1. Legend Hanover and China Dragon - Hazel Park, 1979 Tompkin-Geers
Competing in this Tompkins-Geers select 5-horse field were Hambletonian winner Legend Hanover, trained and driven by George Sholty, and China Dragon, a three-year-old Michigan-bred fair champion. This David and Goliath clash got off on the wrong foot as China Dragon, driven and trained by Jim Mayes, was rank at the start and fell back to last. But wait, this race was far from over as China Dragon quickly got back on gait and roared back to engage Legend Hanover. China Dragon looked Legend Hanover right in the eye as if to say, "You did not think you were going to get this win that easily, did you!"
These two battled head to head the final quarter-mile. My mentor and Hazel Park chartcaller, Marty Bridges, had China Dragon a nose in front in his stretch call and it would take a photo-finish expert to separate these game three-year-olds. What a show they put on for racing fans - the local horse, with a mark of 2:02.4 taking on the Hambletonian stake winner, overcoming a break, storming back to take a brief stretch lead and then losing in the final gallant strides to the Hambletonian champion. Twenty-five years and over 50,000 races later this is still the best race I have ever eyewitnessed.
2. Niatross - 1:55 - Batavia Downs, 1980 Hugh Grant Cup
When Niatross raced at Batavia Downs, as a three-year-old, the all age track record was 1:58.1 set by Bret Hanover in 1966. On a cool September evening, Niatross paced the fastest mile ever on a half-mile racetrack, obliterating the former standard. Clint Galbraith told me it was Niatross's fastest and easiest mile. Clint also said if he had spoken to him, Niatross would have gone two or three fifth's of a second faster.
3. Artsplace - 1:51.1 - Pompano Park, 1990 Breeders Crown
a.) Despite adverse weather conditions, including very high winds, this son of Abercrombie paced the fastest mile ever by a two-year-old on a five-eighths mile racetrack, smashed the Pompano two-year-old pacing track record and paced the fastest mile in Pompano history. Still, the most amazing individual performance I have ever witnessed and fourteen years later is still the fastest mile by a two-year-old on a five-eighths mile racetrack.
b.) One of the nicest moments I have ever seen in this often jaded business also was courtesy of Artsplace, as Gene Riegle drove the hometown favorite to victory at Scioto Downs in the Jug Preview. The crowd of 9,000 applauded Artsplace and Riegle all the way back to the winner's circle.
4. Nihilator - Delaware, Ohio, 1985 Little Brown Jug
Nihilator had never raced over a half-mile oval and his naysayers were saying he couldn't. After handily winning his heat, Nihilator was facing some tough foes in the final including stablemates Pershing Square and Handsome Sum and Marauder. Nihilator responded with a game 1:52.1 victory despite being pressured the entire mile. He answered his critics and lowered his father's Jug record more than two seconds. Unfortunately, Nihilator's game Jug victory had to share the spotlight with Falcon Seelster, a colt Nihilator had soundly beaten twice already that year, as Falcon Seelster romped to a 1:51 victory Jug Day defeating a bunch of $5,000 claiming pacers from Scioto Downs.
5. Rambling Willie - Northfield Park - Winter of 1981
a.) Northfield Park General Manager John Phillips noticed business was flat that winter and he implemented Saturday afternoon racing and as a additional bonus got Bob Farrington to bring Rambling Willie over to Cleveland for a few weeks. Fans responded to Willie and matinee racing in a huge way - we were wagering $600,000 - $750,000 on the ten race programs. We had perfecta-only wagering on eight races with trifecta-only wagering on first and last race. There was a local horse, Labet's Buddy, who gave Rambling Willie all he could handle and that rivalry was played up in the Cleveland papers. Willie and matinee racing really snapped us out of the doldrums that winter. Willie, later that year, would embark on his world-famous book tour and I would cross paths with him again at Hazel Park.
b.) One of the biggest ovations ever for a horse at the Meadowlands was when Rambling Willie won a special race there in the slop on Hambletonian Day. The crowd was on their feet and cheering in the Pegasus when Willie, everyone's sentimental favorite, came charging at the end to get up in a photo.
6. Toy Poodle - Northfield Park - 1980
It was a warm summer evening and Northfield had some type of series for fillies, non-winners 2 races or something similar. At that time, events such as these on this half-mile oval would go in 2:01 and if a mare went in 2:00, well - that was something. I just remember this particular race getting over to the half in around a minute. Nothing unusual there, then Most Happy Fella filly, Toy Poodle, trained by Dick Wenzel and driven by son Fritz, breezed to the front and easily put away this field. When I looked at the timer I was very surprised - 1:57.4. This filly had just paced her last half in under :57.4. Back then, that was huge. Toy Poodle went on to win New York Sires Stakes events and later that year I saw Toy Poodle, driven by William Herman, defeat Guiding Beam to win the 1980 Jugette.
7. Mack Lobell - Pompano Park 1986 and 1987 Breeder's Crown
I saw Mack Attack win both two and three-year old Breeder's Crown titles at Pompano but the night he trotted in 1:54.1 to capture the three-year-old crown is still the most impressive individual trotting effort I have ever charted or seen. Mack demolished a quality field in trotting the fastest mile ever on a five-eighths mile racetrack. I was fortunate enough to also see Mack win the Hambletonian in 1987 but, in my mind, the Pompano mile was better and that performance is still the fastest trotting mile ever by a three-year-old on a five-eighths racetrack.
8. Peace Corps - Pompano Park - Breeders Crown, November 2, 1990
This Baltic Speed four-year-old trotting mare, despite being quarantined after shipping (flying) from Sweden, stormed to a 1:54.2 victory for trainer-driver Stig Johansson, just crushing this field and turning in the best performance by a female trotter I have ever been a witness to. This five-eighths mile record still stands.
9. Abercrombie - Meadowlands - U.S. Pacing Championship, 1979
I had the pleasure of being at the Meadowlands that hot August afternoon in 1979 when Abercrombie paced the fastest race mile ever, 1:53 defeating some of the top free-for-alllers of the modern era, including two of my favorites - Try Scotch and LeBaron Rouge.
10. Rainbow Blue - Hazel Park - Rose Red, 2004
This filly, shipping from New Jersey for trainer-owner George Teague, paced the fastest mile ever by a filly or mare at Hazel Park Raceway, 1:51.1 missing the all-time track record of 1:51.0 by a tick.
Victory Tilly - Meadowlands - Nat Ray, 2002's 1:50.4 - First trotter ever to break 1:51 Barrier.
Red Bow Tie's 1:52.3 World Record at Pompano in 1996 as a two-year-old.
Call For Rain grinding and pacing a :55 last half to win the Breeder's Crown at Scioto Downs in 1988.
Sonsam making that huge move from the 10-hole to win the 1979 Meadowlands Pace in 1:53.2.
Jate Lobell's game effort in 1987 Meadowlands Pace despite getting stuck on Jersey turnpike for three and half hours.
Ozark Freddie racing weekly in the invitational at Northfield, mile in 2:02.2 with a last half in :59 and a piece!
Charamar Nite Lite - classy Michigan-bred pacer trained by Larry Horn and driven by Jeff James.
Duchess Faye - another classy Michigan-bred stakes winning filly trotter for the Peavyhouse's.
Cedar Ridge - a gray who was taken in lieu of payment and earned over $400,000 racing in Michigan.
Time O Nic - speedy daughter of Race Time mare who dominated the fillies at Hazel Park.
Crystal Lens - William Stirton's good free-for-all trotter.
Happy Sharon - the hard-hitting Most Happy Fella mare trained and driven by Wally McIlmurray.
Van Kirk - an Ohio-bred, with a big Northfield Park following, who shipped out to the Meadowlands and was a hard-hitter in some of those Meadowlands Series out there.
LeBaron Rouge - hard-hitting and kicking free-for-all pacer handled by Robert Samson - Eb Mahar, Meadowlands paddock judge, would announce - "look out gentlemen, LeBaron Rouge is coming through."
Tijuana Taxi - free-for-all pacer trained by Jim Miller and still my favorite named horse.
James H. Tup - speedy pacer owner by Juanita Pope of Ohio and driven by Sam (Chip) Noble III.
Thunder's Image - this gritty, grinding iron-gray pacer from the Lester Vance stable always turned in a game effort and was an invitational mainstay for years at Scioto and Pompano.
Moni Maker - winning the Matron stake at Pompano.
Goliath Bayama - winning the U. S. Pacing Championship at the Meadowlands in 2001 in 1:48.2.
Try Scotch - setting the Hazel Park track record, with Bill Gale teaming, of 1:56 in 1981. Try Scotch also campaigned at Hazel Park in 1979 with Shelly Goudreau driving and training although Jim Dennis was the listed trainer. Try Scotch made almost $500,000 that season banging heads with the top free-for-allers in North America.
Lime Time - racing in invitational paces at Northfield Park and Hazel Park.
Dream Maker - winner of the 1979 Alfred E. Driscoll Free-For-All pace defeating LeBaron Rouge and Rambling Willie. I saw this horse compete at Hazel Park in a 1979 Invitational put together by Bill Connors.
Forrest Skipper - winner of the only match race I've when he defeated Falcon Seelster in 1986 U. S. Pacing Championship. That match race was talked about quite a bit that week at the Big M.
Classical Way - winning the 1979 Tompkins stake at Hazel Park and setting a new track record doing it - 2:02.2.
The Saddler GB - a Ray Remmen trained/driven horse who won the invite at Hazel Park after the locals told me, "yeah, the Meadowlands horses don't do very well here - yeah, right, just give me that $31.00 payoff and I agree with you.
Tyler B winning the two-year-old Geers stake in 1979 with Delvin Miller driving. I stayed with Aime Choquette in New Jersey before I went to Hazel Park and I actually wagered on Tyler B twice but Niatross beat him each time. Tyler B was a nice colt.
Flight Director - Joe O'Brien's top flight pacer who was another one of those late 70's free-for-all pacers - Abercrombie, Flight Director, Try Scotch, LeBaron Rouge, Lime Time, Tijuana Taxi, Dream Maker. etc.