This week's Rewind is all about teams of horses in a slightly different variation of harness racing. Although it has never really been a regular part of the sport they have on occasion been a feature, mainly for exhibition purposes. Robert Smith has assembled some old pictures and other stories about teams in harness. I hope you find it as interesting in reading it as I have in researching it.
Back in 1994 which just happens to be 30 years ago, a racing association located in the New England area decided to include teams of standardbreds in their annual fair races. Organizers of the Rochester New Hampshire Fair races earlier that year advertised for interested parties to begin preparing for a form of racing that apparently had not been staged for some 50 years at this time. I guess that would have been sometime during the 1940's. I haven't been able to find out much about it as to where and when it might have happened. I do recall seeing that team racing had been held at Dufferin Park in Toronto on at least one occasion in the late 1940's.
An invitation to compete was published in the Northeast Harness News a while before the Fair's scheduled event in late September. The operative part of the advertisement stated "So get your jog carts or sulkies rigged up, and come be part of the fun."
The format of the competition was that each team would race separately against time. The pair that recorded the fastest clocking would be declared the winner, with lesser times awarded the succeeding spots. The rules (published above) read in part "Fastest team wins Trotters, pacers, one of each, as long as they stay flat."
The following summary appeared in the Northeast Harness News following this memorable event at the Rochester, N.H. Fair:
"Saturday, September 24th, had to be one of the most spectacular days ever, with the Team To Pole racing. The fans applauded this revival of old-time racing. Four teams took part in this $5,000 event that was sponsored by the Budweiser Brewing Co. The winning team, a pair of free-legged mares, owned and driven by Kevin Switzer of Gray, Maine went the mile in 2:06.2, a pretty spectacular feat over a track that was washed out the night before. Jerry Watson finished second in 2:06.3 with a team owned by Nat Watson of Cornish, Maine. The third and fourth teams were piloted by George Chamberlin of Springvale, Maine."
Gallery Of Team Racing Pictures
Greyhound and Rosalind prepare for their historic appearance
Two of the all time greats Greyhound and Rosalind, were paired together for an exhibition showing at the Indianapolis mile track in 1939. Two of the greatest trotters in the sport's history "teamed" up to put on a thrilling exhibition appearance trotting the mile in 1:58 1/4 for driver Sep Palin
The above photo shows two great horses from the late 1930's racing as a team in an exhibition appearance against the clock. The team of Billy Direct and The Widower with driver Chas. Fleming prior to their record breaking performance in 1939. Despite the absence of hopples they were both free-legged pacers. The exhibition took place at Altamonte, N.Y. [Hoof Beats Photo]
Billy Direct on the outside and The Widower are shown racing as a team as they set a new world record for "Team To A Pole." Hitched in a modified sulky and driven by Charlie Fleming, they had an automobile with them used as a prompter. Their time of 2:04 1/4 set a new world record which stood for many years.
Teams of horses may have been the subject of today's Rewind but apparently they were not always the only show in town.
Closing Comment: I think that if someone was interested enough to organize some teams of horses for exhibition purposes that people would enjoy seeing them on the track. Just a passing comment.
Quote For The Week: "You hated him 364 days a year and on the 365th day you got your Stanley Cup ring." - Montreal Canadiens star Steve Shutt talking about Scotty Bowman, legendary hockey coach of Montreal and several other teams. Hard to believe that Scotty is approaching his 90th birthday later this year!
Who Is It?
Can you correctly identify these two folks in a photo taken several years ago? The gentleman who had a Hall of Fame career in the U.S. was making a visit to his home area and ran into an old friend from the past. Who are they?
Who Else Is It?
Can you identify this very well known horseman (who died about 20 years ago) from yesteryears? He drove a lot of great horses and at one time held the track record at Greenwood although he did not often race there. Give it your best shot.
Blast From The Past
The scorecard for the 1957 Civic Holiday Races at Arthur, Ont. carried a picture of a tandem team of horses that was accompanied by the following passage. "K T Lee and Jacob Express owned by Mr. and Mrs. Mel Barden of Hillsburgh, establishing the World's Tandem Trotting record in Arthur, August of 1956."
I was able to find that these horses were indeed at a standardbred race meeting but Mr. Barden and his wife (Melwood and Lillian) were widely known for their long involvement with hackney horses. They bred, raised and showed them throughout a large area of Ontario for many years. An excerpt from their involvement with the Canadian Hackney Association included the following passage: "Mel hitched his road horses Jacob Express and KT Lee at the 1956 Arthur fair as a tandem and went a mile in 2:26."
Mel Barden is pictured above with a beautiful team of their famous hackneys at a show, date unknown. Both Mel and his wife Lil were expert handlers of their stable members in the show ring (Courtesy of Canadian Hackney Association archives).