View Full Version : Harness Racing: How I Got Started

01-30-2018, 01:28 PM
My start in the sport of harness racing would begin in 1958. I was then 15-years old. One evening during that summer of ’58 my Boston friends and I went a restaurant in Foxboro, MA (near the current Gillette Stadium); we were celebrating my friend Brian’s 16th birthday. We were “chaperoned” that evening by Brian’s father.

After dinner, I assumed we were heading back to Boston (Brian’s dad had driven most of us to the restaurant). But wait. What’s this? We’re stopping a few miles up Route #1 at a place called Foxboro Raceway (now a Gillette Stadium parking lot). I must say that as I entered the track for the very first time (over the years, I’d go there on many, many occasions), it was, as they say: “Love at first sight”. I was enthralled. Yet, I didn’t make a bet that night. However, two of my friends “went partners” (Brian’s dad bought their ticket). Wouldn’t you know it, after waiting out a lengthy photo, my friends’ horse driven by Stan Tweedie, won (the first part of the horse’s name was “Shadydale”). I recall he paid close to $20 (a fortune for a couple inner-city Boston teenagers).

About two weeks later, I would catch a bus that came through my Boston neighborhood that would take me to Foxboro Raceway. I was excited, but I was also anxious. I knew - that evening - that I was going to make my first bet. I believe it was in the 3rd race that I decided “to take the plunge”. But who? I remember that two weeks earlier Brian’s dad had mentioned a sire named Adios.

As I looked over the program, I noticed a mare name Adios Lucy. “That’s it,” I thought. I go to the windows. I buy a ticket (in those days the elongated ticket looked like lithographic art). “$2 to show on the number 3,” I say. I return to a bench on the grandstand apron. The race is off. I close my eyes (I’m tryin’ to tell an honest story). I wouldn’t open them until the race had ended. How did I do? I didn’t know. I open my eyes and look straight ahead at the infield tote. There, in the show position on the board is #3. “I won! I won!” I thought to myself. You’d think I had just hit the lottery. I remember cashing my ticket (in those days you bought the ticket in the front mutuel-line and cashed in the back). I received a whopping $2.60, a .60-cent profit. As a sidebar, at the time I had just begun working as a clerk at a local pharmacy; starting pay: .90-cents an hour. I thought to myself I’ve just made 2/3rds of my hourly salary – without doing a thing.

Off and on during my high school and college years I would back to Foxboro Raceway (in those days they ran a 60-day summer meet that lasted from mid-June to late August). I’d also go to Suffolk Downs when they ran their one-month fall harness-racing meet. I’d even venture north to both New Hampshire’s Rockingham Park and to Hinsdale Raceway (near the Vermont border) In fact, I made it all the way to Scarborough Downs (just south of Portland), then a one-mile track.

When I taught on Long Island, I’d go to both Roosevelt Raceway and Yonkers. On other occasions, I’d go the Freehold Raceway and, on one occasion, Brandywine in Delaware. Then again, I’d venture into the Catskills Mountains, up Route #17, to Monticello Raceway.
Yet, by the time I was married in the late-1960s, I began cutting way back. Too many responsibilities in caring for my wife and, a few years later, a growing family. In fact, for over a decade I rarely went to track.

In the early 1980s, I began writing for local newspaper and doing news, sports and play-by-play on local radio stations. One day, the program director of the radio station I worked for asked if I would cover an awards dinner at Foxboro Raceway (As I recall, the harness writers were honoring driver named James Hogan, the father of Jack Hogan. Jack Hogan was a fixture for years in New England harness racing circles).

At that dinner, I met the then Foxboro Raceway publicist, the late Joe Hartmann. Hartmann told me that he was leaving Foxboro to become the publicist at Pocono Downs. He mentioned that Foxboro Raceway management was looking for someone to replace him. Did I know anybody? It was at that moment that I mentioned that I was interested. Hartmann mentioned that part of the publicist’s duties was to call the first race (the regular announcer worked for a Providence TV station; he couldn’t get to the track in time to call the first race). I told Hartman that I thought I could call harness races. He told me to come down Saturday morning to call some qualifiers.

That Saturday I got the run-down sheet that listed the horses and their post positions (no saddle clothes). I made my way high atop the track to the announcer’s booth. I found a pair of binoculars – I believe they were 10 x 50s – in one of the cabinets. I had brought with me a tape-recorder. I inserted a cassette. “Starting gate is now in motion,” I said. “They’re off and pacing…” After that, it was a disaster. I was tongue-tied. It was like I was speaking gibberish. Racing-calling turned out to be a much more difficult task than I ever could have imagined. I left my cassette for Joe Hartmann. He told me he listened. Hartmann said, “I can’t bring this to management.” I was devastated. Though it was not a complete surprise. I asked for one more try. Hartmann grants it; the following Saturday’s qualifiers.

In the interim, I went to the track during the week. I taped the regular announcer’s call. I then took the tape back home and ensconced myself in my cellar. I listen over and over again. I’m trying to figure out “the secret”: How to effectively call a harness race.

One of the things I learned is that you have “to buy time” to make a call, one that you may find difficult to make, instantaneously, i.e., “They pace out the half in one-minute flat, they’re moving into the clubhouse turn …they’re on the turn (note I haven’t mentioned a horse’s name).

A few days later, I went back and called another qualifier. I then rewound the tape and listened. It was much better; yet, there was some “dead air”. I had a remedy. Before I re-submitted the tape, I went to the radio station I worked part-time for. I went into the newsroom where there were two tape machines. I put the cassette onto reel-to-reel. I then took the reel-to-reel into a closed studio. I modulated my voice “VU-meter” to sound exactly like the timbre of my race call. You couldn’t tell it had been edited. I filled in the “dead air”. I then converted the reel-to-reel back onto the cassette. I would then bring the tape to Foxboro Raceway.

As I recall, Joe Hartmann said, “This is much better.” I was interviewed. I was hired. It was November, 1983.
When I worked at Foxboro Raceway, my main job was that of a publicist. I remember that my very first task was to write to every representative and senator in the Massachusetts Legislature (Great and General Court) and give each of them two free passes to Foxboro Raceway. As an aside, I would carry passes with me at all times. I would give them to just about everybody, especially my friends.

My other jobs were: To call the first race on weekdays. I would call entire cards when the regular announcer took vacation-time. My other job was as the tip-sheet handicapper. If I must say, I did reasonably well. (There’s an advantage to being at the track every single day).

In the spring-summer of ’84, the Rooney family; e.g., Pittsburgh Steelers, Yonkers Raceway, etc. took over. They were gradually bringing in their own staff. The handwriting was on the wall. “The Turk,” as they say in football parlance, arrived one Saturday evening and said I was to report to the executive offices right after the races. I did. I knew. I was “fired”. They gave me two weeks severance pay. No rationalization; yet, it might have been just as well. At this time, I was both teaching school and working at the track. I got to figure that I was working close to 60 hours a week (more, if you include travel). My family was suffering. My kids rarely saw their father; my wife her husband.

Over the years, after I left Foxboro Raceway, my trips to the trackdiminished. Yet, with the advent of ADWs I was able to bet from my home, off my computer. As I look back, harness racing has been an important part of my life. I’ve made many friendships. It’s been a very enjoyable pastime.

01-30-2018, 03:41 PM
I liked your story. Thanks for posting it.

01-30-2018, 07:44 PM
Thanks Teach, good story.

01-30-2018, 09:01 PM
Good Read....thanks Teach:ThmbUp:

01-31-2018, 01:05 AM
Thanks that’s great post.

01-31-2018, 01:38 AM
I had alot of fun nights at Foxboro back in the day, seems the parking lot was always packed even on weekdays.
Walter(Wally)Cryan was the announcer, he did the news at 6pm here in Prov. on Ch.12.
Do you remember when Lincoln Downs ran their one and only Harness meet? Or when Foxboro ran a tho breed meet , one time?