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Inspiring Canadians - In Sport and Life

Honoured Member

BILL O'DONNELL

Inducted in 1992

Member Details

Date of Birth: May 4, 1948
Place of Birth: Springhill, Nova Scotia
Sport: Horse Racing
Member Category: Athlete

Career Highlights

1970-97

More than 5,000 victories, 200 major stakes titles, and $90m in purses

1979

Record of 269 victories in a single season (since broken)

1985

With Nihilator, set world record of 1:49.2, the first sub-1:50 for the mile

Two Little Brown Jug titre

Hambletonian with Prakas

First driver to exceed $10m in a single season

1986

Inducted into Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame

Honoured Member BILL O'DONNELL
Inspire

Story

Bill O'Donnell was better known as the "Magic Man" in the harness racing world, for his victories were so numerous, his horses so speedy, and his purses so vast that it almost seemed as though this champion driver was charmed. Growing up in the Maritimes, Canada's hotbed for horsemen, O'Donnell learned the art of racing on the Nova Scotia tracks. During the 1970s, he honed his skills on the raceways of New England. In 1979, he moved to Saratoga, New York, where he set a record of 269 victories in a single season, including one astounding seven-win day. O'Donnell won his first major stakes race the following year with After the Fact in the Lady Maud series at the Roosevelt Raceway. The Magic Man, however, had only just begun his dazzling career. Over the next two decades, O'Donnell collected more than 200 major stakes titles, including two Little Brown Jug, one Hambletonian, one Cane Pace, one Yonkers Trot, two Canadian Pacing Derby, 12 Breeders Crown, two World Trotting Derby, three Kentucky Futurity, and two Messenger Stakes. On August 4, 1985, O'Donnell set a world record of 1:49.2 for the mile with Nihilator, the first ever sub-1:50 time. Later that same day, he won the Hambletonian with Prakas in another world record time. This was just another record-breaking day in what was one of O'Donnell's most brilliant seasons; that year, he became the first driver in history to earn more than $10 million in a single seasons, making a number of racing fans truly believe in Magic. Over the course of his brilliant career, O'Donnell posted over 5,000 victories and collected purses exceeding $90 million. These stunning feats earned him honoured places in both the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and the U.S. Hall of Fame of the Trotter (now known as the Harness Racing Hall of Fame).


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