In 1976, Harness Tracks of America held its annual meeting at the Canyon Hotel in Palm Springs, Calif.
Like many other classics of that day, the hotel is no longer there. Nor is another treasure it spawned, by accident, not intent.
About two weeks before the meeting, the sales manager of the hotel contacted me, telling me he had a special surprise. The hotel would be holding an exhibit of horse racing art while HTA was meeting, with more than 200 works of equine art.
He kept his promise, but among the 200 works there was not one harness racing painting, sculpture, lithograph or woodcarving.
I vowed that never would happen to me again. Later that year I started the first HTA art auction, for the benefit of HTA’s college scholarship fund.
It was a success, and ran for 33 years, with only one interruption, when in 1982 Del Miller asked me to sell a huge auction of his Currier & Ives prints at the Meadowlands for the benefit of his Meadowcroft Village.
That auction was a huge hit, and the HTA art auction resumed the following year, continuing until logistical and personnel problems in 2009 claimed it as the latest victim in the changing world.
Since then recurring requests and other inquiries saying the harness art auction was missed have kept cropping up.
It is understandable, for prior to the HTA auction if one wanted good harness racing art they had to haunt art galleries looking for it, with rare findings. And looking back at the catalogs over the years, HTA could be extremely proud of the quality of work it made available to harness racing art fanciers.
As the road narrows personally, and with children busy with other interests and pursuits, it occurred that it might be an appropriate time to recall the artists who made the HTA art auction a success, and see if they would like to rejoin an effort to rekindle the flame of harness racing art, with a major part of my collection included as a spark to start the fire.
It turned out they would, so later this month a new website, http://www.cavallofineart.com, will appear, featuring their work.
Some have left the road, but those still wielding brushes and attending easels and sculpting in bronze and carving wood will be seen again, this time online.
In other news, now gone from the racing scene permanently is Dr. Mark Gerard, who came out of Cornell vet school half a century ago, rose like a rocket to tend to three Kentucky Derby winners – Secretariat, Riva Ridge and Canonero II, as well as the five-time Thoroughbred Horse of the Year Kelso – and then crashed calamitously when greed and lack of good judgment led him to try to run a ringer on the major stage of U.S. Thoroughbred racing. Not only try it, but do it, by importing the Uruguayan 3-year-old champion of the previous year for $81,000 and a 5-year-old that looked just like the younger champion for $1,600, and then switching them in a race at Belmont.
The champion colt, Cinzano, won, running as the cheap claimer, Lebon, paying $116. Gerard bet $1,000 on his ringer, won his purchase price back, but lost his practice, his good name, and for a while, his freedom. He was in his 40s at the time, and wound up later in life looking after polo ponies in Florida.
He died recently of a stroke, a broken spirit rather than the roaring success he once was believed to be.
Speaking of the runners, our sport welcomes one of their crack publicity men to our ranks. Dan Leary, with years of experience at top tracks such as Gulfstream and Hialeah in Florida, Arlington Park in Illinois, and Lone Star Park in Texas, is crossing the border to Ohio and harness racing country to take up duties as USTA director of communications.
He served the last two years as vice president of the Turf Publicists of America, and best of all he knows harness racing from his early days watching it at the Meadowlands, Yonkers and Monticello. He is not the former Joe Goldstein colleague and New York sports publicist Tim O’Leary, but we’ll welcome him even without the O.
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