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Champlain Chris
Friday, June 04, 2010 - by Ellen Harvey

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As you read this blog, I am hard by the shores of Lake Champlain, in Shelburne, Vt. The Green Mountains are to the east, the Adirondacks to the west and across the lake is New York. It’s a pretty swell spot. 

I’m attending an Alison Krauss concert; looking forward to hearing her sweet voice in this cleft between the mountains, not to mention the world’s greatest Dobro player, Jerry Douglas, who plays with her band, Union Station. And yes, I can make this relate to harness racing.

Photos from USTA archives

Dunbar Bostwick

Shelburne is where Dunbar Bostwick lived and died in 2006 at the age of 98. He was a founding director of the Shelburne Museum, where this concert is being held. His wife Electra’s mother, Electra Havemeyer Webb, founded the Museum, which is home to an enormous collection of Americana, including dozens of horse-drawn carriages. 

I’m very sorry I never knew Mr. Bostwick. He was a man of great vision and achievement. He was a USTA director and treasurer and a founding director of Saratoga Harness. He was captain of the Yale hockey team and served as an officer in the Army Air Force, helping to plan the Normandy invasion. 

After the war, he tested early radio navigation devices in airplanes and helped build improved instrument landing devices. He was also a six-goal polo player, a sport where you could fit all the 10 and most of the nine-goal players in a very small room. He devised the magnetic snap barrier, a step along to the way to the starting gate we use now. 

But it was something very simple that established Mr. Bostwick’s lasting contribution to harness racing – water. If you live along the shores of Lake Champlain, you have access to a lot of water. The lake runs almost the entire border of New York and Vermont, hundreds of miles. Mr. Bostwick raised trotters, Holstein and Hereford cattle on his farm in Shelburne, including the trotter Chris Spencer and a Dalmatian by the same name.

Chris Spencer thrived on the track after keeping in shape by swimming in Lake Champlain

Chris Spencer 2:00.2 ($205,520) was among Mr. Bostwick’s best trotters, along with Boyne, Nibble Hanover, Kuno and Speedy Tomali. Along with the wins came some soreness, enough to keep the son of Spencer off the track. Pounding on the track wasn’t going to do him any good, but yet the horse needed to maintain his fitness. 

Lake Champlain provided Mr. Bostwick with the just the right training venue for his young trotter. Twice a day, Mr. Bostwick launched a small motorboat and his horse in to the brisk waters of Lake Champlain. Trotting along with the resistance of the water, but without the concussion of the track, Chris Spencer kept his fitness intact and gave his muscles time to heal. Over the next eight years Chris Spencer raced from coast to coast. The Army Air Force veteran sent his trotter to California in an airplane to win the Hollywood Stakes. 

Time Magazine of October 1952 reported on Mr. Bostwick’s ingenuity of devising the swimming fitness routine for his horse, while reporting on his big win in the 1-1/2-mile Gotham Trot, by six lengths over Pronto Don and Hambletonian champ Mainliner. The time was a record 3:09.

With the practice of swimming horses now firmly entrenched among training practices, right up to 2008 Hambletonian champion, Deweycheatumhowe, who enjoyed a swim on the pond occasionally, it’s safe to say that Dunbar Bostwick’s made a big splash in this sport. 

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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.

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