June 5, 2006

Tioga Downs opens this week for good friend Jeff Gural. This is certainly a major plus for the industry in general and New York in particular. Haven’t been there yet, but eyewitnesses do report that this facility indeed a showcase.

Have a truly GRAND OPENING Jeff! We do indeed second the sentiments expressed by Bob Rosenheim in the June 7th Horseman!

Glad to have the opportunity to meet with the prospective new owners bused over by Ellen Harvey, Nancy Peck and Ken Weingartner of Harness Racing Communications.
Always great to be able answer questions on an individual basis and look forward to seeing “new friends” at the races and the sales.

These seminars are an excellent way of showcasing all that’s rewarding about harness horse ownership and the HRC staff does a terrific job in paving that pathway.

Fascinating survey by Ron Fabiano documenting the greatest harness racing decades on the USTA site and if memory serves the 70’s and the 80’s finished in a virtual dead heat with each garnering about 30% of the 2,500 votes cast. The 60’s got 18% though one would suspect many regulars of that era are no longer in position to either web surf and/or web cast.

From a strictly New York standpoint, the 60’s were phenomenal! Especially at Roosevelt and Yonkers with the huge nightly crowds- the advent of International racing and the triple crowns entrenched there. The aged ranks called Free-For-Alls back made for spectacular showdowns.

The mid 60’s saw the rise of Liberty Bell and the installment of Pompano as a winter bastion.

Then there was the traditional autumn meet at Hollywood Park home of some very memorable American Pacing and Trotting Classic showdowns.

In addition, regional strongholds in New England, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Western New York, Ontario, Quebec, Chicago, Detroit-Windsor, etc were thriving with no shortage of equine and driving luminaries.

There was a strong Grand Circuit in Lexington, Delaware etc.

The early 70’s saw the advent of OTB. Unfortunately that combined with sheer complacency on the part of the New York tracks brought dips in both attendance and excitement but all was revitalized on September 1, 1976 with the opening of The Meadowlands from that day forth emerging as the undisputed world capital of Harness Racing.

Ironically, the Meadowlands also became the great melting pot luring the leading stables of many other locales. Thus, things got a little too top heavy with most of the action centered in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

Into the 80’s came Niatross, the megabuck Wilsons etc and the relocation of The Hambletonian to The Meadowlands, Through the 80’s with Nihilator, Mack Lobell, John Campbell, and Lou Guida things remained magical although attendance and luster was starting to wane as the 90s approached.

Don’t know which decade was indeed the greatest as there were major highs and lows in each. They were all memorable. Unfortunately though it’s increasingly hard to ignore the ghostlike apparitions emanating from what now seem cavernous and desolate grandstands!

Enjoyed the May 25th Sportsman article by Dave Briggs citing our comparison with Baseball’s steroid era.

Ditto the June 15th USTA website posting by Chris Wittstruck addressing how integrity is up to everyone not just racing commissions. .

The arguments presented are potent, not pretty and once properly digested do indeed scrape some rather raw nerves.

The question is what now?

Obviously the status quo is increasingly unacceptable.

Editor Nicole Kraft hit pay dirt again with an impressive array of articles covering a variety of topics. There was ample poignancy with the pieces on saving standardbeds, and the tributes to Messrs Gurfein and Berkner. Liked the hard hitting column from Stan Bergstein and the rather whimsical though thought provoking essay by Bennett Liebman.

Good stuff.

Bob Marks



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