‘I guess you could say we’ve had some fun along the way’
Following a recent race at Truro Raceway, popular driver Bernard “Pooker” McCallum paraded four-year-old gelding Western Scott, owned by William Ellis and Arlene Gillis of Truro, back to the winner’s circle.
For McCallum, who has been driving standardbreds for close to 37 years, it was career win number 1,493. Enjoying his share of success during the years and closing in on a milestone 1,500 career wins, McCallum has had 13,858 drives, and horses he has driven have amazingly retained $2,021,959 in purse earnings.
“The years have seemed to fly by,” McCallum, 55, who lives in Brookfield, told me recently. “I guess you could say we’ve had some fun along the way. There’s been some good times.”
And how did it come about that a young fellow from nearby Brookside would make harness racing his passion?
“I was eight years of age when I began coming to the track with Cyril Smith,” McCallum said. “We were neighbours and Cyril raced a stable of horses. He would let me muck out stalls and do barn chores.”
Through his friendship with Smith, an enthusiastic McCallum met other horsemen.
“Renaldo Haley let me jog my first horse when I was 10 years of age. The horse’s name was Viewville Beverley. That first experience sitting behind a horse and handling the reins got me started.”
During the next eight years McCallum would become quite a promising young horseman. Writing his United States Trotting Association driver’s test in 1977 and completing five flawless qualifying drives, the 18-year-old was awarded his driving license.
McCallum’s first drive came the same year reining a horse by the name of Scramble. His first race win quickly followed driving the aged mare Ella Primo owned by Bill MacFarlane of Bible Hill.
McCallum is quick to credit horsemen of the day.
“It was good to work for both Donnie Rector and Clayton MacLeod,” McCallum said. “They both influenced me in a positive way. Within a couple years I took two horses for owner Parker Gallagher. I was about 20 years of age when I went on my own and started my own public stable. I’ve been located in this same barn, known as ‘down over the hill,’ since 1989, the year the barn was built.”
These days McCallum stables 16 horses.
“We have nine two-year-olds. We have five three-year-olds and two aged horses. Things are coming along pretty good with the stable. The two-year-olds are training down well. We’ve qualified two of the three-year-olds and plan to qualify the other three this week. The two aged horses, owned by Doug Polley of Amherst, have both qualified.”
Horses in McCallum’s stable, which are catching the eye of railbirds, include Putnam’s Legacy, a two-year-old son of Cookie Dough Boy, owned by Gordon McCabe. Mr. Vaive, a Coast To Coast Yankee three-year-old named after former NHL hockey player Rick Vaive, has been pacing strong. Another three-year-old, Pictonian Derby, by Western Terror, is also drawing raves.
McCallum, now one of the track’s seasoned veterans, recalled earlier-day drivers while crediting several of today’s outstanding young drivers.
“Clayton MacLeod was still a top driver when I started driving,” McCallum said. “Dave Pinkney, Phil Pinkney and Doug Walsh were all very good. Then, we had Emmons MacKay, Clare MacDonald, Danny Romo and some real good drivers a bit younger coming along.
“Today, it’s good to see quite a crop of outstanding young drivers on the scene. Young guys like Darren Crowe, Ryan Ellis, Paul Langille and Mark Whidden, they are really good for the game. We need good young drivers to help our sport. We have to try and attract the younger race fan.”
McCallum is pleased to see the Truro Raceway up and running.
“Interest appears to be coming back,” he said. “The crowds have been pretty good to date. It would be nice to get an additional race card in now and then. But, I like what I’m seeing so far. We have to give it some time.”
There are also other McCallums involved in local harness racing.
Joanne, Pooker’s wife, occasionally helps out in his stable. Wink McCallum, Pooker’s brother, is a longtime trainer. Wink’s son Brad is an owner and Pooker’s son Mike, a former owner, is still a member of Standardbred Canada.
TAG: Lyle Carter’s sports column appears every Saturday in the Truro Daily News. If you have a story idea, contact him at 673-2857.