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SC Rewind: Hambletonian Memories

Published: August 4, 2018 8:55 am ET

Last Comment: August 9, 2018 9:15 am ET | 9 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

In this week's Rewind column Robert Smith adopts a Hambletonian theme coincidental with this year's renewal of the annual classic. His piece is centred around some early history and also covers a bit of interesting background on the man who started it all by winning the inaugural back in 1926.


Three wily veterans of the early era of the Hambletonian are shown dropping their entries in the box at Goshen, N.Y. From left: Fred Egan (2), Tom Berry (2) and Ben White (4). The bracketed numbers indicate the number of Hambo victories each achieved. The span of their dominance covered almost twenty years between 1930 and 1949. (Hoof Beats)

Unlike some of the sport's longest surviving races, the Hambletonian has not always been held in the same location. It all started back in 1926 when the first ever Hambletonian was staged at Syracuse as part of the New York State Fair. It remained there for a short time, including a couple of years when it was held in Lexington due to rain outs at Syracuse. In 1943 it was held at the Empire City Park track which later became Yonkers Raceway. That change of venue was prompted by gasoline shortages caused by WWII. In a very long history that now dates back some 92 years it has been held at six different locations. Its current site in East Rutherford N.J. which began in 1981 has become its longest home.


A great view of the first turn at Goshen, N.Y., long time home of the Hambletonian. (Hambletonian Society)

When the big race moved to Goshen, N.Y. in 1930, most observers believed that it would probably stay there forever. It did make this historic site home for a lot of years and certainly prospered with each passing year. Old photographs show huge crowds and long lines at the betting windows. It seemed like a perfect fit for the sport's greatest trotting race for three-year-olds. Being so close to the Harness Racing Museum & Hall Of Fame was an additional bonus. However things do change.

In 1957 after 26 straight years at Good Time Park in Goshen the Hambletonian Society made a major decision to move this famous race to a new venue. The move was prompted by a dispute between the United States Trotting Association and New York State racing officials. In a statement issued by Hambletonian Society president E. Roland Harriman, "The directors of the Hambletonian Society were agreed that the proper place for the Hambletonian is Goshen. However, in view of the unsatisfactory conditions under which harness racing is being administered at the present time in New York State, a contract was awarded for two years to the DuQuoin State Fair, DuQuoin, IL, by unanimous vote."

On the afternoon of August 27th that year's Hambletonian was held at its new home in Southern Illinois. Veteran reinsman Tom Berry, a well-seasoned campaigner, led the fields to the post with the great trotter Pronto Don hitched to a high-wheeled sulky. Mr. Berry had been a Hambo competitor on many occasions and a winner of the coveted silver bowl two times. He took home the top prize in 1930 with Hanover's Bertha and repeated in 1946 with Chestertown. The latter was the year that the Hambletonian first saw a Canadian-bred and -owned horse compete when The Hon. Earl Rowe entered Van Riddell; he also drove. While the outcome was not great it was an important milestone.

The following is a brief summary of the 1957 Hambletonian in its first year at DuQuoin as provided by the Hambletonian archives:

Because of the 21 starters, the classic was conducted in an elimination format with two divisions, each racing two heats. Hickory Smoke won both his heats and then defeated Hoot Song ( Ralph Baldwin) in the final race-off between the two. He was the only horse ever required to win three heats to take home the Hambletonian trophy. The only horse ever to win two heats of the Hambletonian but not the trophy was the filly Hoot Song. She won both her divisional heats, but lost the Hambletonian in the third heat race-off, thereby finishing second in the summary.

That year DuQuoin's Hambletonian Song was written and performed for the first time by Leah Hayes who also wrote the memorable tune. There was no wagering on the race at DuQuoin until 1975. The race remained at DuQuoin for 24 years.


In 1957, Sports Illustrated magazine featured a full front cover shot of that year's Hambletonian winner Hickory Smoke and his trainer driver John Simpson, Sr.

The Hambletonian now has a long and colourful history, covering its over 90 year existence. It has survived nearly a century of change and witnessed several generations of people and the continual evolution of equine athletes. It has adapted and prospered through a Depression and was even held during wartime when many races were canceled. It has been won by heavy favourites and rank outsiders. It has been won by drivers named Tom, John and Bill and also by those with such unlikely first names as Flave, Bion, and Malvern. Each year a new chapter is added to an already great story.

NAT RAY

A few people may be familiar with the name Nat Ray but his is not exactly a household name. Until a few years ago The Meadowlands held an annual race "The Nat Ray Memorial" to honour the memory of the man who drove the first Hambletonian winner, Guy McKinney way back in 1926. In 2013 it was replaced by a new race named "The John Cashman Jr. Memorial". Nathaniel Ray was born in Toronto and started his career here thus giving the famed Hambletonian a Canadian flavour right from the start.

It would seem that through all the over 90 years that the Hambletonian has been contested Mr. Ray may have been the most versatile driver to ever claim victory in the famous trotting classic. He started out as a steeplechase jockey, then mastered the sport of harness racing and eventually became a trainer of thoroughbreds.


This old cartoon does a great job of covering his colourful career.


Guy McKinney and Canadian born driver Nat Ray winners of the first ever Hambletonian in 1926

 


Goshen, N.Y.- Seated in a sulky is the film star James Cagney while little Dolly White, aged 7, holds up her program for Jimmy to autograph. Jimmy rode around the Goshen track in full racing dress in a sulky in the good time of 2:06 3/4 for the mile. After his ride, Jimmy autographed programs for all those who bought war bonds. This was part of a two-day war bond drive at this trotting center. Dolly was the first girl to buy a bond and also the first to get that autograph.

Who Is It?


48 Years Ago: Can you correctly identify the two young fellows in their driving suits in this 1970 photo? I do not have the identity of the gent in the middle. As per usual the correct answer will appear during the coming week. (Abahazy photo)

August 9, 2018 - 9:15 amThis week's photo puzzled a

This week's photo puzzled a few but there were also several correct answers. The two young lads (both about age 22) were Shelly Goudreau (driver) on the left and Bill Gale (trainer) on the right. Both are HOF Members; Goudreau in 1983 and Gale class of 2015. In case anyone wondered about the horse's identity it was a pretty well known trotter of the day named Laurentide. Originally brought out by Clarence Lockhart, the son of Philip Frost was 6 years old at this time and probably had been claimed a few times. At this time he was owned by Morris MacDonald and George Downham.
Thanks to all who entered an answer.

August 7, 2018 - 2:26 pmShelley Goudreau on the left,

Russ Gale SAID...

Shelley Goudreau on the left, and my Uncle Bill Gale on the right.

August 5, 2018 - 3:29 pmRon Waples and Bill Gale.

John Hill SAID...

Ron Waples and Bill Gale.

August 4, 2018 - 1:12 pmThis is a longshot guess:

Tom Foley SAID...

This is a longshot guess: Left Carmen Hie, Right Nelson White.

August 4, 2018 - 12:59 pmI believe the two young

David Darocy SAID...

I believe the two young fellows in their driving suits that both went on to be great drivers are the late Shelly Goudreau and the other is William Gale pictured at Wolverine Raceway. Not sure who the other gentleman is either.

August 4, 2018 - 11:46 amShelley Goodreau? Bill Gale

Gord Brown SAID...

Shelley Goodreau? Bill Gale definitely!

August 4, 2018 - 11:37 amShelley Goudreau and Bill

Shelley Goudreau and Bill Gale

August 4, 2018 - 11:36 amThis is a longshot guess: L-

Tom Foley SAID...

This is a longshot guess: L- Carmen Hie,R- Nelson White.

August 4, 2018 - 10:59 amShelly Goudreau and Bill Gale

Shelly Goudreau and Bill Gale


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