Before Meadowlands Hambo it was DuQuoin in 1980

01:58 AM 30 Jul 2013 NZST
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Billy Haughton won the 1980 Hambletonian in DuQuoin in straight heats
Here is the 1980 DuQuoin Hambeltonian race program
Vintage DuQuoin State Fair poster
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Burgomeister's victory left no dry eyes at the track

The eyes of the harness racing world will look toward New Jersey this week, as preparations for Saturday's $1 million-plus Hambletonian Trot for 3-year-olds get serious.

In a sense, this will be the final Hambletonian at the Meadowlands, but only in a small sense. This will be the final Hambo raced in front of what will soon be known as the original grandstand, because by opening time of the next meet this November, a brand new grandstand will be open, and the
current one, dating back to Meadowlands' first meet in 1976, will be shuttered.

(The racing surface itself will be the same; the new grandstand is on the opposite side of the track, on what used to be the stable area.)

By this time next week, I will have attended 32 consecutive Hambletonians, and 33 of the last 34. I missed the first one at the Meadowlands in 1981.

My first Hambo was actually the last one raced at DuQuoin, Illinois, on August 30, 1980. The site, where the Hambletonian had been raced since 1957
after it had moved from Good Time Park in Goshen, New York, was known as the "DuQuoin State Fair," despite the fact that it wasn't the Illinois State Fair (which is held, including its own harness meet, in Springfield), nor is it even the county fair of its own county, as far as I know.

Here's what I recall of that final Hambletonian at DuQuoin.

I was working as administrator for Hall of Fame horseman Joe O'Brien at the time, and our summer base was at Chicago's Sportsman's Park, located some five hours north of DuQuoin. I'd never been to DuQuoin, I'd never been to a Hambletonian, and I was bound and determined to attend this last one.

Fortunately, it was fine with Joe; we had five or six horses that would race there that weekend, and it was almost like I was working just by being there.

Whatever DuQuoin was, in the great collection of Midwest fairs, it was located in a very pretty, very rural, setting. As Sports Illustrated writer Doug Looney put it at the time, DuQuoin "is reached by driving to the end of the world, then turning left."

What I'll remember best about the Hambo that year is what everyone there will remember best. It was the high drama of Burgomeister's victory in the
$293,570 event.

Burgomeister, a colt by Speedy Count, was "Peter's horse," Peter being the 25-year-old son of the late Hall of Fame trainer-driver Billy Haughton and
wife Dorothy. Peter, a rising training and driving star himself, was killed in a one-car auto accident near the Meadowlands the previous winter, and he
owned, with partner Marcello Fiorentino, this colt he was aiming for the Hambletonian.

More determined than I was to attend the big race that weekend in 1980, Billy was even more so determined to win it in Peter's memory.

The first elimination on that hot and sunny Saturday afternoon was won, ironically enough, by Peter's younger brother, another Haughton son, Tommy,
with a colt named Final Score, in 1:56.3, over Devil Hanover and Noble Hustle. Burgomeister and Billy, won the second elimination race in 1:58, over Nevele Impulse and Thor Viking.

And, as if written by Hollywood screenwriters, Burgomeister, "Peter's horse," won the final in 1:56.3, as he trotted by Devil Hanover and Noble Hustle on his way to the wire.

History will not remember that crop of sophomore trotting colts as being anything extraordinary, but that wasn't really the point at the time.

Afterward, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Billy was crying, Dottie was crying, Tommy was crying. Another Haughton, young trainer-driver
Cammie, was crying. I was a former Haughton employee myself (1977 and '78), but I just watched from the sidelines as the whole tearful winner's circle
celebration, or whatever you may call the gathering, ensued.

It was a moment in time, never to be forgotten. I'm so thankful to have been there.

by Pete Lawrence


 

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