I just came upon a collection of programs — all in mint or near mint condition — from day one at the Meadowlands on Sept. 1, 1976, through the first week of August 1977.
Here are some of the things that stood out:
1. There was a colt named Trump, a three-year-old gelding trained by Dave Elliott in 1977 who was lined up next to Escort on May 9, 1977 on the very night Escort broke his maiden in his 17th career start. Trump made a break in that race. As a two-year-old, Trump didn’t exactly leave any lasting memories. He posted a 0-0-1 record in eight starts and earned $460. Trump was a son of True Duane, owned by Erwin Schneider of Southfield, MI. In the first time Abercrombie ever stepped onto Meadowlands soil, Trump was also in the race from post 7, despite the fact that he was a year older than the future world record setter (1:53) and 1978 Horse of the Year.
2. Quick Baron won the very first Meadowlands race on Sept. 1, 1976, but how did he do in his next start? He was seventh by six lengths at 29-1 in an invitational won by Andy Lobell.
3. The very first eliminations for the Woodrow Wilson attracted three full eliminations, including the rarest of the rare: a winner from post 14 — Keystone Topper, who was the favorite, no less, at $5.40.
4. Lew Williams was listed as part-owner of Whata Baron at age five. Lew passed away in 1989, and this March 1 would have been his 70th birthday.
5. Did you know that the first Meadowlands Pace was held on a Tuesday, the first Wilson on a Monday and the Cam Fella-Its Fritz 1983 Marquee matchup was also held on a Monday
6. On Sept. 25, 1976 Young Quinn became the only 1:55 pacer in the first year of Meadowlands racing. A neck over runnerup Nero, it was a lifetime mark by one full second for the Down Under-bred son of Young Charles. It was race six, and Young Quinn, at age seven, was the older horse in the field. Owned by Desmond, Martha, Robert and Diane Baynes of Southland NZ. Charlie Hunter’s stable raced the winner and was assisted by Lofty Bruce, who would later set the track record twice — at 1 1/8 miles and 1 1/2 miles — with Beatcha in 1982. Rambling Willie was unable to deal with the top pair at this time. Robert Farrington was ably assisted by John Miritello. Two mares were in here also — Meadow Blue Chip and Handle With Care. Meadow Blue Chip would actually be the first sub-1:55 Meadowlands winner the following summer (1:54.3) while Handle With Care was a couple of years removed from being the sport’s first female sub-1:55 winner, having done so in California (1:54.4) against a strong contingent of males.
7. The first 16 horse field — the 1977 Beacon Course — was held on June 3, 1977. Horse Of The Year to be Green Speed headed the Haughton entry of Haygood and Cold Comfort. A B C Freight had post 12. He would sire the 1984 Hambletonian winner Historic Freight. Jason J was trained by George Teague, SENIOR. Texas was starting from post 13. He would sire the first older horse to win three Breeders Crowns — Grades Singing.
8. The Goldsmith Maid was for three-year-old trotting fillies in those early days of the Meadowlands.
9. The first Meadowlands Pace saw the track record bettered twice. Oil Burner held the mark of 1:55.1 entering the evening, but Escort’s 1:54.4 final bested it and B Gs Bunny’s 1:54 shattered it in what proved to be his final race.
10. On July 27, 1977 in race three — a NW 3 Pari-mutuel races or $15,000 lifetime — there was one two-year-old in the race (Abercrombie, post 8). Right outside of him was Senor Skipper, at age three. Combines, their record was 5-for-22 for a tad over $15,000 made, together. Abercrombie was 12-1 in the morning line, racing out of the Greg Hoch barn, and Senor Skipper was 7-2 racing for Fred Grant. Ben Webster was the third driver in the last five starts with Abercrombie (Joe Essig, Jr and Joe O’Brien) while Buddy Gilmour was the fourth straight new driver for Senor Skipper. Abercrombie’s mark stood at 2:03 and Senor Skipper came in off his first sub-2:00 mile, a 1:59 score at the Meadowlands for Robert Samson. What odds do you think you could have received on this night that these two would each set the all-age Big M track record in the next two seasons — 1:53.3 for Senor Skipper in 1978 and 1:53 for Abercrombie in 1979?