This Saturday night (9-07) Batavia Downs will present a night of nostalgia when it celebrates the 25th anniversary of their hosting the 1988 Breeders Crown aged mare trot along with reuniting five of the most popular drivers ever circle their surface, to once again compete against each other in the first Legends of Batavia Downs race.
The 1988 Breeders Crown was the richest purse ever offered at the Genesee County oval as well as the only leg of that prestigious series to be held there. The record purse of $268,756 saw top drivers Bill O’Donnell, Doug Brown and Ben Webster compete and a packed house was anxious to witness the sport’s top stars.
Scenic Regal was coming off a second place finish to Mack Lobell at Yonkers and was the post time favorite. But the Armstrong Brothers entry of Armbro Fling and Armbro Flori were a formidable team to beat. In front of a roaring crowd, Larry Walker got Armbro Flori home by a head over the fast closing Scenic Regal in a time of 1:59.3. A pedestrian clocking by today’s standards, it was only 2/5th’s of a second off the all-time track trotting record when it happened.
To commemorate the silver anniversary, there will be $25 betting vouchers given away starting after the fourth race, for five consecutive races. All the fans on hand will be eligible to win.
Also that night will be the first ever Legends of Batavia Downs Pace. It will be 1970 all over again when the driving titans of a bygone era are brought back to the track to relive one of the most exciting times the track ever had. Hall of famer Clint Galbriath will be back in the bike to tangle with fellow western New York stars Gerry Sarama, Gaston Guindon, Dick Welch and Fred Haslip in a one mile race for the ages.
Clint Galbraith has 3,062 wins and $19 million in earnings. He scored his first dash title at Batavia Downs in 1963 and will be forever synonymous with the legendary Niatross who won 37 of 39 starts and was named the horse of the year in 1979 and 1980. Another great Galbraith student was Call For Rain who won the Breeders Crown twice.The list of accomplishments attained by Galbraith is as impressive as any horseman ever to go behind a starting gate.
Gerry Sarama has 2,630 wins and $11.5 million in earnings. He started driving at an early age and quickly found himself at the top of the driver colony at Batavia. Although he made a move to Roosevelt Raceway for a while to compete with the best in the nation, he eventually found his way back home and was always a highly sought after catch driver. Some of his most memorable horses were Jambo Bea, Free Chase, and his personal favorite, Cambiance. Sarama was known as “the man with the hands”.
Gaston Guindon has 3,080 wins and $6.9 million in earnings. He moved to Batavia Downs in 1969 and it wasn’t long after that his career took off. The horses he drove were a who’s who for years and included names like the venerable Mr. Coal, Keystone Spectrum, Harbor Smoke, E C Oakie, Willow Hill Boy, Mucalee Bunt, Hot Shot Hamde, Skipper Frank and River Mouse. He is affectionately known by the locals as “The Gasser”.
Dick Welch has 923 wins and $1.7 million in purses. He started driving at Batavia Downs in the late 1960’s and was the trainer for the powerful Marks Stable of Buffalo. Two of the most memorable pacers ever to race locally came from his barn; Pine Hill Time and Pine Hill Fred. Both were perennial Open class performers and shuttled between home and New York to race the best the east coast had to offer. His last pari-mutual start was in 1978 when he shifted gears to become a racing official. Welch was known for his trademark toothpick as you seldom saw him without one.
Fred Haslip has 2,585 wins and has earned $5.9 million in purses. The lifelong resident of Basom, NY started driving at fairs in 1959 and scored his first pari mutual win in 1960. The list of horses that Haslip has teamed over the years is long and includes names like Diamond Sparkler, Happy Sparkler, Keystone Astro, Kay El, Jack the Baron, Coaltown Smoke, Flawless Sparkler and Princess Dee Dee. But Haslip is probably most noted for developing the former double gaited world record holder, Excalibur.
Todd Haight is the General Manager of live racing at Batavia Downs. He remembers watching this group compete against each other in their prime and looks forward to “getting the band back together” to relive the good old days.
Haight said “We are proud and excited to have these gentlemen come back and thrill our fans one more time. They were responsible for so many great races and memories that many of us still recall when we stand by the fence and reminisce. This is the first Legend’s race we’ve held and we look forward to doing it every year moving forward.”
There will be a meet and greet with an autograph session on the apron from 5:30 to 6:25 and there will be a special picture insert in the program perfect for signing. The race itself will be held after the seventh event of the night. The whips used in the race by the five drivers will be autographed and given away to the fans in a random drawing. After the race, Gaston Guindon will be honored by the track and his colors will be hung in their track Hall of Fame where he will join other Batavia Downs immortals Jeff Gregory, John Schroeder, Ben Webster, Patsy Rapone and Bob Altizer.
Post time is 6:30 for this action packed night of racing.
by Tim Bojarski