Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame Profile: Bill O’Donnell
2015 marks the Year of Sport and the 60th anniversary of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. In recognition of these important milestones, OLM will be featuring Honoured Members of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in a weekly Profile piece.
Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame aims to share the stories and achievements of its Honoured Members to inspire Canadians in all aspects of life.
Bill O’Donnell: Athlete, Horse Racing
Nicknamed “Magic” for his impressive ability to get the most from his horses, Bill O’Donnell is nothing less than a champion driver in the harness racing world.
O’Donnell was born in Springhill, N.S. in 1948. With parents heavily involved in the Maritimes racing community, he naturally became hooked on the sport at an early age.
After graduating from high school, O’Donnell polished his skills on the raceways of New England, working as second trainer for Jim Doherty. He then moved to Saratoga, N.Y. Here, in 1979, he set an all-time record of 269 victories in a single season, including a seven-win day. This astonishing achievement, however, proved to be simply an opening act for the Magic Man.
Among his many accomplishments, O’Donnell set a record for single season earnings at more than $9 million in 1984. The following year he broke his own record, becoming the first driver to earn more than $10 million in a single season. O’Donnell has also won most of the sport’s premier races—many of them more than once. A few of the titles include: two Little Brown Jug, 12 Breeders Crown, two World Trotting Derby and two Canadian Pacing Derby.
In total, O’Donnell has well over 5,700 lifetime victories as a driver—with just under $100 million earned by the horses he has guided. As well, he has trained another 94 winners.
In 2001, O’Donnell moved back to Canada. Currently living in Acton, Ont., the sportsman is focusing more on training horses than competing. He is also involved in the politics of racing, generously giving his time and knowledge to several horsemen’s groups. O’Donnell is currently director of the Central Ontario Standardbred Association and vice president of the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society.
To learn more about Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, visit sportshall.ca.