Goshen, N.Y., the county seat of Orange County, is a homely little town that's awfully pretty. It has hot, narrow streets cramped with ugly frame buildings, and a railroad track at ground level cutting a gash through the business section. But it also has a lush, shaded green in the heart of town that makes you forget the railroad track, and broad tree-lined avenues that make you forget the hot, cramped streets. And it has a harness racing track—right in the village, maybe 100 feet from the edge of the green—that makes you forget that any part of Goshen is anything but soft and quiet and lovely.
The track, called Historic, is a vestige, about all that remains active today of the virile world of the trotting horse that flourished in Orange County a century ago. Read a history of American trotting and Orange County crops up the way Massachusetts does in a history of the American Revolution. Orange County was to the Standardbred horse what Kentucky is to the Thoroughbred—it was where the horses came from, and the stories and the legends. The famous mare, Goldsmith Maid, was an Orange County foal, and so were George Wilkes and Dexter and Electioneer and Dictator and dozens and dozens of others. So, too, was the most remarkable sire in the history of horse racing, the amazing Hambletonian, born little more than 100 years ago but already the dominant and direct ancestor of practically every harness horse now on American tracks.
Despite this rich history and tradition, harness racing all but died in Orange County—and in the country, too—and it survives as a vigorous sport today almost entirely because of the efforts of one tall, gray, handsome, pleasant, persistent, diplomatic, extremely wealthy and totally dedicated man named Edward Roland Harriman. He is in love—with trotting and with Orange County and with Goshen, or at any rate with what Orange County and Goshen stand for in the world of trotting.
Harriman? Harriman? E. Roland Harriman? The name is familiar, of course, but it's a bit hard to place him exactly. Was it his grandfather, or great-grandfather, who made all the money in railroads back before the turn of the century? Is he related somehow to Averell Harriman? Does he have any connection with Brown Brothers Harriman, the Wall Street banking house? There's a Harriman State Park in New York—would that mean anything? Wasn't there a Harriman associated with the Red Cross there for a couple of years?
July 8, 1962
E. Roland Harriman, 66 last December, is the youngest child of E. H. Harriman, he of the soupstrainer mustache and the Union Pacific, the man who fought James Hill and J.P. Morgan for control of the western railroads, the financial genius who was called a "robber baron" and who died in 1909 at the age of 61, leaving a wife, five children and $100,000,000. E. Roland Harriman is the younger brother of W. Averell Harriman, the millionaire who left the Republican party to vote for Al Smith in 1928, who became an administrator in Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, a wartime ambassador to the Soviet Union, Secretary of Commerce, Governor of New York and an aspirant for the Presidency of the United States. E. Roland Harriman is chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad and an active, working partner in Brown Brothers Harriman. Harriman State Park in New York is composed principally of land given to the state by E. Roland Harriman's mother half a century ago, shortly after his father's death. And if you look at the Red Cross card in your pocket you will note that it is signed by E. Roland Harriman, who is head of the American Red Cross and has been for over a decade and whose role in it, be assured, is neither honorary nor superficial.
E. Roland Harriman also built the Bear Mountain Bridge, the first major bridge to span the Hudson River and the longest suspension bridge in the world when it was opened in 1924. (A private venture under state charter, it reverted to state control in 1940.) He is also chairman of the Boys' Clubs of New York, an organization that Harriman's father founded in 1876 to help underprivileged boys in New York City. He also hunts—birds at Arden Homestead, his 800-acre estate in the Ramapo Hills not far from Goshen, elk at his ranch in Idaho; golfs—he used to shoot in the 80s, and still has as a souvenir the card of a round he did in 78; fishes—mostly for bass in a small lake at Arden; rides—at Arden or in Idaho; raises dogs—he breeds English cocker spaniels at Arden and has won field trials with them, though he prefers to use them only for hunting; and walks—usually through the hills at Arden with a dog or two along, and a gun.
Yet for all the dogs and the fishing and the hunting and riding and golfing and Boys' Clubs and bridges and Red Cross and Brown Brothers and Union Pacific, E. Roland Harriman's pleasure is trotting. He began driving trotting horses when he was a boy, was an avid and successful amateur driver for many years and still occasionally gets in a sulky behind one or another of his horses and drives them in training sessions for his Arden Homestead Stable at the Historic Track in Goshen. Harriman's two daughters were both first-rate amateur drivers, and his wife was a superb one, the first woman ever to drive a harness horse a mile in better than two minutes, which is roughly equivalent to running a four-minute mile. Harriman has owned such horses as Titan Hanover, Star's Pride and Florican, three of the finest trotters ever to race in the U.S. Titan Hanover set world records at 2 and at 3 and won The Hambletonian Stake, the Kentucky Derby of trotting, in straight heats in 1945. Star's Pride—which Harriman owned jointly with Lawrence B. Sheppard, honorary president of the U.S. Trotting Association—set a world race record for trotters in 1952 that still stands; Florican, in the first heat of that race, had the best first-heat time ever made by a trotter, only ⅕ second behind the world record Star's Pride set a short time later. In 1958 two fillies tied the record Titan Hanover had set as a 3-year-old; one was a daughter of Star's Pride, the other was a daughter of Florican.
Harriman's intense interest in harness racing had its origins before his birth, when his father, like other wealthy men of the day, began to buy and drive trotting horses. Owners like the elder Harriman (who paid $50,000 for the stallion Stamboul in 1892) had trainers in their employ who would drive in important races, but the owners themselves would very often take the reins of their crack horses and "brush" them in amateur races. Most of this sort of racing was at "matinees," meetings held regularly on Saturday afternoons on tracks owned and maintained by amateur groups.
Roland Harriman grew up in an aura of harness racing. In Goshen, for example, there are two tracks, the Historic half-mile track in the heart of town and a mile track, called Good Time Park, out on the south side of the village. Reminiscing a few weeks ago, Roland Harriman recalled, "My father bought the old track on the site of Good Time because he wanted to straighten out a curve in the Erie Railroad, which he owned and which went through Goshen, and he wanted the property for that. But then he became so interested in trotting that he decided to keep things as they were. He had previously bought the Historic Track. I sold Good Time to Bill Cane years later, and The Hambletonian was run there for over 25 years. It cost Bill a lot of money to keep it there, and after he died Yonkers Raceway, which Bill had had a substantial interest in, wanted to move the race down there. But the conditions of The Hambletonian call for it to be run in the daytime on a mile track and in heats. Yonkers couldn't meet those conditions and it didn't want to foot the expense of keeping the race at Good Time. So The Hambletonian was moved to the Du Quoin fairgrounds in Illinois, and Good Time became a training track.
"There was a great deal of racing at Goshen in the old days, and my father loved it. I had a very warm affection for my father, though I stood in awe of him. I remember him clearly as a man who had no nonsense about him at all. But he was a wonderful family man. Whenever he went on a business trip he always took his family with him, the whole family, or at any rate whoever was available. I was in every state in the Union except two, North Dakota and Alabama, by the time I was 9 years old. He took my brother Averell and me on camping trips to Idaho, and one year—when the doctors told him he had to take a rest—we all went with him to Alaska. He made an expedition out of it; he took an entire party of scientists and naturalists along, among them John Muir and John Burroughs, and we went as far as the Bering Strait. That was 10 years before Peary reached the North Pole.
"I remember one time when he had to leave on a business trip the day of an important race at Goshen. Just before the train left, from over in Jersey City, the word came that his horse, Emily S., had won the race. My father wrote out a message to Andrews, who was his trainer, saying congratulations on the victory. Then he put Andrews' name on it, wrapped it around an apple and threw it off the train as we passed through Goshen.
"I was driving regularly in matinees in Goshen by the time I was 15 or 16," Harriman went on, "but I rode horses before I drove them. My earliest waking memory is of riding. I was the youngest in our family by four years. My three sisters and my brother were all superb riders, and they were determined that their sissy little brother was going to learn to ride, too. I hated it. At first, anyway." He smiled at the memory.
"The first trotter I drove at the matinees in Goshen was a mare my mother had bred named Quisetta, and she was a quitter. She'd go well and then just give up. I had to learn to sprint with her from the start and get a lead and then try to hang on until the end. It worked. I won my first cup with her, for most races won in the matinee season at Goshen."
Matinee racing was an obsolescent sport when Roland Harriman began to drive trotters in competition ("The automobile and I came in together," he says ruefully), but it was a charming obsolescence and great fun, and it thrived—on the surface at any rate—for another two decades or so. Every Saturday during the season Harriman and his friends would race at Goshen, enjoying the sun and the country air and the sight and the sound and the smell of the trotters, and the pure excitement of the sport. It was infectious, and Roland Harriman caught the trotting fever and never lost it. More than that, he became a carrier, spreading a love for harness racing to others, among them his wife, the former Gladys Fries of New York City, whom he married in 1917, the year he graduated from Yale.
"I never knew anything about trotters before I met the Harrimans," she said last month. "I had to learn in self-defense." "She's a much better driver than I am," said her husband. "I don't say that to be modest or polite," he added. "She really is." Mrs. Harriman doesn't drive any more, but until a few years ago she used to train horses at Goshen twice a week, and as late as 1950, 33 years after her marriage, she drove the filly Tassel Hanover to a world record.
It should be pointed out that there are almost as many world records in trotting as there are horses. Mrs. Harriman's mark, a valid one, was a world record for pacing a mile against time on a half-mile track by a 3-year-old filly. Less valid—or more esoteric—records include those for a horse hitched to a wagon instead of a sulky, for a horse teamed with another horse, for a horse teamed with another horse in tandem instead of abreast, for a horse trotting under saddle, and so on. Harriman claims that one of his horses, Guy Ozark, holds the flat tire record. The pneumatic tire on the bicycle sulky blew out as the race started, but Guy Ozark went the mile anyway and did it in 2:02. "It'll be in the record book someday," Harriman says cheerfully.
Roland Harriman's preoccupation with matinee racing coincided with his entrance into business with his brother—he and Averell founded a banking house which they later merged with Brown Brothers. Averell also drove trotters, until an asthmatic condition caused primarily by the dust forced him to quit. "He couldn't drive," Roland said, "but he could still ride a horse. So he made himself into a polo player. He's a remarkable man. Neither of us were natural athletes when we were young: he was tall and lean, and I was short and fat, and both of us were awkward. But he made himself into an athlete. He was an absolutely first-class polo player [he played with Tommy Hitchcock on the U.S. team that defeated Argentina in the international polo cup matches in 1928], and he's a fine skier. You know, he's a very shy man and always has been. There is nothing more difficult for him to do than to meet and speak to groups of people. But he makes himself. He made himself go into government and politics. I admire him. He and I are on opposite sides of the fence politically, but it's never caused the slightest difficulty between us." He chuckled. "Mostly, I suppose, because we never talk about it. Anyway, as I tell everyone, Ave is my favorite Democrat."
Those years, the 1920s—the Golden Age in other sports—were the years of trotting's great depression. Amateur racing was still lively, but the professional sport was moribund. Purses were small, attendance was low and racing was confined almost entirely to small meetings at fairgrounds. The various associations that claimed authority over the sport were constantly fighting with one another. Then, in 1923, Wallace's Register and Wallace's Year Book, annual volumes that printed detailed breeding and racing records that were vital to harness racing, stopped publishing. The sick sport was now in a chaotic state and in genuine danger of disappearing from the American scene.
Enter Roland Harriman.
Deeply disturbed by what was happening, he invited 20 or so of the top breeders and owners to a dinner at his home on East 68th Street in New York City, told them flatly that trotting was "going to hell in a hack" and suggested what had to be done to save it. The group formed the Trotting Horse Club of America, and soon afterward Harriman traveled to Chicago and bought the Register and the Year Book. He gave them to the Trotting Club, which assumed the responsibility of bringing the defunct volumes up to date, of publishing new volumes annually, of maintaining breeding and racing records and of issuing breeding certificates. The Trotting Club also took over the job of listing the entry fees and dates and conditions of forthcoming races at the various tracks each year, an important function in racing. It put up funds to support some of the traditional racing events and started some new ones. The Hambletonian Society, an organization separate from the Trotting Club, but similar to it in membership, established The Hambletonian Stake, which quickly became the most important trotting race in the country.
The Trotting Club helped to revitalize the Grand Circuit, that curious autonomous association within trotting that sees to it that choice racing programs are distributed equitably and in reasonable chronological order among the key member tracks, some of which are giants like Yonkers Raceway and some of which are as small as Goshen's Historic, whose grandstand has a capacity of something less than 2,000. Some Grand Circuit tracks had closed down. The Trotting Club helped them to open again, in some cases by subsidizing the meetings.
The Trotting Club, and particularly Harriman, began to work for the unification of the various trotting associations into one national organization. The vigorous Lawrence Sheppard, who was at that original dinner and who has been a driving force in U.S. harness racing ever since, says, "Harriman was responsible for the formation of the Trotting Club, and he played a leading role in the establishment of the U.S. Trotting Association. He was one of the instigators. He said it was ridiculous for several factions to exist, and that they should not be jealous and afraid of each other. His impact was tremendous. He loved trotting more than almost anyone."
One of Harriman's strongest supporters was William H. Cane, the tough-minded contractor from New Jersey who had built Boyle's Thirty Acres, the site of the Dempsey-Carpentier fight in 1921. Cane had become interested in trotting at the end of World War I at the suggestion of Dr. William Lyle, the Harrimans' doctor.
"Dr. Lyle was on the staff at Roosevelt Hospital in New York City," Harriman recalled, "and he got to know Bill there, though Bill wasn't his patient. 'A man like you ought to take up a hobby,' Lyle told him. Cane said, 'What would I do?' Or something like that. He was a rough old fellow. Lyle said, Trottin'. Why don't you go up to the country and buy a trottin' horse?' Well, Bill knew Orange County. He had driven from New Jersey up there behind horses with his father when he was a boy. So he went up and got interested and became one of trotting's most important men."
Harriman and Cane traveled thousands of miles all over the country and talked to dozens and dozens of people. "We'd get them to agree on something, and then they'd split apart again. Three associations dominated trotting. The National Trotting Association ran things east of Ohio and on the West Coast. The American Trotting Association had most of the midwest. And the United Trotting Association governed Ohio. They resented the devil out of us because we had the idea that the new association should represent all the people in trotting—owners, breeders, drivers, everyone—not just the track operators, who were the members of the existing organizations."
After a decade of effort, Harriman was ready to give up. "I was talking to Will Gahagan [a veteran trotting man who did yeoman work with the revitalized Register and Year Book], and I said, 'Will, those buzzards have split again. Let's forget the whole thing and go about our business.' But Will said, 'No. Let's have one final whack at it. Let's have a meeting and invite everybody who has anything to do with trotting.' This was in the late 1930s and we called a meeting in Indianapolis of the 'friends of trotting.' Two or three hundred people from all over the country came to that meeting, at their own expense. We talked and talked, and finally everyone agreed to agree. The old associations would disband and come together as the United States Trotting Association. It was decided to hold another meeting in Columbus, Ohio a couple of months later to draw up a constitution, and so forth. It was after that meeting that I received the greatest compliment I ever got in my life. This old fellow from North Dakota came up to me and he said, 'Mr. Harriman, I can't wait to get back to North Dakota and tell those fellas there that you're not the son of a bitch they think you are.' "
The USTA was formed just in time. Three events that occurred soon after each had a profound effect on trotting's growth, and if the sport had not had a national governing body to supervise and control harness racing in every part of the country the chicanery that almost certainly would have occurred might well have made boxing's dirty business look like penny-ante poker. A million-dollar gate is big stuff in boxing; in 1961, harness racing tracks contributed 60 times that amount in taxes to state governments.
The three big influences were the invention of the Phillips starting gate (the novel folding fence on the back of a car, which solved the age-old nuisance of the false start), the legalization of parimutuel betting in New York State and the establishment of Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury, on Long Island. It took about five years for all these things to coalesce, but by 1946 night racing at Roosevelt began to hum—and big-time trotting was here. Harness racing exploded in a wild surge of growth, led by Roosevelt and its younger sister, Yonkers Raceway. In terms of attendance, betting, purses and tax revenue, harness racing in 1950 was 10 times as big as it had been a decade earlier, and by I960 it had more than doubled again in size. Trotting was out of its depression.
This very bigness both cheers and dismays Roland Harriman. "I don't object to anyone in trotting making money," he says. "After all, I've spent a great part of my life and a good deal of my own money trying to make that possible. Someone said to me that Yonkers and Roosevelt had saved trotting and ruined it. Well, that's not so. They've saved trotting and changed it.
"I like the people who run Yonkers and Roosevelt. They honestly and sincerely try to put on a good show. But it's very easy to forget that trotting is a sport and to think of it only as a revenue-collecting agency. That's why I objected so strenuously a few years ago when the New York State Harness Racing Commission barred children under 18 from the tracks, even if they were accompanied by their parents. I thought that was terrible, and I said so. I feel the only way to gain enthusiasm for any sport is to initiate people into it when they're young. Well, they changed the rule and now the kids are back—at Goshen, anyway. And we put on races for amateur drivers at Goshen, too.
"This is possibly not an apt comparison, but see what happened to basketball when money, the commercial aspect, became more important than the sport. That's what it comes down to: whether money is going to be the predominant thing in trotting, or the sport. There can be a happy marriage of the two. And as long as you have that, it's swell."
The Historic Track in Goshen is, of course, Harriman's pride and ideal. He and his nephew, stocky, graying Elbridge T. Gerry, who was an amateur driver of note and is presently a partner in Brown Brothers, are partners also in the operation of both the Arden Homestead Stable and the splendidly named Orange County Driving Park Association, which runs the race meeting at Historic. Harriman leaves most of the detail to Gerry, for whose ability he has deep admiration and respect. "I have all the titles," he says, "but Ebby does all the work. He's everywhere around the track. He even checks the entry box in the morning to see what horses have been entered. He has a remarkable feeling for detail. About all I do now is take care of the trophies. I buy them at a sale in January, and then just before the meeting begins I sit down and decide which trophy should be put up for which race. Then I go watch the trotters and enjoy myself."
Harriman glows with that enjoyment whenever he is at Historic. One lovely morning in June, a few weeks before this year's race meeting began, he drove his beautifully polished Mercedes-Benz (complete with steel radiator ornament in the shape of a trotter pulling a sulky) the 17 miles from Arden to Goshen to talk to his trainer, Harry Pownall, who had raced at Vernon Downs in upstate New York the night before and who had flown down for his meeting with Harriman.
Harriman poked his head into the office tucked under the grandstand and said hello to Mary Stuart, a Goshen girl who has worked at the track for Harriman ever since her graduation from high school.
"Hello, Mary," he said. "How did we do last night?"
"You had two winners!"
"Two?" he said, delighted.
"Spector and Tercel," she said. "Tercel did two, four and a fraction."
Harry Pownall came in as she was speaking.
"Four and four," he said. "She did the first quarter in 28."
"You better get a new watch," Harriman said, smiling.
"No, it was official."
Harriman looked at him appraisingly.
"You got a horse for me to drive?"
Pownall said, "Well, I think there's something we better talk about first."
Harriman smiled again. "I know all about it," he said, "and it's all right." Harriman had undergone an operation during the winter and had been cautioned to take it easy for a while.
"You sure?" Pownall said. "I've got my orders."
"I'm sure," Harriman said. "It's all right."
They walked out to the sunlit stable area and Harriman watched as the crack 4-year-old Matastar was hitched to a sulky. Watching, too, was Mrs. Frances Wallace, who writes about harness racing for Orange County newspapers. "You've got some good 2-year-olds coming up," she said. "So I'm told," Harriman agreed. He climbed into the sulky behind Matastar. Pownall walked alongside and said, "About 23, 25." Harriman nodded and took Matastar slowly along the track the "wrong" way, jogging him for a while. Then he turned him and brought him down the track and past the starting post.
"Is that the boss out there, Harry?" a stablehand asked.
"Yep," said Pownall.
"What's he going in?"
"He looks pretty good."
"He sure does. And it's the first time he's been out this year."
As Harriman completed the second tour of the half-mile track Pownall said, almost to himself, "Right on it, 2:25." Harriman brought the horse back to Pownall, who walked up, touched his watch and said, "Right on the button."
"Had to walk him the last quarter to do it," Harriman said.
Later, as he walked past on his way back to the office Mrs. Wallace said, "You ought to do this more often."
"Wish I could," Harriman said. "Tell Harry to leave more horses here."
He went into the office, phoned his wife to tell her what time he'd be home for lunch and came out again. He looked around before getting into his car. A trotter came jogging along the track driven by a man in a sulky who held a small boy, no more than three or four years old, on his lap. The boy's face was brilliant with excitement.
Harriman watched the horse and the man and the boy move slowly down the track. "That's what I mean about trotting," he said.
A July Week of Nostalgia
Roland Harriman's spruce old Historic Track in Goshen, N.Y. is an extremely pleasant place during Fourth of July week. Its easy, friendly atmosphere is shown in the scenes on the following four pages. At right: Driver Jim Hackett relaxes in the paddock amid a colorful clutter of sulkies and racing tack. A visitor knows that he can walk right up and chat with Jim—or with Del Miller, Johnny Simpson, Stanley Dancer, Joe O'Brien and the other famous drivers who invariably appear at Goshen. The heavy security cordon separating horsemen from the public at the big commercial raceways is happily absent. Nor is it forbidden to pat a horse on its well-bred muzzle or to bring along the kids for a long, euphoric afternoon of trotting, very much as it was 50 years ago. At no other U.S. trotting track is pure sport so well served, and no other offers such a delightful blend of rural beauty and gaited speed. The horses are the nation's very best. This week, as Roland Harriman turns back the clock once again to a more spacious time, they include Impish, the most remarkable trotting filly the sport has ever known, and Safe Mission, the colt she must defeat to win The Hambletonian classic next month.