Hollywood’s Hits: Thursday was a big day for famous birthdays

Thursday, March 30 was a big day for birthdays of famous equines. It marked the 41st birthday of Falcon Almahurst, the 47th birthday of Secretariat and the 40th birthday of Niatross.

Falcon Almahurst was a sales topping yearling in 1976 and the winner of the 1978 Meadowlands Pace the last time in the Pace was contested in same-night heats.

Secretariat, like Niatross, is the last horse in his sport to be U.S. Horse of the Year at both two and three. Like Niatross, Secretariat’s biggest purse win was in New Jersey. Nobody ever captured the imagination of the sport like Big Red did and in the middle of Watergate we needed this. The chestnut son of Bold Ruler was bred to be a good one — and he exceeded everyone’s expectations, made increasingly difficult when you consider that the same connections the year before won two-thirds of the Triple Crown with his stablemate Riva Ridge.

Elsie Berger and Clint Galbraith teamed up with Niatross, a son of Albatross, to electrify the racing world right from the start. His undefeated 1979 season led to a HOY title and he followed that up in 1980 with a repeat HOY trophy. Niatross was the first superstar born during the Meadowlands era. He twice won the richest race ever — no other horse in the past half century can say this — the 1979 Woodrow Wilson for $862,750 and the 1980 Meadowlands Pace for $1,011,000, which was, fittingly, the sport’s first million-dollar event.

His 1980 earnings of $1,414,313 was an incredible $587,771 more than the previous highest single-season total by any horse — trotter or pacer (1979 Hot Hitter — $826,542). No one has come close to that figure since in bettering any previous money mark.

Niatross had an 18 and a 19-race winning streak.

He was the sport’s first ever double millionaire. He lowered the speed standard from 1:52 to 1:49.1 and the first horse to record a sub-1:50 mile in a race turned out to be his son, Nihilator.
Four decades later, many still consider Niatross and Secretariat to be the two greatest of all time. Both were Triple Crown winners, both were homebreds born in the 1970s on the same date who’ve given us a lifetime of memories.

Did you know…

… that every Meadowlands Pace-winning driver in the 1980s was born in Canada? (1980-1990) and that every North America Cup winning driver in the 1990s was also born in Canada? (1988-2002).

Campbell and 30

John Campbell’s last drive comes at Clinton Raceway on July 30, the week before the Hambletonian. The day before the 30th anniversary of his taking over the all-time money lead from Herve Filion in 1987 at $59.2 million. Campbell had 30 years in the top spot. That’s a record that may last forever considering number two, Ron Pierce, is retired at $215 million and number three, David Miller, is $88 million away at age 52.

Speaking of Campbell, the night he won his first ever million-dollar race — the 1982 Pace with Hilarion — there were two all-age world race-record-holders-to-be on that card. Trenton was in the Pace consolation. He had a 1:56.3 mark at the time which he would lower to 1:51.3 in two months for the all time standard. Genghis Khan was also in there. His 1:52.4 track record would be bettered by a full second in August, but it would only stand for a week before Trenton took a fifth off that in the Midwest.