Many marquee moments are celebrating milestone anniversaries in 2024

Plus, a look back at the 2023 Hambletonian and harness racing’s youth movement.

by Bob Heyden

This year marks many momentous milestone anniversaries.

• It’s the 100th anniversary of the start of the Hambletonian. In April 1924, nomination ads for a stake with the estimated value of $50,000 first appeared.

• It’s the 70th anniversary of 1954 Horse of the Year (HOY) Stenographer who lived to be a HOY record 35. The filly just did edge out Scott Frost, then 2, for the honors. Otherwise, he would have been the first three-time HOY easily capturing it in 1955-56.

• It’s the 60th anniversary of the very first 2-year-old to win HOY, Bret Hanover, who in 1964 went 24-for-24. It was also the first time that the sport had back-to-back Triple Crown winners with Speedy Scot (1963) and then Ayres in 1964.

• It’s the 55th anniversary of Nevele Pride winning in world record time twice in a six-day period. She went 1:54.4 and 1:56.4 on a mile and half-mile tracks, respectively, locking up her third HOY title.

• It’s the 50th anniversary of the only HOY to win fewer than half of his/her starts. Delmonica Hanover was 5-for-17 in 1974.

• It’s the 45th anniversary of Sonsam winning the Meadowlands Pace in 1979 in dynamic fashion from post 10 in a world record 1:53.2. It was the biggest purse, $750,000, at that time. He was three-, four-, and five-wide from past the half. Maybe the greatest effort ever! It was also the year of the first of 16 Meadowlands driving titles and national earnings titles for John Campbell.

• It’s the 40th anniversary of the richest race, Nihilator in the $2,161,000 Woodrow Wilson on 8/16/84.

• It’s the 35th anniversary of the 1989 Hambletonian dead heat. The only race in The Meadowlands history where the track lost money. It was win wagering only and both Park Avenue Joe and Probe won paying $2.10.

• It’s the 30th anniversary of Cam’s Card Shark being named HOY. That was the last time any sire had two different male winners of the award. Cam Fella, won it previously with Precious Bunny in 1991. Speedy Crown won it twice with Moni Maker since then, but no sire has had two boys win it. Art Major’s come closest with JK She’salady in 2014 and another lass Test Of Faith in 2021.

• It’s the 25th anniversary of the 1:51.3 record Hambletonian by Self Possessed with Ron Gurfein and Mike Lachance. He was a son of Victory Dream for the same connections, from his first crop. That mile was the fastest trotting race mile of 20th century.

• It’s the 20th anniversary of the last trainer/driver to win a Triple Crown. Trond Smedshammer won it with Windsong’s Legacy.

• It’s the 15th anniversary of Enough Talk breaking the 1:50 barrier on the trotting side with a 1:49.3 score at Colonial Downs.

Note: We are 19 months from the 100th Hambletonian and 31 months from the 50th anniversary of the opening of The Meadowlands.


It was incredible. Stuff happened you won’t see again for the next 50 or 100 years. Let’s take a look back.

• Post 10 won in both The Hambletonian Oaks (Heaven Hanover) and the Hambletonian (Tactical Approach). It was the second straight year it happened in the Oaks, and Iteration was second from the far outside post at 45-1 the year before that.

• It was the first post 10 winner in a Meadowlands Hambletonian.

• Prior to Tactical Approach in 2023, the record for post 10 in the Hambletonian was 40 0-1-3 with 14 checks (not counting the 1981 and 1984 race-offs). Only Chocolatier got a second-place check from the outside starting point, while three horses garnered third: Piggvar (1986), Make It Happen (2008), and Bye Tsem (1994).

• Prior to 2020 in the Hambletonian Oaks, discounting the race-off years, 32 0-1-1 with 11 checks total. In 1986, Chickadee Newton was second and Sassy Syrinx was third in 2012.

• Even rarer is coming from last the first quarter to then win either the Hambletonian or the Oaks. Both winners did so in 2023! It should be noted that It’s Academic was also last early and won in the Cashman which was sandwiched in between the two features.

• New Jersey has had 72 Hambletonian/Oaks finals combined not counting either race-offs or non-10-horse finals. Zero times, prior to 2023, in those 72 had any winner been last at the quarter. Glidemaster in 2006 and Cool Papa Bell in 2022 were both eighth at the first call of the Hambletonian and then won and that is the furthest back for the race. No Oaks winner was ever farther back than sixth at the first quarter.


Are the younger guys making some kind of statement, knocking on the door and the same time trying to kick it open? Has it been too long since we heard from them; really heard from them. Well, take a look at the next to last weekend at The Meadowlands and put this particular weekend in your memory bank.

On Dec. 22, 12 of 14 races in East Rutherford were won by a driver not yet 30.

On Dec. 23, 11 of 14 races were won by that same group.

There were 28 races, 23 won by 20-somethings. That would be 82.1 per cent.

In 1997, at The Meadowlands, the entire meet, only 10 of 1810 races, or .06 per cent won all the races. That’s not a typo. One out of every 180 races to a sub-30 driver.

Some names you might want to jot down are Jonathan Ahle 26, Brett Beckwith 21, Barton Dalious 25, Marvin Luna 22, and Tyler Miller 27.


• That the only driver to make both the 1981 Hambletonian and Hambletonian Oaks final in Year 1 at The Meadowlands was Carl Allen? Pams Key was second by a neck as the favorite in the Oaks and Olaf was third in the three-horse Shiaway St Pat raceoff.

• That Berndt Lindstedt never did win the Hambletonian in 17 tries, but one of his drives did sire a Hambletonian winner? Yankee Glide, last in 1998, had Glidemaster, 2006 Hambletonian champ.

• That you could have gotten long odds last Jan. 1 predicting that the fastest trotter of 2023 would be driven by Andy Miller? On Aug. 20, 2023, Just For Trix went 1:49.4 and the fastest 3YOCT, French Wine, went 1:50 winning by a half-length over Tactical Approach on Aug. 27 at Lexington’s Red Mile.

• That Goren in the mid-1970s was the largest horse to ever race at The Meadowlands, 18 hands?

• That Confederate could be joining Cam Fella, Precious Bunny, Moni Maker, Gallo Blue Chip, Shartin N, Artsplace, Keystone Ore, Always B Miki and Fancy Crown as HOY winners who started out elsewhere?

• That three of the four 2-Year-Olds voted HOY went undefeated, and the one that did not, won 26 times? Nevele Pride in 1967 was 26-for-29. JK She’salady went 12-for-12, Niatross went 13-for-13 and Bret Hanover went 24-for-24 prior.

• That had Karl won that nose at Red Mile, he might be getting a fair amount of HOY votes? 

• That Ron Gurfein is the last trainer to win the Hambletonian more than once with the same catch driver? Gurfein partnered with Mike Lachance to win in 1994 (Victory Dream), 1996 (Continentalvictory), and 1999 (Self Possessed). All four of Takter’s Hambletonian wins were with different drivers.