by Bob Heyden
The first day of summer means that Ron Pierce, now five years plus out of the sport, has another birthday. He turns 64 today (June 21).
No one, other than Pierce, did the following:
1, Retired the year after having driven the Pacer and Trotter of the Year in 2014 — Shake It Cerry won Trotter of the Year 57-37 over Sebastian K and Sweet Lou edged out HOY JK She’salady 74-73 as the Pacer of the Year.
2. Won a race from 2006-2011 with a purse of at least $1 million six straight years. No one in the sport’s history before or since has ever done this — 2006 NA Cup with Total Truth; 2007 Hambletonian with Donato Hanover; 2008 Meadowlands Pace with Art Official; 2009 NA Cup and Meadowlands Pace with Well Said; 2010 Hambletonian with Muscle Massive and 2011 Meadowlands Pace with Roll With Joe and the 2011 Metro with Simply Business.
3. In 2005, Pierce and Brian Sears did something not likely to be duplicated for some time. Pierce won 25 races valued at $100,000 or more — six of those $500,000 or more. Sears won 26 races valued at $100,000 or more — nine of those $500,000 or better. Those two drivers accounted for 51 $100,000 wins combined and 15 of those carried purses of $500,000 or better.
Pierce did all this in a career that saw him win his first Breeders Crown at age 35 in 1991 with Giant Victory, his first Hambletonian at age 37 in 1993 with American Winner and his first Meadowlands Pace at age 41 in 1997 with Dream Away.
Twenty-five years on…
David Miller entered 1995 with less than $10 million in career earnings. He drove in his first million-dollar race that year and was favored with Cinder Lane Sam in the North America Cup. He finished third at 2-1. He drove in his first Meadowlands Pace finishing fifth from post 10 with Cinder Lane Sam — closing the fastest of anyone with a :26 final panel. He also married Misty that same day. Miller did not make his Hambletonian debut until 1999, finishing eighth and ninth in the elims with longshots Supershade and Big Z Crown. Remember that Miller in 2020 will be looking for his first Hambletonian win. He remains the only driver to be disqualified from first in this race (2017).
Paul MacDonell proved that season of 1995 that indeed it DOES take a “Village” — for he and Bill Wellwood anyway. Paul won seven races that year valued at over $100,000 — and each of the winning horses carried the prefix “Village.” — Village Jiffy won the $220,000 Driscoll final at the Meadowlands; Village Connection won the $276,188 Rooney at Yonkers; Village Connection won the $110,000 Cleveland Classic at Northfield; Village Connection won the $120,000 Nat Christie in Calgary; Village Connection won the $160,000 Confederation Cup at Flamboro; Village Connection won the $350,000 Windy City at Maywood and Village Connection won the $150,000 Woodbine Gold Cup at Woodbine. Seven different tracks. Village Connection out-earned Jennas Beach Boy, but was runner-up in the year-end balloting. Twenty-five years later, MacDonell is being inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
In 1995, there was a coin flip between fourth-place finishers in the Meadowlands Pace elims that would change the face of the final. CA Connection and Davids Pass – trainers Joe Anderson and Brett Pelling, respectively — had to go to the coin toss and Davids Pass won-and wound up at 6-5 for the Pace final and won it, as he did the NA Cup. Interesting that just two weeks before the Pace final, July 1, 1995, these same two colts finished 1-2 in the $328,825 Messenger Stakes — Davids Pass over CA Connection.
In 1995, John Campbell did something not duplicated since — he won the NA Cup, the Meadowlands Pace, the Hambletonian and the Jug. (Not counting the Messenger, too!) No driver has won all four in the same season since.
Twenty-five years ago is also notable for Tagliabue’s victory in the Hambletonian for Arlene and Jules Siegel and brothers Campbell John and Jim. John retired from driving on June 30, 2017 and Arlene has since passed away, but Jim and Jules are back in 2020 with Real Cool Sam, the winner of 9 of 10 as a freshman and just under a half-million en route to the division championship.
If Real Cool Sam returns and does win the Hambletonian this year, the 25 years between wins for Jim Campbell and Jules Siegel would not only be the longest ever gap between winning the Hambletonian, it would equal the top two gaps combined — 13 years for trainer Jimmy Takter between 1997’s victory with Malabar Man and 2010’s win with Muscle Massive; 12 years for trainer Sep Palin between 1935’s win with Greyhound and 1947’s win with Hoot Mon. Note: Between 1995 and 2020, Siegel and Jim Campbell had the undefeated Broadway Hall in 2002, but he did return for his much anticipated sophomore season. He did sire the 2011 Hambletonian winner Broad Bahn, however.
One more note on 1995: Two greats had a rough summer. Jennas Beach Boy missed the ENTIRE summer due to injury, including the NA Cup, Pace and others where he likely would have been odds on. Yet, he returned with a vengeance and on Sept. 30 at the Red Mile, he blasted home with a 1:48.4 mile to set the new sophomore mark. C R Kay Suzie made a break in her Hambletonian elim and lost her chance, yet she still bounced back to be named Horse of the Year.