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--- California Harness Racing History ---

Out of the West Comes Many a Gripping Tale Fashioned on California's Old Trotting Trail

CALIFORNIA, where one hundred years ago the forty niners hit pay dirt, has another kind of soil which is hallowed deep in its history. It is the soil which covers a few ancient race tracks located in the hinterlands of sunlit valleys, shaded by gnarled old trees and bordered by folding hills. And over them, before the turn of the century, thundered some of the greatest standardbred harness horses of all time. The drum of their hoof beats still sounds a benediction and a prayer.

With the close of the successful Pacific Coast Trotting Association meeting at Golden Gate Fields, the modern day trotters and pacers took out on this historic trail, following their predecessors over the county fair summer circuit. It will lead them over the northern part of the state of California to such places as Pleasanton, Santa Rosa and Stockton. These three are the time‑worn spokes in the wheel. Other old ones have fallen by the wayside to be replaced by the new, but the three remain, holding their place much as they did in the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties.

Perhaps it would be of interest to our readers to recall a few of the horses, people, and events which left their seal so brightly set in the western sun of light harness racing.

Oldest of them all on the circuit is Pleasanton. Ninetyone years ago in this sun‑soaked valley of park‑like beauty the Bernal brothers, descendants of the original owners of the Spanish grant which encompassed this land, built the track. It was used by them in those early days for the staging of races among the Spanish and American rancheros of the region. And even prior to their formal construction of a course and grandstand in 1858—which date preceeds Saratoga's opening by six years—the present site had been used for racing, clear back to 1824.

Pleasanton is rich in harness history. No less than 14 national harness champions were developed and raced there. In 1880 Monroe Salisbury, known as the "King‑maker" of his time, brought the world's record holder, Director, to Pleasanton. He trained and raced over the track. His son, grandson, and great‑grandson, all of whom established world's records, were broken, schooled, trained and raced at this historic course. Direct, 2.051/2, carried on Director's line, which lead into Directum, 2.051/4, and to Directum I, 1.563/4. The great great grandson, though he never saw Pleasanton, was the immortal Billy Direct, 1.55, fastest of all Standardbreds.

The one and only Lou Dillon, though born at Santa Rosa, was broken and trained at Pleasanton. She was the first harness horse ever to break two minutes, and went from Pleasanton and Santa Rosa to become the idol of the racing world. Azote, undefeated world's champion gelding, also had a Pleasanton background, as did, among others, such all‑time greats as McKinney, Joe Patch, Star Pointer, Mona Wilkes and Peter Manning.

A newspaper story, date‑lined Pleasanton, December 16, 1893, records the triumphant home‑coming of Directum, following one of his eastern campaigns.

"The depot and surrounding streets were gayly decorated with flags, evergreens, and holly. Thousands of people lined the streets. Banners floated saying, 'Welcome Home'. The town band greeted the arrival of the train with 'See the Conquering Hero Comes'. After the unloading, Directum was led to a great platform where a floral collar bearing the words 'Directum King' was placed around his neck. The band played 'Hail to the Chief', amid the wild cheers of the people, and the horse was then led in a procession through the streets, attended by a long line of carriages, in one of which was the smiling face of Monroe Salisbury. He was then taken to the Pleasanton Stock Farm, where the band played 'Home Again'."

They did it right in those days!

Stockton, in a sense, is the hub of the western harness wheel. It has been for many, many years. It dates back to the 1860's, and has seen more speed and more records established than any other course west of the Mississippi. From 1890 on through the turn of the century it was the testing ground of champions.

In 1891 its famous "kite" track—long since abandoned—was built. With its single huge ballon turn and long straightaways, this course was a natural for the lowering of time records. Leland Stanford sent many of the get of Electioneer up to Stockton from his great Palo Alto Stock Farm in order to find out just how fast they were. Since Stanford bred mainly for speed the plains of the San Joaquin Valley were blistered with the steel of his horses. The sons and daughters of Electioneer set yearling, two‑year‑old, three‑year‑old, fouryear‑old, five‑year‑old, and all age world's records at Stockton. It is doubtful if any track in the United States can boast of such a speed background.

The great mare, Sunol, established the world's trotting record of 2.081/4 there in 1891, this, of course, being done to the oldfashioned high wheel sulky. Arion set the two‑year‑old record of 2.103/4, and the yearling, Belle Bird, toured the "big balloon" in 2.261/4. Palo Alto established himself as the champion trotting stallion of the world at Stockton by going the mile in 2.083/4. All of these times were recorded before the modem "bike" came into use, and of course they are long since obsolete. However, the San Joaquin oval has held its speed in more recent times, as witness the performances of Stellite, Palomin, Buddy Maxey, who set the western pacing record there of 1:593/4 in 1937, and Full Bloom, who last year toured the course on the trot in 1.584/5. Both of the latter, by the way, were driven by the 79 year old veteran, Bill Taylor.

A race which made harness history throughout the entire world was held at Stockton in 1893. The immortal McKinney, then aging and tailing off, was sent out against Klamath, Ottinger, Steve Whipple, Shylock and Richmond Jr. They were all top‑flighters. The race started Saturday afternoon and finished on Monday. It went to eight heats, and was one of the most gruelling and hotly fought affairs ever witnessed.

Stockton was the racing capital of the country that hot October afternoon. It was jammed with men, guns, and gold. Klamath, the great Oregon gelding, was supposed to be at his peak of form, having just come back west from many eastern triumphs. He was made a heavy favorite for the first heat. Feeling was at fever pitch among public and drivers. They scored no less than 20 times, but could not get a start. The officials sent them back to the barn, and told 'em to cool out. The betting pools went up and up, as did the tempers of every one. Finally, an hour later; they got off. Steve Whipple won that first beat, beating McKinney by two lengths. Klamath, disorderly at the start, was nowhere.

The second heat was another grueller. Klamath, still carrying the major portion of the money, continued to score badly, his driver, Tom Raymond, paying no attention to the officials. McKinney won that one, turning the tables on Steve Whipple. They came out for the third heat, which practically ended in a riot. The judges had had enough of Tom Raymond, and ordered him out of Klamath's rig. He refused. The crowd surged out on the track, ready and willing to protect the Oregon horse with something more than words. Luckily the sun went down, and that was all for Saturday.

It took six heats and countless scores on Monday to decide the issue. Raymond apparently still didn't want to play ball with the officials, and by now the crowd had had about all it wanted of him and of Klamath. Ottinger won this third heat, McKinney fourth, Klamath fifth. Up came the fourth time around, and up came the badly discredited Klamath to win easily. That made one each for McKinney, Steve Whipple, Ottinger, and Klamath. Now the chips were down, and the roar of the crowd was up. Klamath had come to life, and he was again made favorite. Shylock and Richmond Jr. were removed from the race.

The rest is history on a definitely Homeric scale. How horses, drivers, or public kept going is something of a mystery. Ottinger won the fifth, McKinney the sixth, Klamath the seventh. Only those three staggered out for the 8th and last round. Steve Whipple had taken the count. The place was a mad­house by now, old‑timers saying the noise could be heard clear over the hills in San Francisco.

McKinney and Klamath battled it out in that last one. Ottinger went the course, but he was through. McKinney was the winner—and still the champion—by a head. He went that last heat in 2.22, having won the second heat in 2.111/4, which gives some idea of how tired those gallant horses were.

Last, but not least, of the big three is Santa Rosa. Its lovely little track out at the head of the Bennett Valley is pounded deep with light harness history. Here was born the "little chestnut lady", and to this day she is still Santa Rosa's pride and joy.

Speaking of Lou Dillon and her home town brings to mind a story. Forty‑six years ago the two made up a combination which resulted in a happening believed to be unparalleled in newspaper history‑the publishing of an extra edition solely because of the accomplishments of a horse.

In 1903 the great mare was to go an exhibition mile at Memphis, Tennessee. She was out to break her own two minute record. She had previously conquered all within her sight, and the entire racing world was waiting with bated breath for the results of the Memphis mile. The breath of Santa Rosa, who owned her as a native daughter, was collectively held longer and deeper than any other spot in the world.

The late Senator Herbert W. Slater, then City Editor of the Santa Rosa Press‑Democrat, decided he would give the home folks the news in the proper manner. He leased a special wire direct from track‑side in Memphis; set his presses to roll, and waited for the mare to roll.

The rest is history. The mare rolled, unravelling the course in 1.581/2 for a new world's record, and Senator Slater bad his screaming headlines on the streets within minutes of the final result.

The town went wild. It is still showing plenty of enthusiasm for the harness horse.

Space does not permit further mention of the historic races held at Santa Rosa. There was the famous five heat trotting duel between Romero and Alex Button back in 1881; there was Echora beating Director in his first western star', and years later in 1914 the historic match between Don Pronto and Jim Logan, the latter winning by pacing the mile in 2.013/4.

Yes, California is rich in harness history.

INTO THE FIRST TURN they go over the beautiful race course of the Sonoma County Fair at Santa Rosa, California. Note
the striking background.