by Peter Lawrence, VFTRG Contributor
Yet ANOTHER link to harness racing's past is gone as the "Syracuse Mile" grandstand at the New York State Fairgrounds was demolished on Saturday,
|Demolition of New York State Fair Grandstand (Screen print courtesy of WGRZ)|
Well, it was carnage to me.
Incidentally, the news story accompanying the video of the demolition never even mentions there ever was any harness racing at Syracuse, just concerts (Ed. note: The grandstand is being replaced with a parking lot for recreational vehicles).
I attended the race meet there - which was mostly New York Sire Stakes races, plus time trials and a big race for 3YOs originally called the Empire State Trot, later rechristened in memory of Dr. Harry Zweig - several times, maybe five or six, over the years.
In addition to the state-bred contests, there usually was an overnight Invitational pace with a nominal purse, something like $5,000, and it often attracted much better horses than one might expect, since the track was so fast and speedy lifetime marks were still sought and prized in those days.
I'm pretty sure I saw Merger (John Campbell) win that Invite in 1:53 in 1982, shortly before he won the Little Brown Jug. I believe Niatross (Clint Galbraith) also won the Invite in 1980.
I wasn't there for that Niatross race, but I did see one or two Empire State Trots, which were open events. I think I saw Bonefish (Stanley Dancer) win the inaugural in 1975.
I think I also saw Count's Pride (Bill Haughton) win it in '78, and Little League (Hakan Wallner) and Jazz Kosmos (Mickey McNichol) take splits in '82.
By 1977, the the Empire State was the Zweig Memorial.
The Empire State/Zweig, raced at Syracuse from 1975-2002 and in '04-'05 (per the USTA's "Trotting & Pacing Guide"), was also won in front of the huge metal fairgrounds grandstand by such stars as Tropical Storm (Ralph Baldwin), Cold Comfort (Peter Haughton), Count's Pride (Bill Haughton), Chiola Hanover (Jimmy Allen), Final Score (Tom Haughton), Duenna (Dancer), Napoletano (Bill O'Donnell), Armbro Goal (Berndt Lindstedt), Park Avenue Joe (Ron Waples), Alf Palema (Campbell), American Winner (Ron Pierce), Tagliabue (Campbell), Moni Maker (Wally Hennessy) and Yankee Glide (Lindstedt).
In 1978, when I was working for the Haughton stable, a nondescript Albatross filly I rubbed named Merry Me took a time-trial mark at Syracuse of, I think, 1:58-1/5, fairly speedy at the time, with Peter Haughton in the bike.
That was probably the last time I saw Peter, who died about a year and a half later.
So, yeah, the Syracuse fairgrounds, which hasn't hosted harness racing for quite a few years now, was once host to a veritable Who's Who of stellar horses and horsemen and horsewomen. (Ed. Note - While the last harness meet was contested in 2005, the last auto race, which shared the track, was contested last year.)
In earlier days, like maybe the 1920s or '30s - yes, there WAS a time before my time - drivers like Ben White, Sep Palin, Tom Berry, Will Caton, Doc Parshall, Henry Thomas and others were yearly Syracuse regulars.
And I'm reminded by the ever-vigilant Rob Goldstein that the famed Hambletonian was raced at Syracuse, not once but twice ... the very first one in 1926, then again on 1928, according to the "Trotting & Pacing Guide."
Jeez Louise, just last year (it was last year, right?), we shared the sorrow of the Hollywood Park grandstand demolition - and, of course, the same prior fates of Liberty Bell, Brandywine, Sportsman's, Greenwood, Roosevelt, Garden State and others - and now, it's Syracuse.
Those weren't just harness racing venues, they were practically holy places, our temples, our cathedrals.
Ouch, we've lost another one.