He was known as harness racing’s “sly old fox,” and he would win an amazing 2500 victories in the illustrious “Sport of Kings.”
Born February 6th, in Travellers’ Rest, P.E.I., Earle Charles Semple is perhaps the youngest Islander ever to race harness horses, in those gritty days when neither a licence nor a driver’s suit were required. At the age of nine, under the watchful eye of his famous father, Tyndall Semple, young Earle would be successful in winning three dashes at an Orange Tea celebration in Kensington, along with the $300 prize money. His dad Tyndall, whose own career behind the sulky began at 13, would still be active into his 85th year, driving at Charlottetown’s Old Home Week for sixty consecutive years. The love of horses and the competitive impulse would shape the young lad’s imagination. As surely as his father could shoe a horse, no-one equaled Tyndall in this art.
By 1930, Earle Semple had established a serious career in harness-racing, appearing at such pioneer tracks as the Northam oval built by fox-farmers Milligan and Morrison, St. Peter’s, Montague, Myron MacArthur’s Kensington track and Edgar Bryanton’s Indian River venue. Purses were lean, but competition was hardy enough and the crowds appreciative. A job handling George Brookins’ horses was followed by another, racing a stable out of Halifax. And finally, in 1947, as did Alberton’s Joe O’Brien, Semple made the big move to the United States, where the purses were several times greater.
Beginning in Maine, continuing on through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York, doubling back into Quebec City and the Ontario raceways, Earle Semple’s career took on its ultimate professionalism. His mark had already been firmly established on the Maritime circuit, breaking the Maritime pacing record with a little mare called “Jerry’s Nightmare,” and holding several individual track records. The move to the “Big Time”, and Yonkers, Roosevelt and Saratoga raceways were exactly that, necessitated that Semple devise a tractor and trailer to carry his horses on the American circuit, returning each winter to the Island. From May to November, with eight horses to a load, and a maximum 24 horses in his stable, Semple was in fact the only Islander to ship an Island horse directly to the “Big Time”. His little mare, “Mary Merk” would take twelve firsts in twenty races, with another six second-place finishes.
While in New York, Semple would buy the colt most associated with his own career, a quirky but lightning fast horse called “Dean Gallon.” In 23 races, Dean Gallon picked up twenty victories. Reluctantly, Semple would sell the horse in 1954 for the then-hefty sum of $20,000. Notably, this same year, Andy Perry would sell “Bay State Pat” for $22,000. As fate would have it, “Dean Gallon” developed health problems for its new owner, and Semple would ultimately buy the horse back for $1,000 out of affection for the animal.
The sale of Dean Gallon allowed Semple and his family much needed security, and he was able to build a residence and barn in Kensington, from which to base his career. It was in 1946, that Semple would enter into his happy partnership with Brainard Steele of Bangor, Maine, which would endure until the latter’s death in 1966. Such was the affection that developed between the two horsemen, that the Maine businessman bequeathed to the island racer all his horses, equipment, tractor and trailer, and $7,000.00 besides. At this time Semple had made up his mind to return to P.E.I., content to train and drive his horses on a more modest scale.
The name of Earle Semple is not included in the 1000 Win Plateau of the U.S.T.A. Racing Guide, as that record book does not predate 1946. Conservation estimates confirm that Semple’s victory totals are in the 2500 area. And the reasons are clear: Semple had the knack of knowing the horses he raced, and when to make one’s drive. “I never used much whip,” Semple observed. “Every time you hit a horse enough to hurt him bad he flinched enough to lose a little…”
Tragedy struck the Semple stable on Friday, the 13th of December, 1968, when five horses perished in a fire that leveled the large barn in Kensington. Because of this setback, and a serious head injury suffered in Moncton in 1964 (which caused occasional blackouts during competition), Earle cut back on his harness career, phasing out completely by 1977.
Never a man to boast of winning before the race, Earle Semple brought a simple dignity and refreshing humility to his chosen sport. A man whose name is synonymous with the Winner’s Circle, Earle Semple of Kensington is a most worthy inductee.