By Greg Douglas – Dr. Sport
SCENE & HEARD: The passing of Emmy Award winning comedian Tim Conway last week rekindled fond memories for a couple of veteran scribes who’d been connected with Hastings Racecourse back in the days when the track was owned by Jack Diamond.
At the height of Conway’s popularity in the 1980’s he was invited as Mr. Diamond’s guest to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Vancouver City Council leasing 15 acres of land to stage the first race at Hastings Park.
Conway owned horses at Santa Anita. More importantly, he and his wife Charlene were tireless in their efforts to raise funds for disabled riders through the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund. It had been co-founded by Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron and assisted more than 2,000 jockeys over a 25-year run.
Upon hearing of Conway’s passing on the morning of May 14, McCarron said: “He was as classy a gentleman as he was funny. He was just a class act through and through and could not have been more generous with his time.”
Former Province sportswriter Brian Pound, who later enjoyed 19 years as the industrious publicist at Hastings, joined morning line racing analyst Randy Goulding as the track’s official hosts during Conway’s Vancouver visit.
“I was his chauffeur who became the butt of his jokes everywhere we went,” Goulding, today a Daily Racing Form correspondent, recalls. “I picked him up at the airport, took him to dinner with Brian to Trader Vic’s at The Bayshore and escorted him to the winner’s circle the next day to meet literally thousands and thousands of deliriously excited racing fans.”
Pound recalls Conway bringing a huge stack of videos on how to successfully handicap horses. “He autographed and sold them in support of the jockey fund,” Pound says. “He posed for pictures, joked with the people and quickly won their hearts. Doug Reid was our track announcer at the time and had Tim call a race. It was hilarious.”
Current announcer Dan Jukich has heard the tape which, he says, goes something like: “Some of the horses are in the front; some are in the back and some of them are in the middle”.
Conway was widely acclaimed for playing the character of a hapless jockey named Lyle Dorf on the Carol Burnett Show that led to historic guest appearances on the Johnny Carson Show. He will also be forever remembered by racing fans for his epic comedy sketch during the 1987 Breeders’ Cup telecast on NBC from Hollywood Park.
Over the years there have been numerous Hollywood stars visit Hastings including Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Mickey Rooney, Gene Hackman, Pierce Brosnan, Sylvester Stallone and this writer’s favourite Sharon Stone.
“Tim Conway,” says Pound, “stood tall at the head of the class despite being small in stature, allowing him to play those roles as a jockey”.