Remembering the late, great Hall of Famer Ted Wing

by Bob Heyden

I knew Ted Wing for 40 years, give or take, and was particularly fond of the man — or maybe it was more his work ethic.

Eighteen-hour days were not only the norm for Wing, he looked forward to each and every one of them. Training, driving, owning.

Wing was a star prior to the Meadowlands opening in 1976. New England’s best. It was Wing and Jim Doherty, with a fledgling named Bill O’Donnell soon to hatch.

Wing was the youngest to 1,000 wins then. When the Meadowlands opened, he had no problem taking his place at or near the top of the Meadowlands’ standings. He was 28 when the doors opened and for a decade or so Wing was shuffling between New York and New Jersey. He was the only driver to lead in wins at all three Metro tracks. He was a single win in 1977 from being the first ever back-to-backer at the Big M. Benny Webster prevented that. And now the realization that for the first time the first three Meadowlands leading drivers are all gone — Buddy Gilmour, Webster and now Wing.

Many today may not even know Wing’s name, or may have j ust a vague recollection or two. Here’s a little refresher course:

Wing loved claimers — Moe Collins Fathers Image and many others. They needed the work, Wing was happy to provide it. Calvert became something of a Monday night fixture in the open trot. Wing teamed with the Richard Lewis trainee and got along swimmingly. Wing drove the incomparable Tarport Hap once. He trained Courageous Lady for a bit. Stanley Dancer was unafraid to utilize his services. Then Lawrence Kadish came calling and all of a sudden in the early 1980s Wing was training waaay too many. But one of those was Prince Royce who was second in the 1987 Woodrow Wilson to Even Odds for a $1.4 million plus pot. Wing owned him. He drove Wilcos Data to victory in the 1986 Battle Of Brandywine and then intern Paul Macchia — soon to be headed to the Meadowlands — remembers his initial dealing with Wing.

“Ted won the first race I ever covered as a professional for Harness Horse, the 1986 Battle Of The Brandywine. Wilcos Data. I remember his joy in the winner’s circle and gratitude to all of those around him for believing in him he was extremely nice to me — answered all questions as if he knew me forever. A few years later I was in the publicity department at the Meadowlands and can recall a number of times we asked him to promote the sport in one way of another. Always obliging. He was genuine. No pretenses. I always loved to see him, Jim Doherty and Bill O’Donnell laughing together in the back paddock between races. Those New Englanders had a deep appreciation of each other.”

Wing also drove Gallo Blue Chip and was a huge help to Mark Ford in the development of this Horse of the Year that became the richest ever pacer. Wing was in the first ever World Cup (1982 Beatcha and Genghis Khan starred) with Skip By Night, finishing third. Skip was the Yonkers track record holder at the time. Wing appeared in his lone Jug and Meadowlands Pace in 1977 with Jazzy Spark. He made it to the Hambletonian in 1984 with Desert Ruler, who completely out-trotted his odds finishing third at 77-1 and then fifth in the final at 37-1.

Kerry Gold was a one-time co-track record holder at the Meadowlands at 1:53.4 — another astute Wing purchase.

Wing idolized the great Maine/New England veteran Donny Richards, calling him the best horseman he ever knew. A brotherhood, a kinship, even more. He often turned to Richards for advice in any facet of the biz. Wing and Doherty had their own personal race to see who could win a race 50 straight years. They both came close — very close.

Like Dancer, Wing had no hobbies — unless you count yelling at the TV during Yankee telecasts. He didn’t want any hobbies. His hobby and his job were one and the same.

In 2001 on Hambletonian Day, Wing claimed a horse named Art Attack for $50,000. The son of Artsplace had an unusual career to that point — racing both here and Down Under. With some one-on-one TLC, Wing thought he could move him up. He did. Over six years the horse earned some $650,000. In many ways, this horse was his ticket back to New England.

Just in case someone there thought that a near 60-year-old Ted Wing was irrelevant — or drifting that way — they were forced to think again.

It was in 2008 when, in my opinion, Wing pulled off the moment of his career — without winning. Quietly on Hambletonian Day, a week after his 60th birthday, Wing was in a race which turned out to be the fastest of 2008 — 1:47.2 With Anticipation won it for Dan Dube. But, flying on the outside was Ted Wing and Francam to finish second best, individually timed in 1:48. Imagine, the fastest mile of his life in his very first drive at age 60.

It is now an adjustment period for a lot of us without Wing, even though we knew his last decade hadn’t been kind to him. I remember as a kid watching the 1968 Grenoble Winter Olympics starring Jean Claude Killy from France. Only years later did I find out that Wing was not too far from making the USA ski team at age 19. Of course, I had to read about this. Wing had a way of not making a big deal of anything that concerned himself. He was the least pretentious person in any room.

In the last four decades I am proud to say I was great friends with Ted Wing. I can honestly say he never once mentioned he had one eye. Never. Not a single time. Somebody did some really good work early on with a young Ted Wing. It carried over for life.

Earlier, I mentioned Calvert. I recently came across an article on him from yesteryear. I saved it for Wing. Little did I know how alike Wing and Calvert were. You see Calvert was, for a while, a trotting sensation at the Meadowlands. Get this, he was a commuter. That’s right, the 6-year-old son of Carlisle, was owned by Eastern Shore horseman Elmer E Brown and Jay Royce Brinsfield. He would go from Richard Lewis’ farm (In Laurel, DE) by van the day of his race or qualifier. After the race, he along with the harness, tack box and sulky were reloaded for the 4-and-a-half hour trip back to the farm’s paddocks. Lewis believed he stayed fresher that way and who could argue as he once rolled off seven straight wins in the Monday night Meadowlands featured open trot. And I’m talking Mickey Rodney and Keystone Pioneer days. Workmanlike, no complaining, let’s do this — just like Wing. (Remember too that in those days the Meadowlands housed 1,700 horses on the grounds).

Paul Kelley has an interesting take on Wing: “He was a real critical thinker of the game. If you worked with him, he challenged you to make you better. He was always driven to success. Great horseman.” Peter Blood and JoAnn Looney stressed REAL horseman.

Being a harness historian/wanna-be, I found gold the day I met Wing. You see he too loved history. If ever a conversation lagged, all I had to do was mention any horse he trained especially from the first Meadowlands decade and he was off and running. Much like Stanley Dancer, Wing’s recall was immense, complete, with details you’d have thought he was reciting from the morning newspaper. Through it all, he was a gentleman, one who did not have time for phonies. Real mattered. Family mattered big time. His wife Jackie is an absolute delight. He kept his friends close.

Most of us transition from 20 to 30 to 40 to 50 and so forth. Wing too. Never once did I hear a complaint uttered. He was a horseman through and through.

And a friend for life — and forever.