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Happy 34th To The Big M

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Published: September 1, 2010 9:17 am ET

Last Comment: September 3, 2010 12:40 pm ET | 3 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

It's 34 years ago today that the Meadowlands opened its doors and night-time mile track harness racing was introduced to the Metropolitan area of New York for the first time.

Here's a brief look at the highlights through the eyes of 'Hollywood' Bob Heyden from each year since.

1976 - Rambling Willie wins the Opening Night Feature, Ray Remmen's Quick Baron takes the opener as 42,133 (or more) storm through the doors for the Inaugural. 17 Hall Of Famers appeared on the very first program. Buddy Gilmour takes the first driving title here. Cat Manzi wins on September 25 with Miss Contessa and would win at least one race for 34 STRAIGHT seasons in East Rutherford.

1977 - Escort wins the first Meadowlands Pace for $425,000, the sport's biggest purse ever to that point. Veteran Carl Lecause is the winning driver in the Pace.

The Wilson - just $280,000 the first year - debuts with No No Yankee and Walter Ross taking the first edition. In just three years, the Wilson would become the first EVER $2 million race.

1978 - John Campbell finds his way to the Meadowlands - just 22 when he walked in - and wins 33 times from 278 tries. Whata Baron is the Free For All star. On the thoroughbred side, Seattle Slew becomes the ONLY Triple Crown winner to ever race at the Meadowlands. Falcon Almahurst wins the Meadowlands Pace in the last year of heats and the final on the same night.

1979 - $750,000 was on the line when Sonsam scored in breathtaking fashion in the richest race ever contested - the Meadowlands Pace - in world record time 1:53.2. Then, just three weeks later, Niatross wins for $862,750 in the Wilson and remains undefeated en route to Horse Of The Year honours - the LAST freshman so honoured in the U.S. On August 4, Yannick Gingras is born the same day that Abercrombie wins in world record time of 1:53. Greg Wright wins the training title here each year of the 1970s.

1980 - The million dollar era gets underway with Niatross taking the first one (Meadowlands Pace-$1,011,000) and then Land Grant upsets at 69-1 in the sport's first of two $2 million events - the Wilson.

1981 - The Hambletonian is now in New Jersey for the first time, coming from Duquoin. The first purse was $838,000, a far cry from the $300g topper in Illinois. Ray Remmen wins the nationally televised race with Shiaway St Pat.

In the $1,760,000 Wilson, won by McKinzie Almahurst and Billy Haughton, No Nukes causes two recalls in one of the most memorable NON-victories ever by a horse here. Herve Filion surges past Bill Shoemaker as the all-time leading driver or jockey in victories.

1982 - The World Cup debuts for a four-year run, and it was all home cooking. Beatcha and Genghis Khan dominated the action while down under shipper San Simeon couldn't wait to get back home. Fortune Teller wins the third richest race ever held, the Wilson for $1,957,500. John Campbell becomes the first ever catch-driver to win a million dollar race when he pilots Hilarion to an upset win over No Nukes in the Pace. (John currently stands at 23 million dollar wins, the alll-time best.)

1983 - Duenna wins the richest trotting race ever contested, $1,080,000, and THE richest win in the career of Hall Of Famer Stanley Dancer. The Sweetheart also goes for $1 million, for the first of three straight years, and Ron Waples managed to win TWO million dollar races in a span of four days - Ralph Hanover and Shannon Fancy. Cam Fella wins the World Cup - the defending Horse Of The Year would roll to 28 straight wins to finish out his career and become the richest pacer ever. Jimmy Takter's first driving win ever comes with a notable colt - Baltic Speed, later the Hambo favourite and the sire of Valley Victory and Peace Corps from his first crop. Simulcasting begins.

1984 - Nihilator wins the richest race of all time-$2,161,000 Wilson for Billy Haughton and Billy O'Donnell-who was driving him for the very first time.

1985 - Bill O'Donnell sets the race records in the Pace (1:50.3 with Nihilator) and Hambo (1:54.3 with Prakas), and then drives Nihilator to history's first sub 1:50 race win - 1:49.3.

Meadow Road wins the inaugural Statue Of Liberty, which begins a five year run. Garden State Park, which some thought was 'Meadowlands South' opens in Cherry Hill, NJ for a 15-year run. Bill O'Donnell posts the first ever $10 million driving season.

1986 - Mack Lobell steps onto Meadowlands soil for the first time. Ulf Thoresen showed the world why he was imported from Norway when he almost single handedly won the Hambletonian with Nuclear Kosmos. Meadowlands celebrates 10 year anniversary. The sport says goodbye to Billy Haughton on July 15.

1987 - Mack Lobell dominates the Hambo en route to HOY honors, first of two for him.

Jate Lobell and Forrest Skipper BOTH go undefeated - the last time the top two in the Horse Of The Year balloting were both unblemished. John Campbell surges past $59 million on July 30, and in the process surpassed Herve Filion as the richest driver ever - an honour he never relinquished and today stands at $272 million.

1988 - Matts Scooter and Mike Lachance both star in NJ for the first time. Matt won the Meadowlands Pace and Mike moved here full time on May 1. Brett Pelling surfaces for the first time in the Garden State. Jan Johnson wins both the Hambo and the Oaks - Armbro Goal and Nans Catch, something no trainer has done both in the same season since.

1989 - DEAT HEAT Hambletonian year. Park Avenue and Probe tie. Favoured Peace Corps, with 17 straight wins entering the day, TWICE is the beaten favourite.

Dexter Nukes wins both the NJ Classic and the Meadowlands Pace for 89-year-old owner Thomas Dexter.

1990 - Beach Towel is the best pacer around, Harmonious the best sophomore trotter. John Campbell sets a Meadowlands record of 413 wins in a single season. Bill Robinson wins the Merrie Annabelle with Santa Royal to begin a dominant decade of training.

1991 - Precious Bunny uncorks the first ever sub 1:50 million $ race win-turning back Artsplace in the Meadowlands Pace in 1:49.4. The hub rail is eliminated at the Meadowlands. Miss Easy tries the boys in the Meadowlands Pace; breaks in her elim, but comes back to capture the Consolation over Cambest. NO filly has even TRIED this since. Brett Pelling sets the single season mark for wins at 122.

1992 - The Hambo format changes to the winner of the final is the winner-period. Alf Palema did just that, becoming the first Hambletonian winner to win just ONCE on Hambo Day. Artsplace holds off Shady Daisy in the US Pacing Championship en route to an undefeated season - the last pacer to go unblemished and be named horse of the year. Cat Manzi subs as driver once, and only once, behind Artsplace and lowers the world and track record to 1:49.2. Nihilator's mark had held for seven years at 1:49.3.

1993 - Presidential Ball, Riyadh and Life Sign form maybe the best trio of sophomore pacers in one year we've seen.

American Winner and Pine Chip go at it also on the trotting side. High ticket yearling from 1991 Winkys Goal wins the Hambo Oaks - not until 2010 when $425,000 Muscle Massive won the Hambo did this occur again.

1994 - George Brennan quietly wins with Indianapolis in late December, recording his first Meadowlands win. In 2010, he won his first driving title. Mike Lachance wins the first of four Hambos in a 10-year span with Victory Dream. First crop of Valley Victory is now three, and on the way to complete dominance. Cams Card Shark, despite not racing past early September, is named horse of the year and sets a single season earnings mark.

1995 - John Campbell turns 40, but apparently no one told him. He becomes the first driver to win the Pace, Jug, NA Cup and Hambo ALL in the same year!!! Rambling Willie passes away at age 25. He won 128 times, truly a horse for the ages.

1996 - Continentalvictory comes up huge in straight heats beating the boys on Hambo Day - 1:52.1 and 1:52.4. Lachance-Gurfein II. Hot Lead, racing straight through from the November prior at Garden State and not missing any month, wins the Meadowlands Pace. The first crops of both Artsplace and Western Hanover - one time stablemates, step onto the track. Jennas Beach Boy sets the world race record at 1:47.3, which would stand up for nearly a full decade. (Primetime Bobcat-1:47.2-May 2006) Del Miller, hugely instrumental in the Meadowlands coming to fruition and especially as a mile track, passed away at 83.

1997 - Malabar Man wins the Hambletonian, making Mal Burroughs the ONLY amateur driver to capture a million dollar race.

Ron Pierce wins the Pace with Dream Away-the first of three Pace victories for him. 1997 was the first year of the new Hambo format where the elims were held the week prior. This was the last Hambo with NEITHER John Campbell or Ron Pierce in the final. Both appeared in their 13th straight in 2010, and finished 1-2.

1998 - Moni Maker stars, she would win horse of the year both in 1998 and 1999 - the LAST Horse of the Year repeater. Meadowlands regular Carl Allen, at age 69, sets the world record of 1:53.2 at Colonial Downs with rookie trotter CR Commando in the Breeders Crown - it STILL STANDS TODAY!

1999 - Self Possessed sets the all-time race and Hambo record with a stirring 1:51.3 romp. Lachance-Gurfein III. The Panderosa wins just as impressively, from post 10 no less, in the Meadowlands Pace with a 26 flat final quarter and a record 1:49.3 effort.

Dave Miller moves to the Meadowlands, and a horse by the name of Magician wins the Nat Ray and helps Dave get some firm footing in NJ.

2000 - Gallo Blue Chip, a New York-bred gelding, dominates the sophomore scene and sets a $2.4 million single season record - NOT broken until Somebeachsomewhere in 2008. Garden State Park closes its doors.

2001 - Varenne, shipping in with a huge contingent from Italy, electrifies the racing world with a 1:51.1 romp in the Breeders Crown in his ONLY New Jersey or Meadowlands appearance. NO ONE was surprised when he retired as the richest performer ever.

Scarlet Knight came over on the same plane as Varenne and he remained undefeated as a sophomore He won comfortably as the favourite in the Hambletonian for 'Photo Tarzan', Stefan Melander. The 25th Meadowlands Anniversary video comes out.

2002 - Chuck Sylvester won his fourth Hambletonian with Chip Chip Hooray. Victory Tilly ships in from overseas and sets a track and world standard of 1:50.4 in the Nat Ray.

2003 - Brian Sears shows up on April 30, and the driver colony has never been the same. Mike Lachance, defying the calendar which read 52, wins BOTH the Meadowlands Pace (All American Theory) and the Hambo (Amigo Hall) with colts he had NEVER BEFORE driven!!! It marked the fifth time Mike had done this in his 10 million-dollar scores. Yannick Gingras, for the first time, tries his hand at the Meadowlands in the fall.

2004 - Windsongs Legacy becomes the sports first Triple Crown Winning Trotter in 32 YEARS for Trond Smedshammer. 58-1 Holborn Hanover upsets in the Meadowlands Pace, the longest price in Pace history.

2005 - Roger Hammer becomes the OLDEST driver (59 years, six months) to ever win a million dollar race when he scores going away with Vivid Photo, the $1,500,000 purse the first time the pot had risen to that level. Harness racing loses Stanley Dancer the second week of September 2005.

2006 - Holborn Hanover posts a 1:46.4 world record on Hambo Day - the same day Glidemaster sets the Hambo record of 1:51.1. He would go on and capture the Triple Crown-even though it was 119 DAYS from Leg I to Leg III.

2007 - Tim Tetrick makes the Meadowlands his home and proceeds to become the youngest driver to ever win a million-dollar race (Art Rooney with Southwind Lynx) and the Pace with the same colt. 25 Years Old. Donato Hanover wins 19 straight and wraps up the horse of the year honours early. Tetrick would set the wins and earnings mark by years end.

2008 - Art Official edges Somebeachsomewhere in the greatest race in Meadowlands history. 1:47 flat. Meadowlands Pace. The ONLY Loss in the 21-race career of 'The Beach'.

Ray Schnittker wins the Hambo with Deweycheatmnhowe-the ONLY undefeated horse to capture racings biggest prize.

2009 - Well Said Dominates the Pace, Muscle Hill the Hambo and Rachel Alexandra the Haskell: the three biggest races in New Jersey, ALL won by the odds-on favourite, ALL by the same margin - SIX Lengths. Muscle Hill would go on to become the only male Performer ever to go undefeated AND make over $1 million the same year. (filly Syrinx Hanover was the first in 2001) Won The West records the fastest ever Breeders Crown tally - 1:47.

2010 - Ron Pierce ties John Campbell's record for winning at least one million-dollar race five STRAIGHT years. (Campbell-1994-1998) Ron wins the Hambo with Muscle Massive in 1:51, making it the second fastest Hambo ever.

September 3, 2010 - 12:40 pmI would like to wish the BIG

John Carter SAID...

I would like to wish the BIG M a happy birthday but i can't because the BIG M is no longer the BIG M, it is now the little m. Who would have thought we would ever see the day that there saturday night cards would have $10 claimers, non winners of $4000 or a ham sandwich last 6 starts and short field after short field. say it isn't so but it is. Yonkers and Chester have the majority of good horses but no wager and boring races. I can't wish the BIG M a happy birthday but i do wish the little m a happy birthday although i don't think you are going to have many more.

September 1, 2010 - 11:50 amRead this story and watch

Dan Fisher SAID...

Read this story and watch the videos and try to tell me that we don't have to do everything we can to keep The Meadowlands alive...no matter what !

September 1, 2010 - 10:17 amhard to beieve that it maybe

Terry Lantz SAID...

hard to beieve that it maybe lights out for The Meadowlands.....forever.


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