by Peter Lawrence
[Editor's note: While I had mentioned Bob Farrington's passing, this is a tribute from someone who had dealt with Bob Farrington during his career.]
Goodbye to another harness racing icon, Hall of Fame trainer-driver Bob Farrington, who has passed away at the ripe, old age of 85.
I'd heard and read about his driving exploits soon after entering the sport myself in the early 1970s, but don't think I ever saw him race until my arrival at Sportsman's Park in the spring of 1979. Farrington's big-time years were several years before that, when he and owner Lloyd Arnold won races, mostly in the Chicago area, in batches, as "Farrington Stable & Arnold Cattle Company."
Bob's horse of a lifetime was, of course, the legendary Rambling Willie p, 1:54.3f ($2 million-plus).
Stationed at Sportsman's, as I was during the summers of '79 and '80 with Joe O'Brien, I got a chance to see Willie and Bob race many times. But he was especially impressive, and I really became a believer in and a fan of the horse, when I saw him win twice at Hollywood Park, in, I'm guessing, the fall of 1978. I'm pretty sure it was the Western Pace and the American Pacing Classic, both against several of the top FFAers of the day.
One victory was from behind, and the other was on the front end. Both were authoritative.
But I digress.
I was lucky enough to have had three brushes with greatness, in the form of Bob Farrington.
One was during one of my Sportsman's summers. I took a drive out to Farrington's farm - I forget exactly where it was, but Mokena, Illinois is ringing a bell - and was impressed with the whole place, especially the pool for equine exercise. I've seen plenty of horse pools since then, but that one was my first. I didn't know there even was such a thing. I don't remember if Rambling Willie was there at the time, but Bob was an accommodating host.
The second brush was when Willie came to Liberty Bell Park during his "Horse That God Loved" barnstorming tour in, I guess, the spring of 1981. I'd recently left the Bell's PR department and was waiting to start as PR director at Ocean Downs (Maryland). Again, Farrington couldn't have been more accommodating, including letting local TV sports anchor Jim Kelly jog the horse (not even in a double-seat cart, but solo!).
The third, and last for me - so far as I can remember - was a few months later in '81. Ocean Downs' racing secretary and announcer Billy Perkins was putting a "Super Saturday" card together, and I boldly volunteered to contact the accommodating Bob Farrington about bringing Rambling Willie to our humble, little, underfunded venue to race in our feature.
Unfortunately, it didn't happen.
Bob didn't ask for an appearance fee, or even to get his expenses paid. His lone request - demand, if you will - was that we simply put up a $10,000 purse. It seemed reasonable, but we couldn't do it. Five grand, or maybe four, was all track ownership would give Billy for the purse.
"I'm sorry," Bob said. "But I can't bring Willie for less than that."
I honestly couldn't blame him, but I thanked Farrington for his time and wished him luck.
(We did get Maryland legend Come On Fred, however, a Rosecroft and Freestate crowd favorite. When he wasn't winning Opens, he was standing on his head. He stood on his head in our race.)
After the Rambling Willie era ended, Farrington continued to train and race, but not drive - or if he did, it wasn't much - in the Chicago area. I know he had some good horses in his stable, but the only one I can pull out of my hat was named Gold, who made about $400,000 and had a mark of 1:54.3f, ironically the same as Rambling Willie.
Frank Ervin, Ralph Baldwin, Earle Avery, Clint Hodgins and other trainer-drivers of that vintage are gone. More recently, we've lost Billy Haughton, Stanley Dancer, Joe O'Brien, George Sholty, Glen Garnsey, and others slightly younger.
Eighty-five is a good age to reach, especially when one can look back as a career like Bob Farrington had.
May he, and Rambling Willie, who predeceased him, both rest in peace, now spiritually together for eternity.