Day At The Track

The year of circuit first's was 1981

07:17 AM 18 Feb 2015 NZDT
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Burgomeister and his National Hall of Fame trainer-driver Billy Haughton Coffee Dan went 9-for-12 in his first season of racing
Burgomeister and his National Hall of Fame trainer-driver Billy Haughton
Coffee Dan went 9-for-12 in his first season of racing

The year 1981 was in the hey-days of harness racing at Sportsman’s Park, the center-piece track of the Chicago circuit. There were a number of “firsts” taking place during that summer at the five-eighths mile track in Cicero, Illinois,

The first $2 million handle on a single Illinois harness racing card was recorded on July 11 when 20,047 patrons, the largest crowd of the 1981 Chicago harness racing season, wagered $2,069,079 on track on a 10-race program.

That evening was also the first time that all 10 races on a Chicago circuit card were timed in 2:00 or faster highlighted by Osborne’s First and Doug Hamilton teaming up for a world record mile of 1:55.2 for an aged pacer on a five-eighths track in that night’s Free For All..

The first Sunday program in Sportsman’s Park history was held on May 17 with Artie’s Dream (Shelly Goudreau) taking the $70,000 American National 3-Year-Old Pace in 1:58.

Opening Night, eight days earlier, saw Burgomeister (see photo) and his National Hall of Fame trainer-driver Billy Haughton, follow his victory in the prestigious Hambletonian, with a one and ½ length triumph in the $61,510 American National Maturity Trot with a 2:03.3 mile.

Also in the summer of 1981 Banker Barker (Mike Zeller) would come on with a mighty rush to take the American National 3-Year-Old Trot in 2:00.3. The $100,450 American National Maturity Pace was annexed by Bandelier and driver Walter Paisley in 1:56.3.

Eugene Waszak’s Madame Butterfilly, the second longest shot on the board, won that season’s $56,750 Violet Stakes.

The Roger Davino Stable’s Whizzer R White, driven by Dave Magee, set a track record for a 2-year-old pacer with a 1:59.1 clocking in the July 21 Poplar Byrd stake,

The 3-year-old ICF star that summer was the Dan Shetler Stable’s Coffee Dan, a son of Egyptian Dancer who went unraced as a freshman. Coffee Dan went 9-for-12 in his first season of racing for his then Illinois owners George Barounes, Robert Parrish, 809 Corporation and Shetler.

Coffee Dan captured the $77,500 Cardinal Final and later the $120,800 Langley on July 3 (see picture) where he defeated Foolish Eyes (Jim Curran) with in 1:58 flat. Coffee Dan would earn $158,349 that year.

Shetler also drove the winner of the $60,000 Midwest Derby Final when Tarport Boss uncorked a big move in the stretch. Meanwhile Royce lived up to his billing by winning the $60,000 U.S. Pacing Championship Final in mid-August.

Wieker’s Del, driven by Delvin Insko, took advantage of a great trip and notched the $200,000 Orange and Blue Stake, at that time the richest race for 2-year-old ICF pacers.

Sportsman’s on-track attendance and handle figures for the summer of 1981were extraordinary, to say the least. The average nightly attendance was 13,196 while the handle nightly averaged a robust $1,627,058.

Sadly those glory days of Illinois harness racing are long-gone.

By Mike Paradise

The Illinois Harness Horsemen's Association

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