Until Americans decide whether gambling is a sin or a sport, the question of whether children should be admitted to race tracks will be with us. In some parts of the country, chiefly in the South, youngsters are welcome; in others they are excluded.
One place that has recently been a focal point for this debate is Goshen, N.Y., where, until last year, children have been attending harness races since the sport began in colonial times. In 1959 the New York State Harness Racing Commission barred children from all pari-mutuel tracks in the state. This year the kids are back—at Goshen anyway—under the new rule that allows each trotting track to decide the question for itself. One man especially pleased with the rule is E. Roland Harriman (brother of ex-Governor Averill), 64-year-old president of the Orange County Driving Park Association, which sponsors the Goshen meeting. To Harriman, excluding children meant violating one of trotting's oldest traditions—family participation in the rearing and racing of standardbreds. "In addition," he says, "I feel that the only way to gain enthusiasts for the sport is to initiate people when they're young."
So there were flocks of youngsters at Goshen last week—enjoying the sunshine and the horses, and showing no visible ill effects from the presence of the mutuel machines.
Goshen was, is and always will be a gauge of the strength of harness racing in America. The best drivers, the biggest stables and the finest horses have always competed in its one week of midsummer racing. For most of the people directly connected with trotting, Goshen is a much-needed departure from the illuminated merry-go-rounds of the night tracks. Here, the sport is conducted for sport's sake, and betting is merely part of the sport.
The tiny town itself is everywhere shaded by giant oaks and elms and, for 51 weeks, it is a place of little activity. But during the 52nd week, when the horses arrive, ladies take to serving lunch on the sprawling lawn of the Methodist Church (baked beans, 15¢), and every corner seems alive with small boys peddling lemonade ("made from real lemons").
The track has no escalators, no elevators, no turnstiles, no closed-circuit television sets. The crowds are paltry when compared to Roosevelt, Yonkers or Hollywood Park. Goshen's average daily attendance this year was 1,636, its average mutuel handle $59,000. But it draws the people who care about trotting, and the racing is the best.
This year was no exception. Countess Adios, the superb 3-year-old pacing filly, won the $10,035 Ladyship Stake in straight heats, setting her own pace and making a show of her opposition. Her little sister, Vivian's Adios, won the $12,110 Debutante Stake for 2-year-old pacers, also in straight heats. In the E. H. Harriman 2-year-old trot Arden Homestead's Matastar beat Billy Haughton's Mr. Pride twice, both victories attributable to finely rated drives by Harry Pownall and to the fact that Mr. Pride twice broke stride. Del Miller, who had 10 victories during the five days, won the $13,600 Titan free-for-all trot with Darn Safe. It was a fine meeting. Said Roland Harriman, "The track lost money [as usual] but probably gained a lot of new friends."