Thursday, Sept. 29 marked the 32nd anniversary of the day Hall of Famer Joe O’Brien died.
Born June 25, 1917 in Alberton, Prince Edward Island, O’Brien had a number of notable career accomplishments.
He set an all-time speed mark of 1:52 with Steady Star in a time trial in 1972.
He won the sport’s first Triple Crown in 1955 with Scott Frost. O’Brien was 38 at the time and is still the youngest Triple Crown winners.
O’Brien also was the first to have a horse repeat as Horse of the Year when Scott Frost did it in 1955 and 1956.
His first major stakes victory came in the 1950 Geers Stake with Mighty Sun.
He won the 1955 and 1960 Hambletonian with Scott Frost and Blaze Hanover, respectively, and the Jug twice, as well, with Shadow Wave in 1958 and Melvins Woe in 1973.
O’Brien set the Yonkers Track record in 1974 of 1:56.4 with Armbro Nesbit.
He campaigned Horse of the Year Fresh Yankee, who in 1970, became the first U.S.-bred horse to earn $1 million.
O’Brien also handled the great Nero — the winner of the Adios, Battle Of Brandywine, Gaines and Cane Pace — as well as $690,000 earner Flight Director
In all, O’Brien won 4,285 races and $20.4 million.
Happy Birthday, Jimmy
Jimmy Takter turned 56 on Thursday (Sept. 29). Billy Haughton was 56 in 1980 when he won his fourth Hambletonian when Burgomeister defeated Haughton’s other star, Final Score.
Stanley Dancer was 56 when he won his final Hambletonian — the first $1 million trotting event — when Duena won the 1983 classic that carried a purse of $1,080,000.
Mal Burroughs was 56 in 1997 when he won the Hambletonian with his star Malabar Man and became the only amateur driver to win a million-dollar race.
Su Mac Lad 51 years on
Friday (Sept. 30) marked 51 years to the day that Su Mac Lad retired. The veteran gelding raced in the free-for-all ranks for half a dozen seasons and banked nearly $900,000.
Su Mac Lad was the 1962 Horse of the Year and the leading money-winning older trotter in 1960 and ’61.
Stanley Dancer purchased him for Irving Berkemeyer. It was the same combo that campaigned Cardigan Bay.
Su Mac Lad lived a long and peaceful pensioned life at Stanley’s farm in New Egypt, NJ. He actually led the field to post in the 1979 edition of the Su Mac Lad final at the Big M.
Other notable Friday anniversaries
Friday also marked 21 years to the day that Jennas Beach Boy set a 1:48.4 sophomore pacing world record of 1:48.4 at The Red Mile. Exactly five years later, P B Bullville set a new sophomore pacing world record of 1:48 just two months after being the first of two $150,000 supplements to the Meadowlands Pace (P B Bullville didn’t make it out of the Pace eliminations).
Meanwhile, Rambling Willie’s last race also came on Sept. 30, 33 years ago. He was second at Sportsman’s Park, beaten a length and a quarter. He was timed in 2:00 at age 13. Bob Farrington drove the “Horse That God Loved”, who finished his career as the all-time leading money-winning pacer at $2,038,219.
Rambling Willie won 128 of 301 career starts with 69 seconds and 43 thirds. The great gelding lived until age 25.
Trivia buffs take note that Sept. 30 is also the 61st anniversary of the death of actor James Dean.
Remembering my interview with Arnold Palmer
In late spring of 2000 at the Meadowlands, Mike Sheehan, our TV producer at that time, found out Arnold Palmer was in Pegasus having dinner.
I quickly made it over there to see if he would do an interview with us. Affirmative. “No problem” But, as luck would have it, the hand held camera was out of batteries and we needed five extra minutes. I took that time to run into the press box from Pegasus and call Stanley Dancer — who I knew was good friends with Palmer — and find out some things Arnold would not expect me to know. So I did just that and I had several questions about Palmer flying his Cessna around the globe in 56 and a half hours in 1976. There were golf questions, too, of course.
Palmer was a great guy who didn’t hesitate to help out. He was also a wonderful friend of harness racing whose Spitfire Hanover won the 1974 Yonkers Trot.
Palmer died Sunday at age 87. Rest in peace, Arnie.