This article and the images are copyrighted December 2014 by Glenn W. Gibbons and The Lost Trotting Parks Heritage Center.
From S. Dexter — I met Glenn Gibbons at the Cornish Historic Fairgrounds a couple of years ago during the Cornish Horsemen’s Day. I was playing a song I had written called, “The Story of a Maine Horseman Untold.” I was under the grandstand. As I played an older man walked in and sat down. As I played he sat listening and smiling. When I finished. The man said, “It so good to hear a song about my old friend Jimmy Jordan.” This is how I met Glenn Gibbons. Glenn and I have have had several conversations. During those conversations we talked about Glenn writing the story of the Gibbons Family in Harness Racing. This is his story — memories of a family in harness racing that started with his grandfather Wesley Forrester Gibbons who lived for many years in Bridgetown, Nova Scotia. At the end of his story is a captioned slideshow of Gibbons family photographs. The photograph centered above is of Glenn Gibbons when he was a race secretary between the years 1954 and 1956
With Henry Thomas arranging the trial and driving a prompter, Lawrence Sheppard’s eleven year old daughter, Alma, drove Dean Hanover to a long-lasting world record of 1:58½. Sheppard himself was in the bike for several record breaking miles with Dean Hanover and the stallion was said to be Mr Sheppard’s favorite horse of all time. Grandfather’s so-called “big horse” who always could be counted on to support the stable for many years was Peter Look 2:01¼. Peter Look was a money-winning free-legged (didn’t wear hopples) pacing stallion by Peter the Great out of Pilatka making him a half-brother to grandfather’s champion trotting filly, Palestrina. 1921 results from Woonsocket, Rhode Island show Peter Look beating the famous Margaret Dillon all three heats in the free-for-all pace, both pacers without hopples. At Wes Gibbons’ livery stable I played with his whip and recall riding in his car with him hollering “giddyap” and “whoa” to it. Out at the fairgrounds he jogged trotters and pacers in carts and sleighs with me on his lap.
Among his six sons, my father, Walter, was definitely the horse-crazy one from the day he could crawl around the barn. He drove exhibition miles at fairs when he was eight years old and finished third in his first race at fourteen years old. In later years grandfather could always depend on Walter to be helping around the stable when he wasn’t at his job of driving a team of horses for Hannaford Brothers in Boston where the Faneuil Hall tourist mecca is today.
Upon his father’s death, son Walter took over the stable. Racing at Rochester, New Hampshire, sporting his father’s shiny black silks he was the youngest driver to appear in the winners’ circle. He always called Rochester, his “lucky track”.
Walter S. Gibbons did everything in harness racing you can think of including running small and large horse sales, managing the breeding of horses, picking out yearlings, breaking, training and racing them to become champions, importing and exporting horses, rebuilding race tracks, serving as state steward, presiding judge, racing secretary, general manager, and many years a director in the United States Trotting Association.
Our long time Maine friend Phil Ehrlick described him as “a giant in American harness horse racing … who helped pioneer the sulky sport from the corn tassel country fair days to Metropolitan surroundings”.
My mother’s kid brother, Prescott Hobson, wrote in the Quincy Patriot Ledger-
“HORSES have always been so much a part of Walter S. Gibbons that he even spent his honeymoon at a harness track.”
“Naturally,” said the former Roosevelt Raceway racing secretary, displaying his typically friendly Gibbons-grin with a built-in wink. “My father was racing there.”
Father’s skill at resurfacing and reshaping race tracks developed on the Topsfield fairgrounds because he was the one who restored the half mile track for use by horses after it was ruined by auto or motorcycle races. He knew how to properly bank the turns and condition the surface for horses’ hooves. Later he was called upon to work his expertise at Saratoga, Pompano Park, Santa Anita, Delaware, Ohio, Indianapolis and many others. He had me driving a Fordson tractor pulling a harrow around the Topsfield oval when I wasn’t big enough to stop the tractor to shut it off. When I got a little taller I was handling the Model A watering truck. By nine I could drive anything. Naturally I got scratched and cut up around the fairgrounds but father always had some horse medicine to treat me. It must have worked. The worst treatment I remember was kerosene for my cough. One time I was riding the California harrow behind a noisy tractor when the control wheel broke and threw me into the middle of the harrow. I came away all banged up, climbed over the fence and ran to our barn. Father grabbed a pail of zinc oxide used on the horses and daubed it all over my cuts and scrapes before hauling me home to bed. All the time I was growing up I never saw father read anything but horse stuff and he read a lot. Things by the Gahagans, Geers, Gocher, Hervey, Marvin, Moore, Splan, and any horse paper he could get his hands on. He read a lot for a man who hadn’t finished high school. It was probably his constant reading that gave him a decent vocabulary but the one he used in those days belonged on the manure pile. Around the racetracks the language was pretty crude. In 1928 at Rochester, New Hampshire, he was suspended for thirty days because the judges objected to the language he used. If I was lucky enough to go anywhere with him, it was always to a race track like the Charles River Speedway or Neil Raymond’s Maplecroft Farm in Ipswich, Massachusetts.
Oh! But summers were very special because I got to go with him on the Pine Tree Circuit throughout the State of Maine where I was thrilled to warm up our horses in sulkies with girls of my age ogling me. There were wonderful nights at the Daisy Hotel in Keene and other fancy lodgings in Farmington, Skowhegan and on and on through the summer until Rochester, New Hampshire, which I had to miss for school. Evenings during our racing campaigns father would set out sporting while I wandered the towns usually ending up at a lively vaudeville show. When we arrived in his Terraplane at each fairgrounds I marvelled how dad would stop first thing to butter-up the track secretary; and that was long before he was one. When he let me drive his car he advised “Bud, don’t worry about the guys behind you. Just beat the ones in front.” Fatherly advice came hard for him. He inspired me by his behaviour. He never said a bad word about anyone. He always made excuses for them. When a man cut in too close to my territory, the most he would say was “Bud, you have to expect him to do that. He’s been around a lot longer than you have.” He prided himself with being on a first name basis with every U.S.T.A. director.
At Gorham Fair one year I overheard Franklin Safford conniving to win a big bet on an upcoming race. So I got a groom to wager my entire week’s pay of $2 on the horse that was supposed to win. When he lost it killed my urge to gamble for life. Even now when they offer me a BINGO card where I live, I say politely “I don’t condone gambling.” Father was wintering twenty-three head at Topsfield when I was twelve so he called on me to help driving the youngsters in sets with him and the other trainers. I still remember our three Hanover fillies of that year, Martha Hanover, Methyl Hanover, and Mistress Hanover. We had two old grooms, Percy Buker and Bill Barnes, left over from grandfather who delighted in showing me how to do a horse up. Bandaging sore legs is an exacting skill that those masters of the rub rag and scraper proudly shared with me.
The spring of 1935 at Topsfield Fairgrounds trainer Bill Carney came up with a sensational pacing colt named Billy Direct. To make a sale my father claimed that the colt could pace a mile in 2:12. For a 2-year-old to go that fast in May was phenomenal in those days. The prospective owners drove down from Lowell to see for themselves. Carney hitched the little bay horse to a sulky and I got aboard a runner called Snowpoke to prompt the mile. Off we went with me riding along the rail and the subject animal with his ears pinned back pacing all business in hopples easily covering the mile in the promised time and properly ahead of me at the finish. My father made more than enough commission on that sale to bring home two cases of B & M beans that night.
Out of the Gibbons stable came a couple of champion two-year-old trotters, Calumet Debutante and Calumet Dignity. Others I watched us campaign were Calumet Adage, Calumet Bidwell, Calumet Dubuque, Calumet Essex, Clever Hanover, Don Worthy, George W. Foster, Governor Alex, Helene Express, Hollyrood Boris, Jim Trojan, June Volo, Mamie Napoleon, Rip Hanover, and Wesley Napoleon. Walter Gibbons marked eight trotters and four pacers in better than 2:10. Clever Hanover 1:59 was the greatest colt he ever broke. By the time my mother’s Town Line House was becoming a colossal success my father’s horse racing days dragged on dismal and destitute. This brought acrimony into their marriage ending in a nasty divorce. To the rescue for my father came a stagecoach.
Mrs Dibble’s coach, “Valiant” broke the 60-year-old record with Walter Gibbons riding “shotgun” taking the reins to relieve farm manager, Tom Walsh. After what the newspapers called “The $100,000 Buggy Ride” my father took some of the horses used on that ride, off to the races for Mrs Dibble’s Old Town Farm Stable. Hollyrood Boris 2:02, David Thornton 2:01, Mac Aubrey 2:03, and Capital Stock 2:05 shipped to Rochester, New Hampshire, and Suffolk Downs where father showed up on the race track decked out in Mrs Dibble’s sissy-looking baby blue and pink colours.
With the Grand Circuit at the kite track I first saw the magnificent steel grey gelding named Greyhound. A pupil of the immortal Sep Palin, Greyhound came trotting down that long grey clay homestretch like a freight train at full throttle. Also I watched Billy Direct, now without hopples and driven by Vic Fleming, handily win his race in record-breaking time. The State of Maine was beholding the grandest harness racing in the world. Years later when I lived in Old Orchard Beach I went out to see the kite track. The grand stand foundation and bits of the ramp are still there. The home stretch has a brook running across it. When I followed what was left of the turn by the former stable area I suddenly found myself stuck in muck up to my waist.
I thought the end of my days had come and no one would ever know where I had gone. But with tremendous effort I pulled and clawed till the solid world was under me again. That place is now a bird sanctuary. Senior Year in High School — I was repeating my senior year in high school when I heard that Billy Direct with Vic Fleming up had broken Dan Patch’s 33-year-old world record with a mile in 1:55 at the Lexington, Kentucky, Big Red Mile. In 1940 with the newly opened and rained-out Roosevelt Raceway desperate for horses, old tobacco chewing Race Secretary Al Saunders called on his friend, Walter Gibbons, to get his Maine horsemen buddies to come down to the big city to race. They answered the call and came in time to save the day, or night. From this rescue a mutually beneficial association began between my horse-wise father and the brilliant raceway founder, George Morton Levy.
In 1945 George Morton Levy named Walter Gibbons race secretary at Roosevelt Raceway. Hampered by repeated rainouts my father volunteered to do something about it. He decided that an entirely new soil would be required and he found that soil called “marl” out on eastern Long Island. It was trucked in. Roosevelt’s half mile course was resurfaced with steeply banked turns for speed and crowned to let rain wash off. The track condition now meant very few cancelled races and records would be broken. With the metropolitan bettors annoyed by confusion and delays during the race starts, my father made sure that Mr Levy got together with Steve Phillips.
Money was then provided to have two stretched Chryslers converted into patented Phillips starting gates with their unique compound folding wings. 1946 was the watershed year for Roosevelt Raceway. A big beautiful cream-colored starting gate made its appearance to get every race off on schedule. The crowned marl track allowed all-weather racing and its turns were ready for record breaking miles. At the beginning of the year, races were made up with mostly money-won or time-bar conditions and heats were used where horses came back to compete a second time the same night. By the end of that season Walter Gibbons put out all classified races and all single dashes. Mutuel handles soared toward the million dollar mark.
My take on their successes is that besides the Thomas’s driving skills they ran a huge stable with always a horse available to fit well in any event offered. In those days when my father got ready to leave after a visit with my little family he would pull out a fat wad of bills and peel off a hundred dollar one for me. About that time my mother found him attractive again and he always saw her that way so they remarried. On one of my visits to Roosevelt Raceway I spent an afternoon at Grumman Aircraft Corporation with Jake Swirbul, the beloved general manager, who owned a very slow trotter named Oakland. Right after his horse won a race I got hired at Grumman.
To help finance my family’s move to Long Island father gave me a menial job in his office marking programs to be mailed around the country. My night job soon upgraded to licensed paddock judge and then to licensed starter. Our starting team consisted of Steve Phillips, his son Chuck who filled in for his father when necessary and referred to all horses behind the gate as “she” or “her”, Gene Hembach, the chauffer-mechanic who deserves much credit for the success of the gate, and me. During the day I was plane captain on the first jet fighter that the U. S. Navy bought from Grumman and at night backup starter on a gate built by Liberty Aircraft Company. I was ready, able, and eager to start races at Roosevelt Raceway but Steve Phillips made sure that never happened. Thus ended father’s scheming to make me a wealthy harness race starter.
Saturday nights after the races a group of us from Roosevelt Raceway would go to Frank Broglio’s Swan Club in Roslyn for relaxing over food and drinks. One Saturday as we were standing at the bar, I thanked my father for helping me with my move to New York and told him that I would be going to Hofstra College nights and after six years I would be an aeronautical engineer at Grumman. He answered, “Bud, I want you to come to work for me full time as my full time assistant. In ten years you’ll have my job.” I owed him too much to turn him down and I had his job in six years. An early assignment as assistant came when a man from the mid-west requested that my dad write for him a stakes race for local state-bred colts. Father turned to me with “Help this gentleman, Bud. Give him what he wants.”
I wrote my first race conditions and don’t know today whatever happened with them. One morning as I came in to work father said, “Hurt your back, Bud?” Evidently he spotted some gimpy move by me that I was not at all aware of. I wondered if his observation was the result of his many years of detecting lameness in dumb animals. Father had Joe Neville staying with him in his apartment at Garden City when Neville was in town for the races. They continually talked “Little Brown Jug” and were planning it together. I eventually got to see one of the “Jugs” when we flew out to Ohio to speed up his racetrack. With harness racing again resurrected in California, Press Jenuine called on Walter Gibbons to make a trip west to do his magic in converting the big running racetracks for the trotters.
I can’t tell you much about this Western Harness Association business except that dad found a new horse-loving crony in Gene Autry, “The Singing Cowboy”. In addition to my usual duties of assistant racing secretary, boss-father never hesitated to ask me to do anything; like go after people who bounced checks or to mark selections on programs for mobster Frank Costello. Those both can get fatal. But there were rewards with Walter Gibbons. When it came lunchtime he would invite maybe a half a dozen horsemen and me to go to Nino’s or Norden’s with him. He was extremely generous with his Roosevelt Raceway expense account.
In those exciting nights at Roosevelt Raceway there were numerous great owners and drivers and famous show people to know. We had maybe the most impressive driver of them all, Victor Fleming, timing workouts for us. Vic called me “Pistol”. The renowned jockey, Earl Sande, was timing, too. Gianni “Johnny” Gambi was there exporting horses to Italy. He came to my home in Levittown and in the community pool he taught me the stroke he used in his swim from the boot of Italy to Sicily. I rode on the extreme back platform of a train going to the Harrisburg Horse Sales one fall listening to one of America’s greatest railroad executives, Lucian C. Sprague, enthralling me with tales of railroads and horses. Tom Hogan, founder of Yellow Cab Company, who had horses with Clint Hodgins used to sit whistling outside our office window evenings. Just inside sat an agitated Walter Carson who had to keep going to the bathroom. He was affected in the same way that horses were when they were whistled to next door in the “spit box”.
I am forever grateful for and surprised at old Tom Hogan mailing news clippings to me long after I’d left Roosevelt. My wife and I had dinner in the Roosevelt Raceway club house with Steve Allen and his wife just before he went to Hollywood to play Benny Goodman. Horseman-actor Charles Coburn, who loved to drive a horse, was a great story-teller. But all he told us about Marilyn Monroe was that he found her “a very lovely young lady”. I still visualize redheaded Jimmy Cagney on Hambletonian day dancing up the grandstand stairs to go talk “hoss” with his revered Walter Gibbons. Talking “hoss” was a supreme accomplishment with father. He knew breeding pedigrees better than anyone I ever met including Lawrence B. Sheppard. He glanced at any Currier and Ives print and told you who the horses and drivers were and where they were racing.
I never was close to knowing breeding like he did. I just remembered anything I heard. John Simpson’s family was living in a trailer on Roosevelt Raceway after the meeting closed so their kids could finish the term at school. I delivered their mail. John Simpson and I went one night via airlines to the races at Rosecroft Raceway outside Washington, DC. I was struck by how much John was like my father. They were two uncommonly pragmatic horse trainers. And they both sat a sulky the same way.
A few weeks after that Stanley Dancer was driving Brave Song on his winning streak. Grandfather’s great mare, Palestrina, had a grandson Hambletonian winner, Demon Hanover, scoring before the start of the 1949 American Trotting Championship. He broke his check rein. Paddock Judge Harold Berry and I hitched it up a hole higher. Harrison Hoyt said OK to Demon’s higher head and went on to win the two mile race in world record time. Harold loved to tell this. My mother was not close to or much interested in horses so when she was asked her to paint a picture of the champion trotting mare of the year she was hesitant about it. Then she told me that after spending time in the stall with the big mare they became friends. The result was a beautiful painting showing accurate conformation of Proximity for her owner Gordon Verhurst. Mother later painted a nice rendering of Rose Scott with Thomas Murphy up which was presented to the old “wizard of the reins”. She also finished one of Demon Hanover who appears to watch you as so move around in front of him.
A similar thing took place at Lou Smith’s Rockingham Park years later. It was expected that I would be Ted’s assistant but he hired Ed Parker instead. I finagled the much more subordinate role of clerk of course for that meeting. I sat in Ted’s seat the following year. Albert Edward “Ted” Gibbons was the most highly competitive and most honest man I ever knew. He had been an outstanding 3-letter athlete. Reading High School named him its all-time basketball center. Bowdoin College honoured him as all-state football end. He was a member of Walter Camp’s All American Football Team. He was always a first-rate salesman. Although a successful bond salesman with Brown Brothers Harriman for over forty years, he never gambled on stocks or bonds or horses. He kept his own money in a savings account.
When my father wanted to buy Gorham Raceway from Joe Cianchette all that stood in the way was getting twelve thousand dollars from brother Ted. No go! Like all the men in our family Ted knew his way around horses. He was the first state steward for the Maine Harness Racing Commission and later its chairman. He handled race secretary choirs at the Old Orchard Beach Kite Track, Bay State Raceway, Santa Anita Raceway, Rockingham Park, the Lexington Trots, Goshen Mile Track, and ran the racing office at Yonkers Raceway for over two decades. He was inducted into The Harness Racing Hall of Fame in Goshen, New York, following his brother Walter by one year. Ted was the first non-owner or driver elected to the Harness Horse Hall of Fame and they were the first brothers in the Hall of Fame. Ted must not have been a player who fully shared winning glories with his teammates for he never complimented us assistants. His competitive bent prevented that. However, he was always ready to share the perks of his position. Invited to lunch one day, he pulled off the rotting lettuce to serve me a stale ham sandwich which he had taken home to his apartment from the raceway reviewing room some nights earlier. You might say he was also a thrifty Mainer.
Still I grant Uncle Ted many hurrahs for giving us assistants the privilege of eating with him in the private dining room where I enjoyed innumerable Harry M Stevens New York sirloin steaks before climbing up to the reviewing room where we watched the races. I was Ted’s assistant for nine of his twenty-two years at Yonkers. Another uncle, John Wesley Gibbons, older than Walter and Ted, was the one I spent the most time with as a youngster when he was home from his wholesale furniture selling route. “Wes” would fascinate me with stories about his World War I service in the Canadian Army and then predict “The only army you’ll ever join is the Salvation Army.” He became successful enough to give me presents of five dollar gold pieces when they were in circulation. When home from his selling he pitched in with the horses so upon retirement it was natural for him to head straight for the nearest race track.
Yet attorney Al Weil insisted that in order for us to compete with the thoroughbreds we would have to do away with making up races based on one person’s judgment and go to a system based on impersonal factual “conditions”. I worked through the winter using IBM punch-card equipment. Every horse that had raced at Roosevelt that year was configured on an IBM card with up to eighty different parameters applying to each horse. Then I tested every possible condition that might be used to produce races. I reported to Mr Weil that conditioned races would result in horses spread way back over many lengths at the finish. We couldn’t use weights like the runners did and we never had as many horses to draw from as the runners and we had to further separate them into the trotting and pacing gaits. I told him that we would see an unacceptable number of odds-on favorites. We didn’t like too much “chalk” (odds-on) in those days. Almost every race a photo finish would become a thing of the past. Then I said bluntly, “It won’t work.”
One night in 1953 Carl Shultze drove down to Roosevelt Raceway with his friend, George Landers, to see Carl’s horses race. My father was always very gracious to any visiting horse owners; especially those from Maine. Carl Shultze, who owned a butcher business in Kittery, Maine, introduced his friend as a contractor from Kittery. Spending the evening with Landers, I talked about harness horse racing and explained that Schultze’s horse, Jetsam, who was number 8 in the eighth race, had a big disadvantage from that outside position because at Roosevelt the start was so close to the first turn. By the time of the race the odds on Jetsam proved my point. In spite of this, the perpetually optimistic Landers bet all he had with him on Jetsam. Miraculously, the horse won and Landers decided then and there that this was what he was looking for in life. George Landers was introduced to Bill Haughton whom he commissioned to buy him a race horse related to Jetsam. Bill found a filly by The Widower out of Jetsam’s dam, Diane Scot, which would be auctioned off at the upcoming Ohio Breeder’s Sale. That fall Haughton made the closing bid of $1600 on the plain looking Belle Acton. George Landers and I became close friends making a happy pair out deer hunting together in Maine during the next few years. Hunting was great except I had to constantly listen to my buddy bragging about his filly.
In spite of my unwelcomed response to his desired method of making up races, Alvin Weil made me Roosevelt Raceway’s racing secretary in 1954. Why I made it in six years instead of the ten my father had predicted was because Alvin Weil was a lawyer who thought and managed like a lawyer. He and my father found it too difficult to communicate and work together. On the other hand, I enjoyed working with Weil. It was like going to law school! To make a point with Mr Weil I had to write a brief and it had better be logical and complete.
I was astonished to learn that he had “clever hands” in the workshop as well as on the race track. The barn floor got rebuilt to hold old sulkies, sleighs, and carts acquired during antiquing tours. Mother and father were connoisseurs of antiques, especially of horse things and paintings and prints. Their home became a showplace with all the charm of yesteryear. They entertained many from the racing world and neighbors including Joseph N. Welch, the country-sounding lawyer who routed out on public television the powerful arrogant Senator Joseph McCarthy. Mother could entertain comfortably up to thirty guests in their 1687 house. With her two state of the art Armana ovens she cooked a steamboat round of beef and a twenty pound tom turkey at the same time.
For me, however, she always served my favourite- roast leg of lamb and candied sweet potatoes. As a consultant for Bay State Raceway and a Director of the United States Trotting Association, Walter Gibbons appeared to be a sedate steady country gentleman. Except for trips to resurface a racetrack, manage a horse sale, watch big races, or conduct U.S.T.A. business, retirement on their farmstead seemed well-deserved bliss. When Roosevelt Raceway was beginning, newspapers would send some guy they could easily spare out to see what was going on. Ed Binneweg, Jack Schultz, Warren Pack and others quickly learned the sport and wrote well and accurately. I liked working with them. The New York Times eventually took notice and sent out a smart aleck who was covering the “flats”. The best thing that Lou Effratt ever did for harness racing was to convince our publicity chief, Nick Grande, that Roosevelt had to have a hundred thousand dollar race to get the attention of his New York Times. Roosevelt Raceway’s management asked its new racing secretary to write a race that would go for at least a hundred thousand dollars. Picking a name was the only challenging part of that. I wisely called it “The Messenger Stakes.” It became the first hundred thousand dollar event in the harness sport and is today the richest leg of the Triple Crown for 3-year-old pacers. People are now claiming that Messenger was a pacer! Actually he won about sixteen races including the King’s Plate in England as a runner.
Now with me making up the race cards for 154 nights a year on which the public was betting more than 140 million dollars, Mother asked me “Don’t you want to do something with your life?” George Landers’ Belle Acton came out to race as a two-year-old not looking like much yet she paced flawlessly right past any colt or filly she met. Billy Haughton said she kept surprising him. Haughton and Dancer had invaded the big time night harness scene about the same time I did and I think because of that and being near the same ages we always got along together. Richard Thomas fits in here too for the age reason. Dick and I had known each other from depression days up to the time that he was leading driver and I was leading racing secretary at the “big apple”. The slightly older Delvin Miller looked upon me as a poor imitation of his beloved Walter. Delvin was outraged when I invited Stanley Dancer’s Brave Song into the American Trotting Championship instead of his Duke of Lullwater who represented Walter T. Candler of Coco Cola fame. Under the lights of Roosevelt Raceway we watched young Howard Camden drive Adios Boy to win a dash in world’s record time with all eight pacers in the photo finish.
Every night a little guy from the women’s clothing business in Manhattan who owned a couple of horses stopped in at our office on his way to the betting windows. With his horses eating more than they were winning he sold them but continued to stop in for a program. He lost his business, then his house, and then his wife left him. His health failed and I went to visit him in the county hospital. As I started to leave thinking how betting on horses had destroyed this man, he pleaded, “Glenn, have you got a program?” Another heavy gambling acquaintance was president of The Manhattan Savings Bank who could easily afford his pleasures. I knew him well enough to hit him up for his backing in one of my aviation business schemes. He turned that down with the suggestion that he would help me to go into real estate in Westchester County. My last year at Roosevelt was a fabulous one for Maine horse owners. Hunting buddy George Landers saw his bargain filly whip all of those high-priced colts in the inaugural Messenger Stakes.
Then Dexter, Maine’s, William T. Maybury, owner of the biggest yacht on Moosehead Lake saw his world champion home-bred trotter, Galophone, win the Massachusetts Trotting Derby up where my father was and then come back to Roosevelt Raceway to capture my Invitational American Trotting Championship in world record time. Belle Acton kept on winning races around the country breaking time records eventually earning more money than any standardbred harness horse before her. Landers got suckered into every crackpot scheme that came his way. He was overly generous, too. At Sportsman’s Park, Chicago, he told second trainer, “Apples” Thomas, that if the filly won that night he would give him a Cadillac. Belle won in her usual record time and George gave Apples his own new Cadillac. Landers was seen driving an old Chevy around Kittery that wnter. My hunting buddy, George Landers, died broke and is buried a half mile down the street from where I live in Kittery, Maine. While Yonkers and Roosevelt flourished in the heyday of America’s fastest growing sport, we used to say “When you leave New York, you’re camping out”. After its three most prosperous years Roosevelt Raceway tore down the old grandstand and built a new “Dream Track” that is now but a dream. That’s when I went “camping out” with apologies to Batavia Downs, Vernon Downs, Hinsdale Raceway, Brooklyn Connecticut Fair, Gorham Raceway, Rockingham Park, Bay State Raceway, The Lexington Trots, Lewiston Raceway, Rideau-Carleton Raceway, and Buffalo Raceway. Meanwhile, up at my parent’s beautiful farm a call came from the Lexington Trot Breeders Association asking Walter Gibbons to manage their Lexington fall racing meet.
Our family thought that the old folks would live happily on their farm until they died and went to heaven. But no, father went to what was heaven on earth to him- Lexington Kentucky’s Big Red Mile, the granddaddy of all harness horse race tracks. For this devotee from birth of the harness horse to be managing the internationally famous Big Red Mile was truly a divine transformation. To my father Lexington meant Walter Cox with Walter Dear, Thomas Murphy driving Peter Manning, Billy Direct with Vic Fleming up, and great horses and trainers for over a hundred years at the mecca of Walter Gibbons’ beloved horse world. And the famous farms- dad knew all of their owners. My mother and father would stay a few weeks at the Phoenix Hotel in Lexington each fall and live the rest of the year at their old homestead. At the beginning of my last year at Roosevelt I bought a hundred shares of raceway stock which I sold when I left with enough profit to buy a new 58 foot ten wide Marshfield house trailer. My family of wife and four kids lived in it quite comfortably within sight of four grandstands, Batavia, Vernon, Hinsdale, and Rockingham. For Foxboro we parked it in Wrentham, about four miles away. At Roosevelt, Yonkers, and Rockingham we lived in our own homes.
Our first house trailer spot was about six hundred feet from the race secretary’s office at Batavia Downs. We looked out in the morning at pheasants perched on tree branches across the street. Batavia had a powerful Western New York Horsemen’s Association trying to call the shots for the management, the judge’s stand, and the racing office. But a stronger management team of Herman Grannis, Pat Provenzano and the Marras backed up their racing secretary to reward themselves with honest racing and their two most prosperous years. On a hasty appearance at a horse sale at Batavia Downs, the colt in the sales ring looked across the arena and whinnied at me prompting me to make the closing bid of $375 on what turned out to be a grandson of Billy Direct named Glendale Jake. At Frank Broglio’s farm on Long Island, I broke and trained my Glendale Jake who taught me more than I taught him. (Every horse trainer learns that.) Jake won his first race with Herb Britt handling him and later became a regular winning favorite over the race courses of Bermuda where to his liking they paced the other way around the track. When Jake ended his campaigning he was shipped back to the U.S. and turned out to roam in the luxury of his own large green paddock next to an apple orchard on my parent’s Medfield farm. From Batavia we moved the trailer to a beautiful verdant hillside overlooking Vernon Downs and distant Lake Oneida. Wonderful memories at Vernon include Hambletonian winner Bi Shively, the “old man in a hurry”, arriving at Vernon and asking me if I had any races “for non-winners in a long, long, time”. That inspired one of the race conditions used in an early closing event for the Hinsdale Raceway inaugural. At Vernon Downs with “Red” Boutilier handling publicity and Charles O’Conner letting me share GM duties, we saw the attendance increase 32 per cent and the pari-mutuel handle 42 per cent. Stuart “Mickey” McLean and I split the race secretary job. Bob May came into my office at Vernon Downs to pick up his horses’ papers telling me in no brief or gentle terms what he thought of me and my treatment of him. He then stormed out and trucked his stable to New Hampshire. With the eligibility papers in his hand he strutted into the race secretary’s office at Hinsdale Raceway and stood dumbfounded facing me across the race secretary’s desk there.
Of the many early closing and stakes events I have written I’m most proud of my inaugural Hinsdale Raceway program. We were competing with Saratoga for horses. Besides the event for non-winners in a long, long time we had an old soldier’s pace and another touting the trout fishing at Hinsdale. No one caught any fish but I caught a lot of horsemen. Striving to get some favourable notice locally my publicity man and clerk of course and assistant race secretary, Red Boutilier, reported “Glenn, It looks bad. The paper is named “The Brattleboro Reformer.” But Red hacked out thousands of words and took hundreds of photos and Hinsdale Raceway surprisingly made money in its first year of operation. After Hinsdale Raceway was off to a good start and I had written the New England Standardbred Breeders Stakes, I moved into the clerk of course position at Rockingham Park. “Glenn, you’ve got to help your father!” A call came from Mother “Glenn, you’ve got to help your father!” “What’s wrong?” “He thinks that he will get beaten in his re-election for USTA director.” I mailed to all eligible voters a brochure with five photos of him with horses around the caption “A Lifetime in Harness Racing Ready to Represent YOU”. He won his re-election. When the big boss, Lou Smith, named me racing secretary at Rockingham, he asked if I could find a job for the former trainer of the noted Peter Fuller stable at Narragansett Downs. That was the start of a fruitful and fun-filled association with my newly named Assistant Racing Secretary David Hicks. Dave might not have known the difference between trot and pace but he knew people. I still smile at the thought of Hicks sticking his hand into the wealthy Vermont owner, Eugene Cray’s, pocket to grab a wad of bills and ask “Gonna take us all to lunch, Uncle Gene?”
Dave Hicks was of immeasurable value to me until he went back with the “flats” to become one of the country’s leading thoroughbred racing stewards. I have had other great racing secretaries working with me. Allured away from college to be my assistant at Roosevelt Raceway was Edward T. Parker. Lawrence “Larry” Mallar came down to Rockingham from Falmouth, Maine, raring to break into horse racing with Ted and me. Up at Batavia Downs the young John O. Marra was my man. A key aide at Gorham and Rockingham was the versatile Robert “Doc” Hobbs from Paris, Maine. The reliable Gordon Tenney from Casco, Maine, was with me at Lexington, Foxboro and Rockingham prior to his serving as race secretary at Fairmont Park. My publicity-photographer specialist, E. L. “Red” Boutilier, was essential to the opening of Hinsdale Raceway and was with me at Vernon Downs before he retired to Bremen, Maine.
We racing secretaries who were fortunate to work for tracks that paid us to go south in the winter to visit training spots for the purpose of goodwill and getting horses for our early openings might stop at Harrington, Pinehurst, Macon, Aiken, Myrtle Beach, and others, but Ben White Raceway in Orlando was the one that topped them all- the busiest harness horse training track in the world. Ben White Raceway brings back memories of warm sunshine with soft breezes and all the horses and horsemen you’ll ever find in one place. Mary Louise McGregor and Al Clark’s wife, Nora, could name them all. The “dollar a year men” who were mostly owners and officials sat by the rail waiting for a trainer to let them drive one of their steeds. One may get on a training cart to jog around on the outside of the track going the wrong way, that is opposite to the way a race goes, or they may be asked to go a gentle mile or to work the horse a fast mile. The trainer tells you what to do. My father cherished the fast miles that Frank Ervin asked him to go with his young pacing pupil, Bret Hanover.
Margaret Pearson did the day to day management duties at Gorham while I got credit for an impressively successful harness racing meet. Gorham’s new owners had their qualifying past performance stats but Delvin Miller got his track. Mention of Margaret Pearson reminds me that when someone asks my secret for longevity, I say “good women”. Besides my remarkable mother and two good wives, there were some lovely horsemen’s’ daughters whom I must mention for their making me look good at my job- Jacqueline Conord, Carol Clark, Marie Akoury, Maxine Houslet, and Shirley Smith. Shirley Smith was a horse owner’s daughter, a widow with two teen-aged daughters, and a clever businesswoman who owned the resort where Judge Norm Robinson and I bunked during a Gorham Raceway meet. She came to work with me at Buffalo, Ottawa, and Hinsdale and became my second wife.
After landing at Zahn’s Airport we jumped into my old Mercury and Frank was speedily dropped off in a daze at his stable. He knew me well as a kid around the Maine fairs but not as an airplane or car driver. When I told my mother that I had gone to Springfield for the Connecticut Valley Horsemen’s Association dinner where I spoke for an hour and a half, she asked, “Glennie, what could you possibly know that would take that long to tell?” In 1962 after I had finished making up races for Rockingham’s best-ever spring meeting I answered my father’s call to come down to Lexington to work their new spring race meet. He was now in charge of Lexington’s spring and fall race meetings.
All morning the familiar aroma of fried eggs and bacon poured into our room while the juke box blared out “I Can’t Stop Loving You”. I never before was faced with such a diverse collection of horse flesh to work with. There appeared to be aspiring animals from every pari-mutuel plant in the United States and Canada mixed in with stock from Kentucky fairs plus a couple of stables with high hopes and slow horses who followed me down from New England. On top of this we were in Grand Circuit territory where reign and rein Joe O’Brien, Frank Ervin, Sanders Russell, Tom Berry, Ben and Gib White, Sep Palin, Ralph Baldwin, John and Jim Simpson. Ralph Avery. I know I missed a few but star horsemen shine unendingly at the Red Mile. Every day after an early morning breakfast father went out to the track and very slowly drove around the grounds. He stopped to talk to everyone, asking about their family and horses. Then onto the famous red clay racecourse where he looked for any pebble or other imperfection that he could point out to Herman Holland his track man. They had already turned the fastest harness track in the world into the fastest all-weather track. When he arrived at his office there was a big bowl of round white raw mushrooms waiting for him to munch on. He liked them and they were non-fattening. I thought it quite appropriate that Walter Gibbons’ favourite snack was a product of rotted race horse manure.
Working at the oldest and most famous of all race tracks was very special to me, both for the wonderful people you deal with in the bluegrass but also for the amazing racing you see over that lightning fast red clay mile. At the end of each hard day’s duty we got together to talk and laugh over Kentucky Hot Browns and more at Comers Grill. The Nichols and the Van Lenneps for the rest of Kentucky Trotting Horse Breeders Association expressed full satisfaction with their inaugural Lexington spring meeting while the race-goers cheered for more.
Sure enough he appears in the winner’s circle presenting an award at the end of Disney’s “The Tattooed Police Horse”. It was obviously filmed at the Red Mile but designated in the story as Foxboro. Grandpa was promoting a valuable plug for the track that was paying him as consultant. Huntington Hartford, the A & P groceries heir, sent a Mr Ickes to the United States to buy horses and wagons for carrying guests from the docks on Paradise Island to the lavish resort he was opening on that island off Nassau in the Bahamas. There was no bridge at that time. Ickes was naturally directed to Walter Gibbons. He turned the project over to Clayton Smith and me. Clayt and I had run a horse sale at Middletown, New York, where my cut from the endeavour was enough to buy a nice used Skylane airplane. We also formed the New England Horse Sales Company together. We couldn’t find enough horses in the United States to fill the order at the price set so with Mr Ickes in tow we flew up to Truro Raceway in Nova Scotia. With the help of horseman Frank Daniels we began showing cheap racing stock to Mr Ickes. I would lead them or ride or drive them by Ickes while Clayt would push him into acceptance. We contracted John J McCabe to transport the thirty-odd purchased to Nassau. They went on a British Britannia by way of Bermuda to avoid a quarantine delay in the United States.
The problem of finding buggies was solved by horse trainer Jake Mersky who steered us to the Amish in Pennsylvania who supplied them. After the entire shipment was safely on Paradise Island, Clayt and I were handed a bill for five thousand dollars from McCabe which should have been paid by Ickies. Unable to get paid through normal means, I flew via National Airlines to Paradise Island to discover Huntington Hartford’s plush resort surrounded securely with armed guards. Rather than risking trying to talk my way in, I evaluated my options, asked some questions, and ended up swimming across a small pond to the home of the so-called “boss-man”. Showing up without warning from nowhere in a bathing suit asking for five thousand dollars, the man was probably too shocked to know what else to do so he gave me what I demanded. On my way out by land I noted one of our ex-pacers with his hobble burns almost all cleared up. He was ably pulling some well-dressed guests in an Amish buggy handled by an unsure Bahamian driver. After the snow cleared in 1963, with my father named manager of all the Lexington Trots and the Tattersalls Sales, the folks sold their farm and moved to Lexington. The buyers of the farm assured us that they would take tender care of Glendale Jake. Every barouche, brougham, buckboard, buggy, cabriolet, carriage, cart, chariot, coach, curricle, cutter, dray, gig, hackney, hansom, landau, phaeton, rig, shay, sleigh, sulky, surrey, and wagon collected by father was loaded on an eighteen wheeler and hauled to the Red Mile to end up in the Stable of Memories. As racing secretary of the first meeting in the east to open under the drastic new USTA requirement, I put out condition books at Rockingham like the ones used by the thoroughbreds.
To help horsemen learn how to use the books I had three very capable assistants in David Hicks, Robert “Doc” Hobbs and Gordon Tenney. Using only races that were offered in our condition books Rockingham Park finished a pleasant and profitable spring harness race meeting. After “Rock” I was glad to return to the Red Mile for my second year there as racing secretary. We overcame any problems encountered with the USTA required conditioned/claiming system. What hurt us real badly was a coughing epidemic of equine encephalitis that put horses out of commission causing some race tracks to close. There were fewer and fewer horses fit to race until the morning came when I had to send my prettiest little blonde secretary out to seduce a couple of horses from one of my young New England horse trainers. She got the job done but even that wasn’t enough. I went to my father and told him that I wouldn’t be able to make up Tuesday’s race card because there were only two entries in the box. He said “Go into the stables, Bud. Ask the horsemen. They’ll help you.” I did and they did. Lexington Leader sports writer Larry van Hoose reported: Four of the top trotters in America, headed by the 1962 Hambletonian winner A. C.’s Viking, spice an eight-race card tonight at the Lexington Trots. Pretty Jobie Arnold wrote in the Lexington Leader: The Lexington Trots are here to stay! Tuesday’s night crowd wagered a record $52,748, the largest mutual handle in the history of the track. And they had fun doing it! Then Jobie quoted me: “The Trots have really caught on here. You couldn’t stop them now if you tried. The people love it. At most trotting tracks the folks are “stompers”. But you are all “screamers”. “I was really brought up in the restaurant business,” Gibbons said “We had the best eating place on the Boston Post Road, the Town Lyne House. My father was training horses when it opened, and later became a state steward, so I had that interest too.
My mother is great about restaurants.” Later in the long article Jobie writes- At the moment Racing Secretary Gibbons has a new title at the Lexington Trots. He is the “maître d” in the new grandstand Sulky Room, and is kidded about his chores. “My mother became ill, and I had to help. I had a loud speaker put in, and I run out to watch each race.” The Sulky Room was a buffet style restaurant in the basement of the grandstand that my mother created. It offered steamboat roasts of beef and sliced roast turkey. Mother’s special Boston baked beans made a huge hit. Sportservice complained that the Sulky Room was killing their club house business. Nothing did stop that spring race meeting at the Red Mile from being a complete success. The Lexington Trot Breeders Association people were very pleased. I was looking forward to my next duty at the Red Mile. Frances Dodge Van Lennep, daughter of the founder of Dodge automobiles, had given me a hot little Plymouth Ute to use while in Lexington. When I thanked her and told her how much I had enjoyed it, she said “Well keep the damn thing.” I didn’t.
Glenn Gibbons, who appeared to be making progress with the unpopular classification system, was replaced. He became the “fall guy” and unfairly so. Since he was asked to step down conditions at Bay State have not improved. Horsemen are still unhappy and more important than that, so are the fans without whom there would be no sport at all.” I think the reason Tananbaum hired me so quickly was because in 1954 when Ted was in the hospital for ulcers I ran the racing department up through the early April opening. I hustled for horses, processed the early-closing and stakes events, and made up the races until Ted came on the scene a couple of weeks after the meet was underway as a smashing success. And Marty never forgot that opening night when Yonkers Raceway had the sulky sport’s first two million dollar handle! Tananbaum allowed me to take other jobs when Yonkers was dark (no racing).
Bill Maybury’s Maine-bred Galophone came down to the Red Mile to take his record with the fastest trotting mile of the year. I was ending my time as Ted Gibbons’ right hand man when my retired and tired ailing parents moved back to Maine into a condo in Brunswick near where my sister lived. With Walter Gibbons back in New England Joe Sullivan quickly grabbed him to put new life into his fading Hinsdale Raceway. My father had been a good friend of Joe’s father. The Sullivan Brother’s printing company which did the race programs for many race tracks had gained control of Hinsdale Raceway.
Another race track also went to a new master when so much money was lost in an aborted Phoenix escapade that Sportservice, the big Buffalo sports catering company, wrested control of Buffalo Raceway from Jim Dunnigan. The elder Mr Jacob, head of Sportservice, who knew me from Hinsdale, Gorham, and Foxboro, hired me to be their general manager at Buffalo Raceway. Perhaps I should have compliantly done that job. But I did not want the race secretary they proposed because I felt that he was too cosy with a clique of the leading horsemen.
I offered to be both racing secretary and general manager for the one pay. Instead, they kept me as racing secretary and gave the general manager position to a publicity man from the thoroughbreds. That left the leading horsemen represented by the horsemen’s union steering the judges, the management, and the publicity. In our Reynolds Memorial 3-Year-Old Trot at Buffalo Raceway we had a great great grandson of my grandfather’s Palestrina, named Nevele Pride, the Harness Horse of the Year, eligible. The horsemen who had raced against him the year before understandably did not want him to come to Buffalo Raceway because he was a cinch to take first money.
Stanley Dancer reined the 3-year-old Nevele Pride around it to wipe out Greyhound’s thirty-two year-old world record. During the Buffalo meet I was hired to again be racing secretary at Rideau-Carleton outside of Ottawa, Canada. I explained to Shirley Smith that she could not expect to work with me in Ottawa because you needed special exemption to work in Canada so as not to deprive a Canadian of the job. Since I was an official they could not easily get another official who could do my job. But she still wanted to fly with me to Ottawa so I took her along. After we taxied in and were met at Ottawa International Airport by the Rideau-Carlton General Manager Clarence McPhee, off went Shirley with Mr. McPhee while I secured the airplane. When I caught up with them in the terminal they said they had news for me. Shirley was now my official assistant racing secretary! I would make her pay for that slick trick.
Running the racing department for the second time at Ottawa’s Rideau Carleton Raceway I was confronted by a big burley horse trainer named Harry Zeron. We almost came to blows over the conditioned/claiming system. I tried my best to cool him down by showing him how to use the new system to his advantage. At a conclave with the horsemen in response to their complaints, who stepped forward to support me but Harry Zeron! Newsman Jack Koffman wrote- “Gibbons, a thorough and competent harness official, has contributed some well-balanced racing cards. It’s difficult to look back and find a race meeting at Rideau Carleton in which the competition has been so keen and interesting.”