Remembering Hambletonian Day 1983 and other facts about America’s Classic Trotting Race

by Bob Heyden

It’s been 40 years since the million-dollar barrier was broken for trotters on Hambletonian Day in 1983.

• The purse was $1,080,000 for the third Hambletonian held in New Jersey.

• The second richest pot that day was $60,000 in the U.S. Pacing Championship won by defending Horse of the Year Cam Fella.

• The track was good, sloppy and fast on a less than favorable weather day.

• Four drivers on the card were 25 and under: Marty Allen (24), Jeff Bolyard (24), Kelly O’Donnell (24) and Robbie Rankin (25).

• Attendance was 36,784, up 10,000 from year one in New Jersey (1981) when the race was held in the drizzle. A total of $3,632,593 went through the windows, a 27 per cent hike from 1982’s $2,857,50.

• It was John Campbell’s Hambletonian debut with Joie De Vie. He won his elimination heat and finished in a dead heat for fourth in the final.

• It was the only time in 42 Hambletonians in New Jersey that both heat winners did so from post 12.

• The winner, Duenna, was a daughter of 1977 Hambletonian champ Green Speed. The Hall of Fame stallion passed away the same year his first crop and top producer Duenna won America’s Trotting Classic.

• When asked what “Duenna” meant, the always affable winning owner Norman Woolworth said, “It’s Spanish for a woman who serves as an escort for a young lady, to protect her from the wolves, especially the two-legged variety.”


Duenna beat the boys. Of the 24 entered, there were only two females and they were 1-2 across the wire in the final. Winky’s Gill was second.

There were many good stories, especially with a million dollars on the line. But something else happened that Saturday afternoon and the next race day, Monday night. It was the first and only time that million dollar races were on back-to-back race cards at the same track. Following the Aug. 6 Hambletonian, The $1,700,000 Woodrow Wilson on Aug. 8 was won by Carls Bird and there were four consolations worth another half million combined. That’s right folks, a Monday night million dollar race which is still the fifth richest race ever contested. 


How much did harness racing appreciate its first national TV coverage for the 1975 Hambletonian? This much: Wow!

DuQuoin State Fair president Don Hayes said the following, “A delayed telecast such as ABC’s Wide World Of Sports is ideal for the Hambletonian, as it will not only convey all the action and excitement of each heat via video-tape, but all the wonderful color and background, that is so much a part of the race, will be captured.”

The purse was a record $232,192, and Bonefish won in four heats.


Not counting last year’s winning driver Todd McCarthy, these five all won the Hambletonian in their last appearance in it:

Bob McClure 2019

Ray Schnittker 2008

Roger Hammer 2005

Stefan Melander (Only drive, 2001 with Scarlet Knight)

Mal Burroughs 1997


Muscle Hill, from 2016-2019 was the sire of 102 Hambletonian Day starters, including a record 27 in 2019 alone. This was the year before he won it with a filly (Ramona Hill, 2020) and three years after his son Marion Marauder won the Triple Crown in 2016. Included on that epic 2019 card was Oaks winner When Dovescry, the fabulous Manchego, who had a career on just Hambletonian Days alone, as well as Hambletonian runner-up and maiden, Spy Booth.


Yonkers played host to the first two Triple Crown races this year (the Messenger and Yonkers Trot), just ask Mike Gulotta whose farm bred both winners. Now, the Cane Pace and Hambletonian go on Aug 5 at The Meadowlands.

My vote for the most memorable Cane in recent years?

The 1977 final on June 18, with $114,600 on the line.

Jade Prince won it with Nat Lobell second.

Father-son Jack and John Kopas finished 1-2. But, get this, they were 18 lengths in front of the favorite who wound up third. It was Big Towner at 6-5 with Lucien Fontaine.

The winning time was 1:59.

Dad paid $63.20 to win while youthful John was the 5-1 fourth choice.

B Gs Bunny who made a break scattering horses before the final turn on the lead was fifth.

Governor Skipper was seventh in this star-studded field.

This race was prior to the first Meadowlands Pace. The top two Cane finishers were favored in both elims and the Pace final on July 12, but could not derail Escort.

Honorable mention goes to the 1994 Cane, the only time Cams Card Shark finished off the board (fifth) in his $2.264 million record setting year.


It’s the 25th anniversary of Chuck Sylvester being the only trainer in New Jersey Hambletonian history to send out the four favorites (two couple entries) in the same year.

They finished 1-2 in each elim.

They were bookends in the final, finishing first (Muscles Yankee), second (David Raymond), last (Armbro Rotary) and next to last (Silver Pine). 

Fifteen of 30 Hambletonians in NJ, 1981-2010, were won by the betting choice.

The first 27 Hambletonians none went for six figures. The breakthrough year was 1953 when Harry Harvey and Helicopter won for $117,117.


The Hambletonian is a race where you must pay your dues.

Here are some “name” drivers and how they did in their first Hambletonian drive:

Brian Sears, last in 2003 with Muscle King.

Jason Bartlett, eighth in 2017 with Guardian Angel As.

Joey Bongiorno, seventh in 2016 with Make Or Miss.

Corey Callahan, sixth in 2012 with From Above.

Yannick Gingras, seventh in 2010 Hard Livin.

Matt Kakaley, seventh in 2015 with Habitat.

Mark MacDonald, sixth in 2016 with Reigning Moni.

Andy McCarthy, sixth in 2017 with Sortie.

Mattias Melander, 10th in 2020 with Rome Pays Off.

Andy Miller, ninth in 2007 with Xactly Hanover.

Dave Miller, ninth in 1999 with Big Z Crown.

Ron Pierce, ninth in 1991 with Super Shade.

Ake Svanstedt, 10th in 2014 with Doncango.

Jimmy Takter, eighth in 1989 with Classic Air.

Tim Tetrick, sixth in 2007 with Pampered Princess.

Scott Zeron, eighth in 2015 with Billy Flynn.


John Campbell was the last driver to win the Hambletonian back-to-back, 1987-88. He was the prohibitive favorite in 1989 with Peace Corps on a 17-race winning streak, but fell shy of making him the only Hambletonian three-peater.

The last four-heat Hambletonian was in 1976. Just 14 days after that epic battle, 10 of the 12 made it to the Colonial at Liberty Bell. Wow, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

Of the last 150 Hambletonian finalists, 38 per cent have had trainers born in the U.S.