Cliff Time was “ill-bred,” wasn’t much to look at and trainer Ben Wallace believes the gelded pacer only cost about $250 as a yearling, but there’s no doubt he became a life-changer for Wallace.
Fresh out of the University of Windsor with a degree in geography in the early 1970s, 21-year-old Wallace was considering going back to school to pursue a career in urban planning when he took a year to work with horses at Buffalo Raceway before returning to his native Ontario to work for the legendary Keith Waples in Barn 1 at Mohawk Racetrack.
“My family had friends that were in the business and they had a yearling that they tried with someone else, a $250 yearling, I think he was. He was no good. At least he didn’t turn out. He was by a stallion called Post Time. He was out of an unproven mare named Donna Barnes. I’ll never forget this because he changed my life,” Wallace said.
“He was ill-bred, big and wooden-headed. He was the prototypical jughead — he had a head that only his mother could like,” Wallace said.
He was also the first horse Wallace trained under his name.
“I trained him after I was done working for Keith every day,” Wallace said. “Keith gave me a stall and I started, basically, from scratch. So, the pair of us were pretty novice in the sense that I only had a year behind me, as well. He just trained himself down and damn if he didn’t win about nine or 10 in a row right at Mohawk and Greenwood. Clarence “Sugar” Gagnon, who was Keith’s second trainer, drove him for the first two or three starts and he won all of them. Then Keith (Waples) started driving him and I think Keith won three or four with him.
“He worked his way right up to the highest claimer on the grounds, which was a $9,000-$11,000 pace. If I recall properly, I think the horse was sold and I think he was sold for around $12,000 or $15,000, which was outstanding. I thought, ‘Why would I go back to school?’ As they say, the rest is history.”
That history includes training such stars as Pacing Triple Crown winner Blissfull Hall and Breeders Crown champion Totally Western en route to more than 1,800 victories and in excess of $36 million in career earnings.
“Those three are pretty pivotal horses, but the one that started it all was (Cliff Time),” Wallace said.
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