Columbus, OH --- Summer is ending and the county fair racing is drawing to a close. Come next summer, however, the fairs will be back and in Ohio horsemen know that means they’ll need a new copy of Huff’s Guide.
Part of the tradition of racing in Ohio is the venerable “national fair directory” that lists the conditions of various county fairs in Ohio. It’s virtually a bible for Ohio horsemen.
Recently I found a 1941 copy of the Huff’s Guide among the flotsam and jetsam of my archives at home and I found it fascinating. America was on the verge of World War II and you can make the case that 1941 was America’s last summer of innocence.
Harness racing was also about to change dramatically after the war ended in 1945. Night time racing exploded at the new pari-mutuel raceways and harness racing embarked on several decades of exciting growth. Today Huff’s Guide is published by The Horseman Publishing Co. in Lexington.
Huff’s Guide was established in 1906 and in 1941 it was published in Bellefontaine, Ohio by Win Kinan, who also served as the manager of the Ohio State Fair.
The race programs for 70 fairs were listed, including the Ohio State Fair and the four days of Grand Circuit racing at the brand new soup-bowl half-mile track at Delaware.
One county fair program that particularly interested me was the Hamilton Co. Fair in Carthage, a suburb of Cincinnati. I grew up in Hamilton Co. and my father was a regular at the “Carthage Fair” (as it was called) since he was an infant.
The richest events offered at Carthage were a pair of Ohio Horse Breeders Stakes for 2-year-old trotters and pacers. Each was estimated at $2,000. (That equates to about $30,000 today.)
To the end of his life, my father always said that the greatest race he ever saw was a 2-year-old race at Carthage in 1942, the following year. It was when Adios set a world record defeating his rival King’s Counsel. My father often waxed nostalgic and would say, “I can close my eyes and still see ‘em…Adios and King’s Counsel…going down the backstretch.”
The Grand Circuit tracks that year included the new Roosevelt Raceway in New York, as well as Toledo; Old Orchard, Maine; Goshen (both Historic Track and Good Time Park); Springfield; Milwaukee; Syracuse; Indianapolis; Louisville; Reading, Pa.; Delaware; and Lexington.
Some of the fair racing programs included some intriguing conditions.
At the Plain City Fair, Hyland’s Restaurant and the R.H. Jackson Restaurant offered a steak dinner to the owner and driver of the fastest heat of the day. At the nearby fair in Plain City, one stake was named in honor (?) of the Ohio Reformatory for Women. (I wonder if that was a race for bad-mannered fillies and mares?)
The Trumbull County Free Fair carded only two events, a 2:25 Class for horses of each gait, then added, “We will make classes for the horses that are on the grounds the days of the fair to the best of our ability.” In other words, fair officials were simply going to wing it with the horses that were available.
The Cuyahoga Co. Metropolitan Fair stipulated that drivers’ whip not exceed 30 inches.
The Ohio State Fair permitted two or more horses from the same interest to start in the same race, but specified that judges would name the drivers.
Coshocton’s conditions said that “winnings paid at wire in cash. We have never failed to pay all winnings in full.”
The fair at Wooster also dealt in cash, stipulating “Checks will not be accepted for entry fees.”
Most purses at Ohio county fairs were in the $300-500 range. Don’t laugh. In 2010 dollars, that’s $4,500-$7,500 and don’t you think many fairs would love to be offering purses like that today?
Some of the advertisements were intriguing, such as the notice placed by Col. Hetrick M. Huling, who billed himself as “The Standing Gelder King.”
His ad said that “It’s dangerous to throw horses” and that owners could prevent crippling horses without having them hog-tied by having them gelded while standing. Col. Huling claimed to have castrated more horses than any other man in Ohio.
Reading this copy of Huff’s Guide from almost 70 years ago is fascinating and it’s reassuring to know that despite all the changes in our sport, Huff’s Guide is still being published.
Editor's Note: The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.