Inducted in 1966
Founder, Prairie Thoroughbred Breeders' Association
It is widely conceded that the man who put thoroughbred horse racing in Western Canada on a solid footing was James R. Speers of Winnipeg. His was the leadership and encouragement of the sport of kings needed in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia when it was still young in that part of the world. Speers lived to see his sport flourish, not only in Winnipeg, but in many other centres across the west. Born in Elmbank, Ontario, in 1882, Speers moved to Winnipeg in 1900, then journeyed further west to seek his fortune in the grain and livestock business. He returned to Winnipeg in 1920 and, with two partners, leased and operated his first race track, River Park, in 1922. He then decided to build his own track, Whittier Park, on the banks of the Red River at St. Boniface. The following year, he built Polo Park in Winnipeg, and shortly thereafter, Chinook Park just outside the city. But race tracks were not enough; it was difficult to induce breeders to send their horses to these untried, distant tracks in the Canadian west. Speers, therefore, established the Prairie Thoroughbred Breeders' Association in 1925, built his own racing stables at St. Boniface, and began breeding horses for his own tracks. The Depression years caused significant strain on his finances, as well as this new business venture, but Speers emerged unscathed and went on the become one of Canada's most successful thoroughbred breeders. Over the next 30 years, his stables bred some of the finest horses in the country, including Loyalist, the winner of the 1955 Canadian Derby. Speers won six consecutive Breeder of the Year Awards, and became the first Canadian to raise winners of more than one million dollars on North American race courses. Over the course of 20 years, his horses won 1,338 races. Speers soon became known as "Mr. Racing" in the Canadian west. In addition to improving the thoroughbred stock in Canada, Speers worked to improve the sport itself. He pioneered the pari-mutuel and the daily double systems of betting in Canada, and introduced the first automatic closing gate to North American race tracks. He also founded of the Canadian Derby for three-year-old foals, the Canadian Thoroughbred Breeders' Association, and initiated the publication of the Red Book of Canadian Racing in 1930, the first accurate and comprehensive record of the sport. The success of thoroughbred racing in the Canadian west stands as a testament to the hard work of James Speers. He was inducted in the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1976.