Jack McNiven calls the people enshrined in the Wall of Fame, at The Raceway at The Western Fair District, his buddies. So he says he's thrilled his farm, Killean Acres, will be officially joining them in perpetuity at the London track he calls home.
Friday night at a ceremony during The Raceway's live card, McNiven's respected breeding operation based in Ingersoll, Ont., will become the first farm and 34th overall inductee into the Wall of Fame.
McNiven, who has been coming to Western Fair regularly since it became the first track in Ontario to usher in night racing 53 years ago, has known all of the prior inductees personally.
"It's quite an honor. We're thrilled to be there because any time I go up to the Top of the Fair, one of the things I always have to do is I have to go along the wall and look at all my buddies that are on there,” McNiven said.
Friday's card begins at 7:05 p.m. Apart from the Wall of Fame ceremony and a Wall of Fame pace, The Raceway will feature three $70,000 Gold Series divisions of the Ontario Sires Stakes for 3-year-old pacing colts, a pair of races for mini horses, a Horse Player Interactive (HPI) contest in which patrons wagering $50 or more on The Raceway card through their HPI accounts will be entered into a draw for a chance to win a $500 deposit and draws for tickets to the second annual London Beer and BBQ Show June 20-22 at The Western Fair District.
McNiven, 79, will be there as well, of course, representing Killean Acres, the farm founded by his father, Robert, 59 years ago. Jack and his brother, Don, who died Jan. 18 at the age of 81, devoted their lives to building Killean into one of the nicest little Standardbred farms in Ontario. For over 50 years, Don McNiven also wrote a weekly harness racing column in the Ingersoll Times newspaper called Horse Chatter.
"I'm just so sorry Don is not here. I'm sad about that because Western Fair was Don's pet topic for his horse articles because of our proximity and it being our home track. Anything special that went on at Western Fair, Don always made that his topic of that week's article. I'm sorry he isn't going to be there to enjoy it, but he'll be beaming down at us I'm sure.”
Killean Acres has produced numerous standout performers in its nearly six decades and stood three of the province's most popular stallions — Frisco Byrd, Dallas Almahurt and Run The Table.
Jack vividly remembers sponsoring a race in Frisco Byrd's name at The Raceway at The Western Fair District during the 1950s.
"We were so excited with Western Fair being there, we wanted to do something to put some spice into it,” Jack said of the track located just 30 minutes from his farm.
"When they first started night racing in London, we were there every night,” Jack said. "Back in those days we weren't as busy with the stallions and mares. So, we'd do our chores and then rush up to Western Fair. From the very beginning we thought, ‘Can you imagine we would have in our backyard the first night racing in all of Ontario?' It was so exciting.”
Jack quickly developed a reputation for being one of the nicest, most talented and hardest working breeders in the game; a man with a particular knack for preparing yearlings for sales. Jack was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2007 just a year after Run The Table was enshrined and became the first horse to be led through the banquet hall and up to the stage to accept his honor.
Run The Table died in 2012 at the age of 28, but not before he became a game-changing stallion for the Ontario breed.
Killean Acres no longer breeds any mares, but you can always find Jack McNiven puttering around the farm that became a little slice of heaven in the midst of the subdivision that grew up around it.
"We're still here and I'd love to see this place stay on because we have so many people come down here from town. It's so special for them and I've had people come back to the farm with their grandchildren and say, ‘This is where I used to come when I was a kid,'” Jack said.
As for which of the members of The Wall of Fame McNiven is most excited to be joining, the breeder wouldn't bite.
"I'm not going to mention names because they're all special. They're there for a reason,” he said. "What an honour it is to be with the people that we started out with together.” (Western Fair)