The P.E.I. sports community is mourning the death of North American harness racing legend Mike MacDonald, while also remembering him as one of the strongest ambassadors of the Gold Cup and Saucer race.
MacDonald, a Parkdale native who won a record-setting five Gold Cup and Saucer races over his storied 45-year harness racing career, died overnight Tuesday at the age of 70.
Lee Drake, manager of marketing and brands at Red Shores Racetrack, said that like many others, he grew up watching MacDonald compete and described him as his childhood harness racing hero.
“It’s a sad day here at the track,” said Drake, who also described MacDonald as both a gentleman and a fierce competitor. “He had a presence in a room and he had a presence on the racetrack and that’s how I think he’ll be remembered.
“He always delivered… and I think that’s why he has so many fans and touched so many people.”
While MacDonald spent much of his career at the Blue Bonnets racetrack in Montreal, Drake said he was the biggest ambassador of P.E.I.’s Gold Cup and Saucer race.
While he won the race an unmatched five times, and raced in it about 29 times, Drake said MacDonald did much more for the sport.
MacDonald would return to Old Home Week every year, bringing along with him top horses to support the Charlottetown Driving Park (CDP).
“He would bring new people in and expose our product to new fans. That was very important and he didn’t just work on that through the week prior to Old Home Week, he carried that everywhere he went. He was very proud of P.E.I., Charlottetown and his roots,” said Drake.
“He was such a great legend. When it came to Gold Cup and Saucer, he kind of got the ball rolling with bringing in horses from off-Island to participate… which we continue to do now because of the ambition Mike had. A lot of them wanted to be like Mike MacDonald when they were younger. He was seen as a great driver in North America and a lot of guys aspired to be like him.”
Adam Walsh, racing manager at Red Shores, said the news is a big loss for the harness racing community.
“He was such a great legend. When it came to Gold Cup and Saucer, he kind of got the ball rolling with bringing in horses from off-Island to participate… which we continue to do now because of the ambition Mike had,” said Walsh, noting the influence MacDonald had on many racers. “A lot of them wanted to be like Mike MacDonald when they were younger. He was seen as a great driver in North America and a lot of guys aspired to be like him.”
MacDonald had some impressive statistics throughout his career with more than 2,294 lifetime wins and over $13 million in purse money. Apart from his Gold Cup and Saucer record, MacDonald had also won every single major Maritime race and has held track records throughout North America for every age and class of horse.
He even broke the CDP track record twice in 48 hours during Old Home Week in 1991.
MacDonald, whose brother Paul was also a well-known harness driver, was inducted into the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
Nick Murray, coordinator of the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame, said it was an honour to recognize MacDonald.
“His was one of the most popular inductions we ever held, it was a magical night” said Murray. “He was a very worthy member of the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame.”
During the induction, MacDonald’s daughter Laura described her father’s passion and contributions to the sport and community.
“He isn’t just Mr. Gold Cup and Saucer because of how many times he has crossed the finish line first, he is Mr. Gold Cup and Saucer because of how many incredible owners, trainers, drivers and horses he has brought and enticed to the Island,” Laura said during the 2009 induction. “We all know that the Gold Cup is a better race, a more exciting and prestigious event, because of the work Michael has done to build its reputation and image across Canada and the United States.”