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Woodbridge To Be Honoured Saturday

Published: January 23, 2019 1:24 pm ET

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On Saturday (Jan. 26), George ‘Woody’ Woodbridge will add his name to the list of Wisconsin greats, as he will enter the Wisconsin Harness Racing Hall of Fame at the WHHA annual banquet.

When Woodbridge was eight years old he would often tag along with his father, who had a friend who owned Standardbreds. A young Woody volunteered to clean stalls and over time graduated to jogging a couple of horses, even jogging some in a sleigh in the Michigan UP winters.

In 1959 he travelled to the UP State Fair and met Bob Searle who asked Woodbridge to work for him when school got out. Woodbridge’s parents agreed and he spent the next three summers working at the Plymouth, Wis., stable, racing at all the Wisconsin and UP fairs. He then worked for Searle a few summers at Raceway Park and Louisville; it was then that he decided that he did not want to pursue horse racing as a career, but he still kept his passion for the sport.

On a sunny summer day in the early 1970s the scheduled track announcer at the Richland County Fair could not make it to the track. Woodbridge was handed the microphone and fell in love with another aspect of this great sport. When he was a kid he spent a lot of time at the tracks and always admired the different styles of the announcers he heard, especially Jack Calvert and Jerry Cleary. He would bring home all the race programs and practice calling races in his basement with his stopwatch. His mother used to joke about her kid racing horses in the basement and Woodbridge thought it would be neat to announce a race someday. That day came and more than 1,000 races later he is still thrilling the crowds.

Announcing at the fairs is a hobby, but Woodbridge went pro at the once popular North Coast Raceway, a former pari-mutuel track in Escanaba, Mich. The biggest race he ever called was a nine-horse field of three-year-old filly trotters that were competing for a purse of $110,000. He usually calls the races by driver’s colours, but that can be very challenging when all the drivers in a race are wearing the same colours.

Woodbridge has announced at fairs in Minnesota, Michigan and 18 different county fair tracks in Wisconsin, many that now are just a memory. His favourite track that still tugs at his heartstrings is Norway, Mich., close to where he grew up. As a fellow horseman said, “We are blessed to have such a talent, Woody has this amazing ability to make the entire crowd feel as if they are sitting in the sulky.”

And down the stretch they come! Who do you like?

The WHHA banquet is held annually at the Howard Johnson Hotel in Madison, Wis., and everyone is welcome to join. Dinner tickets are $22.50 per person and can be obtained by contacting Gabe Wand (608.574.5468 or [email protected]) or by mailing payment to WHHA Secretary Jeanne Marquis, 6651 Hyslop Rd., Dane, WI 53529.

Also, the WHHA has a room rate of $77 per night (hot breakfast buffet included) and you can book rooms by contacting the hotel directly at 608-665-1681.


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