Stories about Frank Safford and a conversation with Dave McDuffee

by Murray Brown

Periodically, I hope to speak of some of the characters in our sport with whom I have had contact. They will range from the silly to the serious. One of the biggest, both in terms of size and overwhelming personality, was Frank Safford.

If you had ever met Safford, you doubtless would have never forgotten the experience. He could have been the poster boy for a bigger-than-life personality.

He was a big, gruff man with a loud raspy voice which matched his stature.

I will cite three stories about him, all of which I heard second hand.

The first was told to me by Lawrence B. Sheppard the owner of Hanover Shoe Farms. Safford was known as a far-from-lily-white personage who was not adverse to wagering on horses, perhaps sometimes in skirting the rules.

In his later years, Safford would hold court with a bunch of his cronies outside the paddock at Liberty Bell Park.

It seems that Safford was in trouble with Liberty Bell Park’s presiding judge Milt Taylor. Sheppard knew for a fact that Safford was, in this instance, not guilty of the offense for which he was being charged. Sheppard was then the head of the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission. The offense came up before him and although Sheppard knew that Safford was not exactly a choir boy, he felt certain that he was not guilty of this particular offense. He took his friend, judge Taylor aside and told him, “Milt, I believe in this case you’re in the right church, but you’ve got the wrong pew.” Safford was exonerated of the charges.

John Simpson told me the next Safford tale. One of Safford’s owners was a North Carolinian named Lee Herrin. Safford had three of Herrin’s horses in at Roosevelt Raceway one night. He won with all three.

After the races Safford went to one of the horsemen’s hangouts, the Maple House, for dinner and some adult beverages. Who should come in but Herrin. Herrin was bouncing off the walls with happiness. “Frank,” Herrin said rather loudly. “You’re the best. You won with all three of mine, I’m going to buy you the biggest steak dinner they can find in this place.”

By then Safford was well into his cups.

“Lee, I’ll tell you what,” Safford said. “You can buy me that steak dinner when I lose three with three of yours.”

The third tale was told to me by Norman Woolworth. As most of you probably know, Woolworth was an heir to the F.W. Woolworth stores. In the early years of Woolworth’s, the stores were sometimes called five-and-dime stores.

Woolworth loved all sports, particularly harness racing. At the time, he would sometimes drive his own horses, but not particularly well as he would say. He was in a race in Maine with Safford. Woolworth was riding the rail and Safford was approaching from the outside. Woolworth was thinking of pulling the right line. Safford sensed that. Woolworth heard this booming rasping voice hollering, “Five and dime, you just stay where you are and nobody will get hurt.” Woolworth stayed where he was and nobody was hurt.


This scribe recently had a talk with Dave McDuffee, one of the most respected figures in our sport.

McDuffee is the furthest thing from being a person inclined to pop off or act without thinking. There is not much that will cause him to get his ire up.

One of the few things that will is the fact that Brett Pelling is not yet a member of Harness Racing’s Living Hall of Fame.

“I’m not about to be critical of those already enshrined in Goshen,” McDuffee said. “They are all more than deserving of the honor. But Brett Pelling has accomplished more than most. Listing all of his achievements and top horses would probably require a book. I hope I am not being too critical of the Hall of Fame. Heck, I am one of its directors and I am proud to serve in that position. Nevertheless, lacking another description of why Brett is not installed requires only one word. That word is disgraceful. It is not only disgraceful that he is not one of its members, but it reflects poorly on the Hall itself and more specifically on those who choose the candidates.

“I’m not about to even remotely suggest that those who choose the candidates are guilty of prejudice, but I find it rather strange that we have several Swedes, all of whom are deserving, but not a single person from Down Under in Goshen. It’s certainly not because they haven’t had an influence on North American racing. I ask myself ‘Why?’ Just look at the accomplishments of several who have more than distinguished themselves in our sport. Enough belaboring the negatives though. Its beyond time to correct a major injustice and to install Brett Pelling among the greats of our sport.”