by Bob Heyden
I hope you got to meet or know Howard Beissinger, who would have turned 100 on May 16 had he not died in 2018. He was one of the most unique characters combined with master horseman qualities.
If he wasn’t born on a horse, he was awfully close by.
Here’s a look at his startling career, a century’s worth of living and forever memories:
• He was born May 16, 1923 in Butler County, OH.
• His career spanned 1946-91 with 9,266 starts, 1,710 wins, 1,553 seconds, 1,403 thirds and $11,681,621 in earnings.
• His wife was Ann. They had three children: Gloria, Orrin and Vana. His colors were blue and white.
• In 1969, he won the Trotting Triple Crown with Lindy’s Pride.
• He won the Hambletonian with two of his first three drives: 1969 — Lindy’s Pride and 1971 — Speedy Crown.
• In 1972, he won the Clem McCarthy Good Guy award.
• In 1974, he was inducted into the Hall Of Fame.
• He won his lone Breeders Crown in 1987 with Defiant One at age 64.
• In 1978, Speedy Somolli — a son of Speedy Crown — makes it three Hambletonian victories.
Here’s a clip from the ending of Lindy’s Pride’s career from Hoof Beats (1970): “The quarter crack precipitating the early retirement of Lindy’s Pride — 3, 1:57.3 — is similar to the one suffered by his sire Stars Pride, Howard Beissinger, his trainer/driver reports. Following its recurrence during his European campaign with Fresh Yankee, the decision to retire the winner of the Triple Crown and Big Five Trotting Classics was made upon the return of the 4-year-old to the United States.”
It should be noted that Beissinger — a born wrangler and steady presence at rodeos — did not race in his first Hambletonian until 1969, at age 46. And he won the Triple Crown that year.
He won the Hambletonian three times in his first eight drives. Speedy Somolli in 1978 became the first ever 1:55 winner of the race.
Speedy Crown became the sports first $100-million trotting sire. His sons Speedy Somolli and Torway (a Hambletonian heat winner), did him proud. In 1981, Speedy Crown became the first stallion to win all four 2- and 3-year-old trotting divisions. The year Torway won his heat and paid $76.40 (1985), another Speedy Crown, Prakas, won the final in record time, 1:54.3.
• Temujin was one of his best pacers.
• Bardot Lobell set a world half-mile record at Freehold.
• He had four starters in the 1983 Hambletonian. Second money overall with Joie De Vie, fourth with Astro Hill, 10th with Premium Lobell (Herve Filion’s only Hambletonian drive) and Florida Sun who didn’t make it out of the elims.
In the first New Jersey Hambletonian (1981) Super Juan won a heat with Beissinger ($17.40) and was also fifth. Then in the race-off, was the first Meadowlands’ Hambletonian final’s favorite (finishing second).
He had the first trotter to make $1 million in a single year, Joie De Vie in 1983 with $1,007,705.
He was the first driver to win in 1:55 with a trotter (Speedy Somolli) and then lower it twice with Lindy’s Crown (1:54.4) and Cornstalk (1:53.4).
He was the first trainer to use John Campbell in the Hambletonian (1983, Joie De Vie). At $1,080,000 it was also the first million-dollar trotting race.
Seth Rosenfeld on Beissinger: “Although Howard is justifiably remembered as a master trainer of trotters, he also had plenty of success with pacers, too. But what people may not remember is his and his wife Ann’s impact as breeders. Ann was the breeder of Speedy Crown and Ann was listed as a co-owner when Speedy Somolli was first registered as a foal. To be involved with the creation of two horses with such a huge impact on the breed is an extraordinary achievement, especially considering how few mares they were involved with over the years.”