From time to time the museum publishes columns in the Age Dispatch. With this week’s theme being horses I thought it fitting to reproduce an article written by Brianna Hammer, Museum and Communications Assistant and published in the Age Dispatch in December 2010.
@ The Museum: The Great Grattan Bars by Brianna Hammer
Among the Strathroy area’s many notable residents is one with four legs. Grattan Bars, a race horse renowned for his speed and victories in North American harness racing in the late 1920s, was bred and born on a Kerwood-area farm owned by Mr. Archie Pedden.
Mr. Fred Thrower, also of Kerwood, acquired the horse when Mr. Pedden offered him $200 for 13 calves that were actually worth $210. Mr. Pedden also included a 16-month old colt named Grattan Bars to seal the deal. The story more commonly told is that the champion race horse was bought for a net cost of $10.
Grattan Bars made his mark on Canadian horse racing in 1927, competing at London’s Western Fair and beating world records for the half-mile race, and Ontario records in the mile. “Grattan Bars is a colt with seemingly unlimited reserve, as he shuffles along the rack in a smooth, effortless action,” reported the Strathroy Age Dispatch. “He covered the distance with such comparative ease.” The victory was the ninth for Grattan Bars that year. Mr. Thrower was offered $20,000 for the four-year old stallion, but he declined.
The following year Grattan Bars made his mark south of the border with driver Vic Fleming. The horse achieved victories in three major American races in a little over two weeks, earning $25,000 in purse money for each one. Thrower reportedly refused another offer for the horse—this time for $100,000 (over $1.2 million by today’s standard).
At the end of the 1928 racing season, Mr. Thrower retired Grattan Bars to his farm on the second line of Adelaide Township, near Kerwood, noting that the area was great grazing country. Five beautiful silver trophies were brought to Strathroy and put on display at Prangley’s store.
It was well documented that Mr. Thrower took special care of the horse, and personally accompanied the animal to its races in a specially outfitted travel van. “We love that horse and feel we cannot do too much for it,” said Fred’s father, A. E. Thrower. “When I buy a cigar, I buy the horse something as well, a nice apple or something. Why should I smoke 25-cent cigars and neglect the horse that has helped to make the smoking of cigars possible?” A brand new barn and race course was built for Grattan Bars, protected by barred windows and a police-trained German Shepherd dog. The Toronto Star reported that the horse was expected to bring in $30,000 a year for stud services in his retirement.
A number of Grattan Bars related memorabilia were donated to the Museum on behalf of Mr. Thrower’s estate in 1973, including photographs, trophies, and even a pedigree chart tracing the offspring of the fast and famous horse. The legend of Grattan Bars lives on, and is well-preserved at Museum Strathroy-Caradoc.
Seaforth Turf Assn Track Pace Record 2:07 1/4 Aug 10 1927
Gratten Bars paces world record in London 59 1/2
Goshen Board of Trade Cup Fastest Pacing Heat Aug 9 1928
PART TWO TOMORROW