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A Night To Remember

Published: November 22, 2014 6:07 pm ET

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Thirty years ago, on a similar fall Saturday afternoon, Marcia Hamilton was doing what so many caretakers around the country are doing right now: getting their horses ready to race. But in her case, she took care of the morning line favourite in the inaugural $481,000 Breeders Crown sophomore trot, one in a three-horse Nordin Stable entry, named Baltic Speed.

No one knew at the time whether the fledgling Breeders Crown would achieve what its creators hoped, and no one would have guessed that Baltic Speed would subsequently go on to galvanize the Standardbred breed by siring Valley Victory and Peace Corps in his first crop.

This is Marcia Hamilton’s first-person account of Saturday, November 16, 1984, when the brand new Breeders Crown series rolled into Pompano Park, Florida.


Tonight is the big night! The Breeders Crown for three-year-old trotting colts at Pompano Park. Adding to the excitement is the fact that it's the one big race, the highlight of the year, and the big draw of the evening’s TV show on ESPN. Baltic hadn't raced since Kentucky due to a cold, but he was fine, fit and ready to go.

That morning I was told that the dentist was going to come by to check Baltic's teeth and just smooth off any rough edges that he might have. I had already given Baltic a good bath, cleaned his stall and tossed him some hay first thing that morning. I always gave him his hay first thing on a race day, which he eventually realized the meaning of, and so after eating that hay, he would lie down and rest almost the entire day, very race savvy.

Later in the morning the dentist arrived and started to do a bit of filing on Baltic's teeth, I was in the next stall putting away my last horse. After that, I walked into Baltic's stall and saw blood running down the dentist's arm and blood all over Baltic's mouth. I was shocked and said, "What did you do? You were just supposed to smooth off the rough edges"! The dentist had pulled Baltic's front, upper and lower, three-year-old baby teeth, which were barely ready to come out! I was shocked that he would do that! Baltic had one of the most important races of the year that night and this guy has blood running down his arm and I'm sure Baltic was in pain. [Head trainer] Soren [Nordin] was livid and that dentist was never allowed in the barn again. I did what I could to make Baltic comfortable but I was seething the whole time.

The big evening arrived, my mother and some of her friends were coming to watch, adding to the excitement. She had never seen Baltic race before, live, so it was a big treat for her. I got him all ready, everything shined and polished, walked him to the main track across the street from the training side, some of the grooms waving us on and wishing us luck. I had made sure that I brought a clean sponge with some salt water to rinse out his mouth to try and help a little, anyway.

The first heat went well, and I got him bathed and ready for the final. Jimmy Takter and Jan Nordin stood there those last minutes before being called out for the race and Jimmy asked me if I thought Baltic Speed could win. I told Jimmy I was pretty sure he could and I smiled, “That’s if he isn't last at the half!” referring to his position in the Hambletonian a few months earlier. That got a laugh out of Jimmy laughed and even Jan smiled.

Baltic did his usual trick of staying off the pace then making his move coming around the final turn and winning with Sandy Bowl and Giorgio D - the other Nordin horses - finishing second and third. It was a tremendous night for Team Nordin. It was also very exciting and more than a little poignant as I knew this would be Baltic's and my last race together so I savored every moment of it, from the winner's circle presentations to the walk back to the paddock, enjoying every wave and shout of the crowd.

After all was done in the paddock, we walked back to the barn and I took a little longer time than usual putting him away. I gave him long hugs, told him how much I loved him and what a great horse he was, and that my life story would never be complete without him being in it. Then I left him to eat his dinner and hay and have a well-deserved rest. I had been invited to the Greenbriar Pub afterwards and when I walked in I was greeted by a round of applause and lots of shouts of “congratulations.” I stood there for a moment with my head down, very touched by this show of support, then went in with a huge smile on my face and had a very nice evening with good food and good friends.

Later I went back to check on Baltic, rinsed his mouth out one more time, then stood holding his sweet face in my arms, him gently holding onto my forearm as he did every night when I went to do his night check. Another great memory with this wonderful, tiger on the track, kitten in the barn, stallion... and friend.

(Breeders Crown)


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