by Bob Heyden
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Pepsi North America Cup. The first edition was held on July 2, 1984 at Greenwood Raceway and carried $596,500 in total purses with the final going for $357,900.
The “Four-H Club” would have been thrilled with the Year One results. The three elims went to Herve (Filion), (Dr. John) Hayes and (Tom) Harmer with Embrace Me, Legal Notice and Long Fella, respectively.
Hayes won the final with Legal Notice, who held on a neck over Walton Hanover (the defending divisional champion), with Long Fella third.
Legal Notice was a foal of 1981, the year Hayes won the Meadowlands Pace (with Conquered) in his only appearance. He came from ninth to first in the final eighth of a mile.
Hayes also trained Legal Notice and five of the first seven editions of the NA Cup were won by trainer/drivers.
Note, the NA Cup holds the record for the richest race ever held for a three-year-old of either gait. The 2011 NA Cup won by Up The Credit carried a purse of $1.53 million, about $9,000 more than Muscle Hill went for in the 2009 Hambletonian.
Universal impact of the Meadowlands
The Meadowlands truly has had a global impact.
Consider that in the 17 years from 1988 to 2004 not a single U.S.-born conditioner was the track’s leading trainer.
1988 Ray Remmen (Canada)
1989 Jim Campbell (Canada)
1990-1991-1992 Brett Pelling (New Zealand)
1993-1994-1995 Bill Robinson (Canada)
1996-1997-1998 Brett Pelling
1999-2000 Ross Croghan (Australia)
2001 Chris Marino (Canada)
2002 Brett Pelling (New Zealand)
2003 Noel Daley (Australia)
2004 Mark Harder (New Zealand)
And this list does not include Jimmy Takter — the winner of four Hambletonians and the last four Hambletonian Oaks.
Justify and the Triple Crown
With Justify winning the Triple Crown Saturday at Belmont, here’s my Triple Crown notebook:
Mike Smith at 52 became the oldest jockey (by nine years) to win a Triple Crown (Victor Espinoza was 43 in 2015).
On the harness side, Ralph Baldwin was 47 in 1963 when Speedy Scot won the Crown. In 1965, Frank Ervin was 61 when Bret Hanover won the Crown. In 1964, John Simpson was 45 when Ayers won the Triple Crown. In 1969, Howard Beissinger was 46 when Lindys Pride won the Crown and in 1972, Stanley Dancer was 45 when Super Bowl won the Triple Crown.
Baffert gives them Fitz
With Justify’s victory in the Triple Crown, trainer Bob Baffert joined J E Fitzsimmons as the only two trainers to twice win the Triple Crown. Fitzsimmons won with Gallant Fox in 1930 and Omaha in 1935.
Both harness racing and its counterpart thoroughbred racing have a single horse who finished second in all three Triple Crown legs.
In 1963, Floris was second banana to Speedy Scot in the Yonkers Trot, Hambletonian and the Kentucky Futurity.
In 1978, Alydar was second to Affirmed in the Kentucky Derby the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes.
Buried side by side
At Stoner Creek, the following three horses are buried next to each other, two of them Triple Crown winners, and one of the most influential stallions of all time in either sport.
Meadow Skipper died Jan. 28, 1982. He is buried beside Count Fleet, the 1943 Triple Crown winner who lived longer than any other (until age 33 in 1973). Next to him is Triple Crown winner Nevele Pride. His 57-for-67 record lifetime is the highest winning percentage among all Triple Crown winners on the trot.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of two Triple Crowns in one year.
In 1968, Rum Customer and Nevele Pride won the pacing and trotting Triple Crowns, respectively.
Spanning three decades
D Wayne Lukas won his first and last Triple Crown race 33 years apart with a win in the Preakness both times — Codex in 1980 and Oxbow in 2013.
On the harness side, Billy Haughton won his first and last Triple Crown race 30 years apart (1955 and 1985).