By Greg Douglas – Dr. Sport
SCENE & HEARD: There was a moment in the early evening of a recent Friday Night Live card when the statue of legendary thoroughbred George Royal looked particularly stunning.
With the setting sun glistening over the paddock area, the life-sized sculpture of the greatest B.C.-bred in history never looked better.
As a 3-year-old in 1964 George Royal won nine consecutive stake races at Hastings for owner/trainer Robert (Bobby) Hall, father of our current leading trainer Phil.
George Royal won the Canadian International Championship twice and was named to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1976 and the B.C. Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1988.
Legendary jockey John Longden announced he would retire after riding George Royal in the 1965 San Juan Capistrano before a crowd of 60,000.
So while the racing history of the great George Royal has been well documented, surprisingly there are all kinds of unanswered questions behind the statue.
Longtime general manager at Hastings from 1952 through the mid 70’s Merv Peters says he “thinks” it was put up soon after the 1964 reconstruction by then track owner Jack Diamond.
Archie McDonald, distinguished racing writer at the Vancouver Sun for many years, says he “thinks” the George Royal statue arrived at Hastings from the PNE Agrodome rooftop.
Then BC Sports Hall of Fame Curator Jason Beck checks in with the note: “There might actually be two statues of George Royal. We still have one here in storage. It used to be part of our 1960’s Gallery until 2010.”
Beck added that he “thinks” both statues were made by the same artist, one for outdoor use and one for indoor use.
Randy Goulding of the Daily Racing Form writes: “I am looking at a picture of a statue of George Royal atop the Agrodome in a 1965 yearbook.” He adds that he “thinks” it looks like the same one in the paddock.
Senior Steward Wayne Russell, who has a history longer than a marathon race at Hastings, remembers being in the paddock for the unveiling of the statue he “thinks” in 1965.
And so, we are asking for your help: if there are any historians out there with some solid information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org