The Maritimes have for many years sent out major league harness drivers to conquer the world, and one of the most colorful and supremely talented of these modern charioteers has been James “Roach” MacGregor.
Born in Charlottetown on January 7, 1929, James Warburton MacGregor was one of a family of nine who grew up in the shadow of historic Charlottetown Driving Park. While his mother baked meals and shortbread for the Old Home Week crowd, Roach’s railwayman father kept several horses on their Kensington Road property. The excitement of keen harness racing competition so close at hand captivated the youngster, and by age fifteen he would be himself training and driving at the local racetrack.
Following his driving debut behind an unexceptional horse named MacWatson, Roach eventually would win his first event that winter, racing on the ice, with New Look. Several wins with New Look followed, and the young MacGregor gradually acquired a sizeable public stable.
His next big break came two years later, when as a nineteen year old he was given the pacer Josedale Clipper, whom he drove to the Maritime’s “Horse of the Year” honors. With his talents now undeniably evident, he was asked to accompany Alberton’s legendary Joe O’Brien to Foxboro, Mass., as trainer. From that season on, the nomadic life of the North American harness driver was to become his.
Regarded by many as the finest trainer-driver in the Maritimes, MacGregor would compile an amazing list of records and achievements over the next four decades. By no means complete, this list might include the following highlights. Roach MacGregor has won such major stakes as the B.C. Cruikshank, Lofty Hardy, Export ‘A’, Donnie Turner, Tyndell Semple Memorial, Bill Quigg, Monctonian, the Walter Dale Memorial, New England Pacing Derby, Colonel Dan Free-For-All Trot, the Duck Acorn,numerous Atlantic Sires Stakes, and the Gold Cup and Saucer.
He established track at Quebec City in 1954, Summerside in 1955 (with Bay State Pat), Sackville Downs in 1966 with Lace, Truro in 1967 with Dr. Harry C., and Springfield, Illinois with Ideal Donut. Roach’s Maritime records included Jerry’s Nightmare (1967), the three-year-old Maritime-bred pacing record; Glengyle Byrd in 1974, the three-year-old Maritime-bred pacing record; Glengyle Lucy in 1975, the fastest ever Maritime-bred filly at that time; and Dancer Greenwood in 1978, the Atlantic Sires Stakes record for two-year-olds. The list of world records achieved by MacGregor include Dominion Byrd, (1958), the world record for a 9/16 mile track; Jerry Hal in 1965, the fastest mile ever raced by a Canadian-foaled two-year old; Dr. Harry C. in 1968, at Rockingham Park, would see Roach involved in the fastest dead heat ever raced; and, racing Ideal Donut in 1969 at Goshen Park, N.Y., the U.S.T.A. record for two-year old pacers.
For all these considerable accomplishments, the name Roach MacGregor is still linked in legend with that of Bay State Pat, the New England-bred gelding whose owner thought so poorly of the horse that he lost him in a poker game. The new owner then promptly sold the lackluster trotter to Summerside restauranteur Andy Perry for $260. With that unfailing equine knowledge, it would be Roach MacGregor, then head trainer at Perry’s winter stables, who switched the discarded horse to the pace, with the assistance of horseman Chester Smith. By 1954, the Pat’s second season on the pace, Roach and the horse had demolished all opposition in Eastern Canada, winning twenty-one straight races. His 2:02/3 mark in Quebec City that year established the new Canadian record for a half mile track. The horse from Houlton, Maine, the storybook rags-to-riches beast that nobody wanted, would eventually be inducted into Canada’s Harness Racing Hall of Fame.
Although he belongs to the U.S.T.A.’s illustrious “1000 Wins Club,” Roach’s contribution as breeder in the Standardbred Sport appears to be as significant as his driving career. After so many long years on the racing circuit, MacGregor would yield to a lifelong dream, and the wise counsel of wife Carolyn, and laid plans for a permanent return to his native Island. Purchasing 150 acres at Milton, Roach opened his fledgling breeding operation in 1970, and named it Glengyle Farm.
Throughout the years, as a result of the magnificent crop produced by such top sires as Dominion Byrd, Newport Robbi, and Brightest Star, Glengyle Farm has become a household name in eastern Canada. That Glengyle tradition is evident in such sub 2:00 pacers as Whalers Byrd and Glengyle Joey, the latter horse selling for $26,000 at the P.E.I. Select Yearling Sale, a Maritime record. April 1985 saw MacGregor become the first recipient of the Glen Kennedy Award, named in honor of the co-founder of the Atlantic Sires Stakes Program, as a recognition of the MacGregor excellence in the breeding ranks. The measure of greatness, that intangible quality in a reinsman and breeder which enables him to bring out all that speed and courage a racehorse possesses, belongs to such a man as James “Roach” MacGregor, the Master of Glengyle Farms.