The Grand Circuit is Born
It Started at Cleveland
by Ken McCarr
(reprinted from the October '71 issue of Hoof Beats magazine)
The early days of harness racing saw the contests located mainly along the eastern coast and in the vicinity of the metropolitan centers. Each track held independent meetings and the horsemen had to schedule their year of campaigning as best they could. The nearness of the tracks and the limitations of travel in those days were a strong influence to keep the racing stock close to home, near the larger cities.
In an attempt to lure the better class of horses to their cities, the inland tracks put into effect a schedule of increased purses. Buffalo, N. Y., was the first track to step up its purses and Cleveland was another of the leaders in this movement. These two cities did draw the eastern horses away from their tight little circle.
Goldsmith Maid, a starter at the first Grand Circuit meeting in Cleveland.
Although the eastern horses had been enticed inland, there had been no attempt to organize these meetings. The purses were good but each meeting picked random dates and this caused conflicts. One meeting would race with scanty fields of horses while other tracks were over-crowded. In the period following the Civil War the racing situation was bordering on chaos and it was getting to be a case of every meeting for its own self and nearly every track was being hurt sooner or later.
The first suggestion on a solution to the problem occured at a party which was held at the home of William Edwards of Cleveland, Ohio. There had been a grand day of racing at the new mile track during a hot day in August 1871. Among the influential guests attending the festivities were John Tod, president of the Cleveland Club, E. A. Buck, vice-president of Buffalo Park, and L. J. Powers, chairman of the executive committee of the Springfield, Massachusetts, club.
During the bounteous repast the subject of a grouping of cities for a racing circuit was introduced by Colonel Edwards. It is possible that he might have received his inspiration from a Canadian racing circuit which was the first one recorded on the North American continent. Regardless of where the idea came from, Colone! Edwards was the first to lay the groundwork for the foundation for the initial racing circuit in the United States. This circuit was to continue on to the present day and was to become the Grand Circuit, the big league of harness racing.
The suggestion of Colonel Edwards was interesting and following the dinner there was quite a discussion on the possibilities and merits of the scheme. There were two items that stopped immediate action. The first was the lateness of the season as most of the influential meetings were already in the record book. The second stumbling block was the number of members to support a racing circuit. It was decided that there must be at least four and only three members were showing any enthusiasm over the new plan.
There was no further progress made until during the racing at Buffalo, N. Y. in 1872. The dinner this time was at the home of E. A. Buck, one of the men that had attended the party, where the birth of the idea occurred, at Cleveland the previous year. The main contribution of the host was the introduction of C. W. Hutchinson, the head man of an organization which had just finished the construction of a racing strip at Utica, N. Y. By the time the meal was finished, the fourth member of the circuit had been recruited.
During the winter the officers were elected and a schedule of four consecutive weeks of racing for large purses had been set up. In true fashion of the day, it was thought that in order to be impressive, the name of any organization had to be long as well as filled with words that would make the average person scurry to the dictionary to find their meaning. The name that was chosen was a dandy-The Quadrilateral Trotting Combination.
Although there were two gaits at this time, trotting and pacing, it is the diagonal gait that has been used in the titles of organizations connected with the Standardbred. The early pacers were the unwanted children of the sport. The history of th modern racing pacer dates back to th latter part of the 1870's. The tracks were reluctant to put on pacing races. Hopple had yet to be invented and without these stabilizers on the legs, the general pattern of pacing races was that the outstanding pacer in the race would win a heat or two and then would make a disastrous break known to the track gentry as a standstill break, and would be distanced.
The term distanced is a term that passed away some time ago. The distance was generally eighty yards up the stretch from the finish line. The distance varied with the size of the fields of horses as in case of extremely large fields it could be 100 yards or so.
A flagman was stationed at the distance marker and he carried a red flag. When the winner crossed the finish line the judge dropped a red flag and at the same time the flagman dropped his pennant. All the horses that finished with their noses ahead of the flagman at the time the flag was dropped were eligible to continue racing Those behind the flag were distanced and were sent to the barn. They were through for the day.
The fact that many of the pacing favorites would make mistakes and finish behind the flag was not popular with people that made wagers. As a result the betters shied away from races at the lateral gait. The situation was made still worst as some of the sharper drivers lost races that verged on turf scandals.
The dislike of the early pacers was shown when John Wallace started the breed of Standardbred horses with the first volume of "Wallaces American Trotting Register." The word trotting was used as no pacers could be registered as Standardbreds. It was many years later after a great battle by champions of the pacers that individuals of that gait were accepted in the register. However it was under separate set of rules and the pacing stallions were all given registration numbers that started with a zero.
As early racing was composed almost exclusively of trotters, the many governing bodies of the sport were listed as "Trotting Association." Even at the present time this custom is still carried on as the governing body of the harness sport since 1939 has been The United States Trotting Association.
Today the pacer is enjoying an era of unusual prominence but when the Grand Circuit started in 1873 there was not one pacing race recorded in the four meetings and only one pacing race recorded in the 1874 schedule of the fledgling circuit.
Returning to 1873, this was the year that saw the start of the pioneer racing circuit of the nation. Cleveland, Ohio, led off July 29-August 1, followed by Buffalo N. Y., August 5-6; Utica, N. Y., August 12-14: and Springfield, Mass., August 19-22. The early publicity gave the total purses as $169,300 but in checking back and adding up the purses the total for the first year reached $174,400.
The totals for some of the old meetings are rather confusing at times but in order to get the owners of the cream of the fast horses to send their trotters in speedy miles it was necessary to have races against time and these were for purses. The results were set up the same as in a regular race. If the horse failed to go as fast as the time set for the exhibition, then Time was listed as the winner and the horse was second.
The opening week at Cleveland was over the Glenville track, better known as The Golden Oval. It was a combination meet-ing as there were races for runners as well as trotters. The first winner of the initial meeting was the stallion Mambrino Gift, a horse that was later to take the stallion record away from Smuggler with a mile in 2:20. He only held it a month and then Smuggler took back his crown.
The feature race was the free for all trot and the champion Goldsmith Maid was an overwhelming favorite in the auction pools at $100 to $10. In the first heat it was American Girl and Goldsmith Maid that raced head and head into the turn to the music of the rattling high wheels of their sulkies. Suddenly the favorite stopped and the field went on without her. Driver Budd Doble was called to the judges stand and he said that the Maid had caught a hind foot in a quarter boot and was so unnerved that it was impossible to get her to continue and so she was distanced. Lucy went on to win the big race in 2:21 1/4, the fastest heat of the first week of the new circuit.
John E. Turner accounted for two races with Lucy, the other was a $5,000 event. Another double winner during this meeting was Clementine. In her first start the judges believed that the driver was not making an honest attempt to win so Doble was requested to take over the driving chores and he came home in front. The other winners at Cleveland were Judge Fullerton and Castle Boy.
The biggest purses of the season were offered at Buffalo. The Buffalo Driving Park was the kingpin at this time. Large purses had drawn the best horses and this led the early turf scribes to dub Buffalo as the Father of the Grand Circuit. The title really belongs to Cleveland as the Grand Circuit had its inception there. Cleveland also became the point from which the dates for the circuit were granted. They were in relation to "Cleveland week" and Cleveland was to continue on as an active member until 1946, a record that can not be remotely approached by any other track in the circuit.
The feature race at Buffalo was the $20,000 purse for 2:21 trotters. Camors looked like the winner after taking the first two heats but Ben Mace then came on with Sensation to take the decision. This was a big betting event. After his perfor-mance at Cleveland, the white faced Judge Fullerton had been installed a top heavy favorite and Jim Irving as second choice. The latter was distanced the first heat and Fullerton could do no better than third.
Gloster made his first appearance in the 2:24 trot and took home the major portion of the $10,000 purse. The 2:20 1/4 by Camors in the big race looked to be the best of the week but on the final day it was tied by Goldsmith Maid as the mare re-turned to form and beat American Girl in the free for all trot for $7,500.
Just previous to the start of the 1873 season, a new track was completed at Rochester, N. Y. Unfortunately it chose the same dates as Utica and both meetings were hurt. Gloster won over a field of seven for a $5,000 purse and then the rains came to Utica.
After a two day delay racing started again with Judge Fullerton regaining his winning form and taking the $6,000 2:21 trot. His best time was 2:22 and he beat the same field that had trounced him so soundly the previous week. Gloster came back to account for the 2:24 trot and Goldsmith Maid beat American Girl in slow time in the free for all.
Due to the peculiar shape of the Hampden Park track, the racing strip at Springfield was never considered to be as fast as the other tracks on the circuit. This made the 2:19 1/4 of Goldsmith Maid a sensation. She systematically took the measure of Judge Fullerton, American Girl and Lula in the free for all.
There were two double winners during the week. St. James, who had won at Buffalo and Utica, took the 2:26 as well as the 2:29 trots. Clementine, who had won at the three other meetings, won the 2:34 trot and later led the 2:38 trotters to the wire.
Judge Fullerton was the favorite in the 2:21 trot for $6,000. He was distanced the first heat. Sensation was the eventual winner after dropping a heat to Camors.
No major world's records were set during the first session of this circuit. The trotting record of 2:16 3/4 was held at this time by Goldsmith Maid. The crown for trotting stallions rested on the head of Jay Gould 2:21 1/2. Pacers were few but Yan-kee Sam had recorded a mile in 2:16 1/2 to set the pacing standard.
Since that first race won by Mambrino Gift on July 29, 1873 the circuit grew. In 1875 the name was changed to the Central Trotting Circuit as the addition of two new members caused the doing away with the quadrilateral part. In 1876 the name was the Grand Central Circuit and in 1896 the present title of Grand Circuit was first used.
There has been a growth in size as the four charter members are no longer on the itinerary of the big ring but the present membership list twenty three meetings in 1971.
The original circuit was entirely mile tracks. Historic Track at Goshen was the first half mile track to be granted Grand Circuit dates. Now there are several half mile members. The new track size to appear is the now popular five eights mile track and there are several of these in this years list. The practice of racing during the afternoon was first successfully breached by the Toledo, Ohio, track near Maumee. This was converted to the lights in 1926 and it was here that Winnipeg paced the first two minute mile under the lights.
Syracuse, N. Y., was the first fair to be admitted to the Grand Circuit and today there are four fairs in the membership. Probably the most coveted prize is the Hambletonian and this started at a fair, Syracuse, N. Y. and is still at a fair, Du-Quoin, III.
There are some changes. The great trains of horses do not go from town to town to follow the circuit. Today it is the name Grand Circuit that moves from place to place and only a few of the top horses are shipped in to race in a few important stakes.
In the early stages the three in five system was used. This meant that a horse had to win three heats in order to be de-clared a winner. The qualities of these horses was endurance, stamina and gameness. Later the races were shortened to two in three with two heats needed for a winning performance.
Today the trend is for one dash and the sprinting of one mile at top speed is stressed. The result is fast miles over the beautifully manicured tracks of today.
The biggest now today is the gait. It was all trotters at first and then came the free legged pacers, and there were some mighty good ones too. The invention of hopples influenced the today and most of the races are for pacers and most of the pacers wear the "Indiana pants."
The cycle has been completed as far as the race meetings are concerned. The horses are racing at the metropolitan neighborhoods and they can generally race at one town for the whole racing season.
The fabulous purses of today are making proud owners of horses with a big bankroll. But the winnings of Goldsmith Maid surpassed the Thoroughbreds of her time.