Day At The Track

Eddie Wheeler deserves to be remembered

01:31 AM 07 Apr 2008 NZST
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Georgian Downs Entrance

Several government and industry studies of horse racing claim that many tens of thousands of people are directly or indirectly involved in the sport.

From the obvious jockeys and drivers to trainers, owners and grooms, there is also a larger network of feed suppliers, truck and trailer providers, harness manufacturers, government agencies and racetrack employees.

Like any sport the stars we know today are only the top of a pyramid of supporting individuals who enable the industry to function.

Over my years of involvement with racing I have often marvelled at the incredible depth of talent that is so obvious at tracks across the country.

Unfortunately it is too easy to overlook the skills of relatively unknown drivers when the media concentrates on the biggest tracks and the most lucrative purses.

For every famous driver like a John Campbell or a Jodie Jamieson, many, many more talented individuals spend careers in relative obscurity never having the opportunity to drive the truly great horses.

Especially in harness racing, where a 'catch driver' is hired on an individual basis for each mount, they are literally only as good as their last race.

Perhaps it is inevitable that time has a way of forgetting some of the sport's brightest talents. The competition to stand in the ‘lime light’ shows no mercy for those who have chosen to stand down.

Out of the thousands who have gone before there are certain individuals that deserve to be remembered. One in particular that I can recall is Eddie Wheeler, probably one of the greatest horsemen the sport ever produced but whose name would not be recognized by many of today's participants.

Wheeler was lured to horse racing at the tender age of twelve, running off to work at a racetrack the way some have sought adventure with the circus.

Born on the east coast he somehow managed to find his way to California before a school truant officer caught up with him there.

While working for the Hall of Fame horsemen Jimmy Cruise, Wheeler spent his afternoons in a makeshift classroom under the grandstand of Santa Anita racetrack, but it was the lessons learned in the shed rows that really paid off for Wheeler.

Given the opportunity to start driving a few horses for Cruise gave him the chance he needed to display his talents which were considerable.

Wheeler was the essence of an all around horseman, possessing the patience and understanding to train colts and precocious fillies while having nerves of steel to drive against the best drivers of his day.

I think deeds speak better than words when one realizes that those same great drivers often asked Wheeler to sub for them.

Eddie drove some of the most famous horses of the time including Stanley Dancer’s Cardigan Bay and Meadow Skipper, Joe Obrien’s Steady Star, and Frank Ervin’s Sprite Rodney.

Wheeler's own training accomplishments included developing and driving Duke Rodney who retired as the richest trotter up to that time.

Unfortunately a terrible racing accident left Wheeler with a broken back in two places, and a concussion that never really healed for almost two years. It spelled the end of Wheeler’s fame in the sulky and eventually his accomplishments dimmed in the memories of many.

My grandfather used to say “When you’re gone you are soon forgotten.” Eddie Wheeler was one individual who deserves better than that.

Scott Rowe, Georgian Downs Newsletter

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