol in the province. Ban whisky? Certainly”, said Quetton. “But ban wine? That sweet gentle gift of the gods.” His Oak Ridges Estate was a few miles west of a town called Temperanceville.
St. George Street in Toronto was named after his father Laurent Quetton St. George, a wine merchant from the south of France who unfortunately sided with the king during the French revolution and fled along with other aristocrats as pioneer farmers to the Oak Ridges Moraine north of Toronto. Henry Quetton St. George’s lone quest for the Plate was perhaps a precursor of a book he published in 1891, The Breeding of Stylish and Useful Horses in Canada. Among the subjects it dealt with was a chapter: “Thoroughbred Crosses with Large Mares.”
Getting back to 1871 and Floss, it was undoubtedly Floss, not Flos, the name of a township north of Barrie. The horse was bred by Jack Stanton of Whitby, who apparently leased the horse to Robert T. Davies of Todmorden Mills (now part ofToronto) before the race. However, the Weekly Whig reporter said that Floss was owned by Archie Fisher and A. Carson, who earlier that day won the Hotel Keepers’ Purse with Sir Archibald. The Globe said the owner was “Mr. R. Davys.” She was entered as a 5-year-old mare. But the American Stud Book revealed that the broodmare Eclipse Mare foaled a bay filly by Jack the Barber in 1865 that was later named Floss. So she likely was six.
Trent Frayne, in his book The Queen’s Plate, stated that Davies owned, trained and rode Floss. In 1865, at age 16, Davies rode Nora Criena in the highly-disputed race at London when winners of the first two heats were disqualified – one was a ringer; the jockey on the other heat winner, Beacon (formerly Spring) apparently jettisoned his saddle weights during the stretch. That left Davies’ horse, Nora Criena and Lady Norfolk. Apparently Lady Norfolk won the third heat. No account of it exists as race officials left the track because of a huge rain storm. Two months later, Governor General Viscount Monck’s office announced that Lady Norfolk was the winner. If Nora Criena and young Davies got “jobbed” that afternoon, he never complained.
Davies would go to become one of Toronto’s wealthiest citizens. Besides Floss, Davies owned the 1872 Plate winner Fearnaught. He would build Thorncliffe Stable, which for 50 years was one of Canada’s great racing and breeding establishments. He was also vice-president of the Ontario Jockey Club and founded the Don and later Dominion Brewing Companies before establishing the Don Valley Paper Company and Don Brick Works in Todmorden Mills. He was also president of the Copland Brewing Company.
Several of Toronto’s newspapers had Davies winning the 1871 Plate. However, after months of research for my 1984 book, The Plate: A Royal Tradition, I came to the conclusion that James Lee was the jockey, not Davies, who later was eminently successful in the racing and breeding of thoroughbreds and standardbreds. The canary and black-colored silks of his Thorncliffe stable were familiar sights in the winner’s circles in Canada and the United States. He was considered an excellent judge of trotters and was familiar with the bloodlines of the best harness horses. Few amateurs excelled him as a reinsman.
— Lou Cauz (along with Beverly Smith) authored The Plate: 150 Years of Royal Tradition