by Bob Heyden
What was the greatest day in Meadowlands history? There are lots of candidates for this honor, but I’ll throw out this one:
August 3, 1985
It was Hambletonian Day and Prakas would lower his own track record (1:56 from June 21 of that year) twice — 1:55.1 and 1:54.3 in capturing the first ever sub-1:55 Hambletonian.
Bill O’Donnell drove for Per Eriksson. But O’Donnell was onto yet another milestone that day — winning the first ever sub-1:50 race with Nihilator, who was 1-20 on the morning line. Nihilator defeated Falcon Seelster in 1:49.3 with fractions of :26.2, :53.4, 1:21.2. This race record would not be broken for seven years until Artsplace posted a 1:49.2 mile on June 20, 1992 at the Meadowlands.
Back to Aug. 3, 1985, O’Donnell’s incredible day helped vault him past $10 million for the year. He was the first driver to top that earnings mark.
It was also Billy Haughton’s final Hambletonian. He died on July 15, 1986.
Of the 17 horses entered in the 1985 Hambletonian, 16 of them were sired by a Hambletonian winner. Only Songcan’s Nearly Perfect wasn’t.
Speedy Crown, the 1971 Hambletonian winner had four in; Bonefish, the 1975 Hambletonian winner, also had four in; Super Bowl, the last Triple Crown winning trotter to that point, had three entrants; Speedy Scot (1963) was represented by two horse, as was 1978 champion Speedy Somolli. Last but not least Legend Hanover, the 1979 winner, had one in.
On Hambletonian Day in 1985, John Campbell won the mare featured pace with May Wine, a daughter of Most Happy Fella who was in foal at the time (to Niatross). She not only won, but set a track record of 1:52.3 in the process.
Most Happy Fella, two years after his passing, was the most represented sire on the card with 10 starters.
But maybe the most unusual note on that day’s program from 1985 was this:
In Race 1, #1 was Sunbeam from the first crop of Niatross, #2 was Look Beyond, from the ninth crop of Speedy Crown. A pacing event with a trotting and a pacing bred lining up together, by the sire, Niatross who was to be that year’s sire of the Horse of the Year, Nihilator. Speedy Crown was the sire of the defending Horse of the Year Fancy Crown and also sired that day’s Hambletonian winner, Prakas, as well as the other heat winner, Torway.
It doesn’t get any bigger than the loss of Somebeachsomewhere at age 13. Let’s take a look at how some stallions — some who also passed away earlier than expected — still had a major impact long afterwards:
Nihilator died at age 9 in 1991. Two years later, his son Silver Almahurst set the track record at Yonkers in 1:50.4.
Cam Fella died in 2001 at 22. His richest performer was from his very last crop — Eternal Camnation ($3,748,574). She raced until 2005.
Balanced Image lived a full life and passed in 2004 at age 26. His richest son or daughter came from his last crop, too — Arch Madness ($4 million) is the only horse to defeat 2007 Horse of the Year Donato Hanover.
Rocknroll Hanover we lost half-a-dozen years back, but his impact is still being felt today. His daughters Put On A Show and I Luv The Nitelife are the two richest pacing fillies of all time.
Artsplace died in 2006 at age 18 and his son Sportswriter won the North America Cup the year after taking the Metro and is one of a handful in the sport’s history to average better than $100,000 per start (14 starts — over $1.5 million).
Western Hanover died on Aug. 27, 2007 at age 18. The following three years he was North America’s #1 stallion: 2008 — $15,543,691; 2009 — $18,405,012 and 2010 — $14,542,663. It was highlighted by a son that debuted the same year Western Hanover died — Won The West earned $3,939,836 on the track between 2007 and 2012.
Most Happy Fella died on Dec. 10, 1983 at age 16. The Triple Crown winner was the youngest of any pacing Triple Crown winners to pass away. He had $39 million and change to his credit that day as a stallion, but that ballooned to $93 million plus when all was said and done. He even won a Breeders Crown six years later with Armbro Feather.
The youngest Triple Crown winner to die was Windsongs Legacy, who was 7 when he passed on March 1, 2008. His most outstanding siring credit was 2012 HOY Chapter Seven, who in turn is likely to have the top 2YOCT in each of his first two crops — Walner and Fourth Dimension.
First time’s a big winner
Drivers who won a Meadowlands Hambletonian in their very first appearance:
In 1981, Ray Remmen drove Shiaway St Pat ($4.40) to victory in the $838,000 event. It was Remmen’s first $100,000 race anywhere.
In 1986, Ulf Thoresen drove Nuclear Kosmos ($9.00) to victory. The Norwegian was one of five on this list of eight born outside the USA.
In 1991, Jack Moiseyev drove Giant Victory ($5.60) to victory despite being in the trotter’s sulky for the very first time.
In 2000, Trevor Ritchie drove Yankee Paco ($6.60) to victory. Ritchie became the first driver to win the Meadowland Pace and the Hambletonian while debuting in both. In 1987, he won the Pace with Frugal Gourmet.
In 2001, Stefan Melander drove Scarlet Knight ($3.40) to victory. He was the only favorite on this list and Melander was the second of three straight driver newbie’s to win the Hambletonian.
In 2002, Eric Ledford drove Chip Chip Hooray ($12.60) to victory making him the first 20-something driver on this list. He was 29 at the time.
In 2005, 59-year-old Roger Hammer drove Vivid Photo ($16.20) to victory.
In 2016, Scott Zeron drove Marion Marauder ($7.00) to victory. He was the youngest (27) and Marion Marauder is also the only Triple Crown winner on this list.
Digging through the archives
Richelieu Park, Aug. 26 and 27, 1953 produced a Dan Patch and Greyhound connection on back-to-back nights in Canada.
On Aug. 26, the winner of the BB Trot was George Rambler — a 6-year-old black gelding sired by DAN PATCH JR. was driven by Keith Waples.
The next night, the winner of the BB Pace was Grand Knight — a 5-year-old horse by Guy Abbey, the same sire who sired Greyhound — and this was 25 years after Guy Abbey’s second-place finish in the 1928 Hambletonian.
Both purses were $600 — the Trot went in 2:08 and the Pace in 2:08.2.
Congratulations to all that participated in the Martin Luther King race at the Meadowlands won by Montrell Teague. Way back on Oct. 15, 1976, a Down Under horse by the name of Jack Robinson N won a non-winners of $6,000. That was also the year a young African-American driver by the name of Lew Williams shipped east and made, to say the least, a lasting impression.
Ages of Triple Crown winners
Marion Marauder (2016) is now 5.
Glidemaster (2006) is now 15.
Super Bowl (1972) lived from 1969-1999 and passed at age 30.
Lindys Pride (1969) made it to age 31.
Nevele Pride (1968) was 28. He is the only three-time trotting Horse of the Year.
Ayres (1964) was 29 when he passed in 1990.
Speedy Scot (1963) was 30 when he died in 1990.
Scott Frost (1955) won the first ever Triple Crown and lasted until 1983. He died the same year as Most Happy Fella, even thought their Triple Crown seasons were 15 years apart (1955-1970).
Adios Butler (1959) made it until age 27 in 1983.
Bret Hanover (1966) lived to the ripe old age of 30.
Romeo Hanover (1966) made it to 35 in 1998.
Rum Customer (1995), Billy Haughton’s only Triple Crown winner, lived until age 30.
Most Happy Fella (1970), the only pacer Stanley Dancer won the Triple Crown with, died prematurely chasing a deer in the paddock in December of 1983 at age 16.
Niatross (1980) was 22 in 1999 when he left us. He is buried right out front of the Hall Of Fame.
Ralph Hanover (1983) was 28 in 2008 when he died.
Western Dreamer (1997) is 24 and living at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Blissful Hall (1999) is now 22.
No Pan Intended (2003) died at age 16 in 2016.