Day At The Track

Fielding emotional after Hambletonian win

07:16 AM 13 Aug 2015 NZST
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John Fielding
John Fielding

It's been a week of triumph and tragedy in Ontario harness racing. Saturday, brothers John and Jim Fielding, of Toronto, along with former Torontonian Herb Liverman and their U.S. partners, won the $1 million Hambletonian, at the Meadowlands Racetrack, in New Jersey, with their trotter Pinkman.

On Monday, came the announcement that stellar stallion Camluck, the leading pacing sire in Canadian history, had died at age 28 at Seelster Farms in Lucan, Ont. More on that in a second, but first, the good news.

Pinkman, a three-year-old gelding, defeated ultra-game Mission Brief, who was trying to become the first filly to win trotting's greatest race since Continentalvictory accomplished the feat in 1996.

John Fielding has been trying to win the Hambletonian for some 30 years. He grew up in Toronto riding the streetcar with his brother to Greenwood Raceway where their passion for horse racing was first stoked. Today, John is one of the top owners in harness racing, is a two-time owner of the year and sits on the board of the Woodbine Entertainment Group that operates Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto and Mohawk Racetrack in Campbellville.

Saturday afternoon, John hid his emotions behind dark sunglasses as he gripped a corner of the famed revere silver bowl that stands as harness racing's Stanley Cup.

"I don't usually get too emotional, but I got emotional because my son David's here. My family, all my kids, are used to me running out to watch a race. So, they know how important this is to me and they're all very understanding," John said in the winner's circle.

Then, with a mighty grin he added, "It feels fantastic. We've had a lot (of horses), but we're finally here. We finally did it," he said of the victory he, his brother and Liverman share with Joyce McClelland, of Ohio, and Christina Takter, wife of Pinkman's New Jersey-based trainer Jimmy Takter.

The trainer said he's blessed to have Fielding as one of his owners, but more importantly, as one of his close friends.

"It's very special," Takter said. "John has been with me a long time. Everybody knows in this sport that there's nobody better. I can race 20 horses and 19 race bad and one race well and he will never mention the 19 bad ones. Doing this for John means very much for me."

Earlier that day, the same connections, minus McClelland, also won the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks for fillies with Wild Honey.

Pinkman's triumph makes him just the sixth Canadian-owned horse to win the Hambletonian in the event's 90 years. The first was a filly named Helicopter in 1953 that became the foundation trotting broodmare of the Armstrong Bros. equine empire, of Brampton, Ont. Liverman was part-owner of the 1998 champion Muscles Yankee. The Burgess family, of Campbellville and Milton — father Bob, his trainer son Blair and Blair's wife Karin — won the Hambletonian with Amigo Hall and Glidemaster in 2003 and 2006, respectively. In 2010, Takter-trained Muscle Massive won the Hambletonian for a group that included Marv Katz, Al Libfeld and Sam Goldband of Toronto and Louie Camara, of Puslinch.

As for Camluck, by Canadian accounting he is the leading sire in harness racing history by progeny earnings. His sons and daughters have collectively earned more than $221 million on the track. He produced 28 millionaires and his offspring have average earnings per starter of more than $118,000. Camluck was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 2003 and the United States Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 2008.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob McIntosh of LaSalle, Ont., owned Camluck with his cousin, Al McIntosh, and the New Destiny Stables. Camluck earned over $1 million on the racetrack and then made an even deeper impact as a stallion. He stood at Seelster Farms for 23 years until being royally retired from active stallion duty in October of 2014 to a private paddock with a special lawn as pristine as one might find on a golf course.

"The legacy of Camluck will live on for generations to come in the offspring he continues to influence with his determination and intelligence," said Ann Straatman for Seelster Farms. "What the pedigree pages cannot say is what a privilege it has been to care for Camluck all of these years and how much we will miss our friend."

Earlier this summer, when Camluck became the first horse inducted into the Wall of Fame at The Raceway at The Western Fair District in London, Ont., Straatman said, "Camluck made Seelster Farms. Without a hesitation I say that. Without him we wouldn't be where we are today. He put us on the map."

McIntosh often referred to having Camluck as like having an annuity or like hitting the lottery and he and the other connections expressed their "profound sadness" at the stallion's passing. The trainer said Camluck's legacy will be long and deep.

"It's mind-boggling. It's something that will go on when I've passed. He'll be in pedigrees of great horses. It's pretty humbling. I'm lucky to have him come across my path," McIntosh said.

Dave Briggs is the president of the Canadian chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association.

He can be reached by e-mail at dbriggs1969@ymail.com

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