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Golden State
Wednesday, March 06, 2013 - by Frank Cotolo

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Though I grew into this sport in the Northeast, at Roosevelt and Yonkers raceways, it was when I went to California that I realized there once was a Manifest Destiny of sorts for Standardbreds.

It was the late 1970s and from what I understood, harness racing was thriving in the Golden State, with meets as far north as Sacramento and as far south as Cerritos. I didn’t have a sense of the sport’s history back then; that was not so intriguing to me because I was a player and I reveled in the new names of horsemen and horses. I was like a kid who loved TV westerns that was presented with a new series, enjoying the dramas of new characters in a familiar setting.

As the sport lost favor in the state, so my tenure there expired and by the time I left I had learned more about harness racing than I set out to know. Following the meets on the West Coast, specifically in the ‘80s, cured the myopia I had and that many people had in New York. I began to see the broader picture of the sport and that there were heroes and there was history outside of the confines of New York and New Jersey, the latter opening everyone’s consciousness when the Meadowlands launched.

Indeed, the golden era of the sport had a lot to do with the Golden State.

While still living in the west, I reported for the ill-fated Hub Rail magazine on the opening of harness racing at Fairplex Park. My research led me to the fact that harness was actually returning to the facility in the mid-‘80s because harness racing was once a staple of the area. It had been gone so long that when the track opened for harness decades later the general population had no idea about the sport.

As well, I discovered there was much harness activity at western tracks where in the ‘80s no one used the word “adios” unless they were going away. Santa Anita held harness racing and even the oasis of southwestern ovals, Del Mar, presented audiences with pari-mutuel harness programs.

Because I followed Western harness closely back then I learned about harness racing in the Midwest. Many horsemen made their ways to the Pacific coast from states like Illinois and Michigan and Indiana. They came west; they did not go to the right coast.

I also became aware of Western Canada. I had no knowledge of harness in Alberta or British Columbia. Who from the Empire State back then knew of more Canadian harness racing than what trickled down from Blue Bonnets?

Today the world is smaller, per se, with global communications at everyone’s fingertips. But two decades ago I became aware of the vast grandness of this sport because I moved a few thousand miles from the eye of the storm. 

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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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