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Happy birthday, Pennsylvania racing
Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - by Tom LaMarra

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A thank you to Jerry Connors for the recent reminder that June 7 marked the 50th anniversary of Liberty Bell Park and pari-mutuel harness racing in Pennsylvania.

I miss Liberty Bell, even almost 28 years after its final race. It’s where I saw my first harness race in 1978 and learned how to handicap the trotters and pacers. It was the place where time was spent with family and friends; three, four or five of us would get into a car and drive over from South Jersey, particularly on Sunday nights.

The first night I went my mom gave me $2 to bet—via my cousin, because I was underage. The money went on a horse named Mannart Moonshot to win, which he did, and paid all of $4. It didn’t matter to me. I was hooked.

It’s fitting that, when the last race was run in August 1985, the all-age track record-holder was Dragon’s Lair, who at 3 paced a mile in 1:54.3 on Liberty Bell’s five-eighths-mile track. The colt and his trainer-driver, Jeff Mallet, are the subject of a pretty cool video put together by Jeff Zidek on the 50th anniversary of The Meadows, which was the second Pennsylvania track to open when it did so June 28, 1963.

I didn’t see The Meadows in person until the early 1990s. But I do remember watching the 1984 Breeders Crown for 2-year-old male pacers live on television. I never tire of watching the replay; that race was so great on many levels.

My wife and I made our first trip to Washington, Pa., for the Adios. We attended the paddock sale, and I remember telling Karen that if we had money—not an issue on a journalist’s salary—we would buy a colt out of Pavement Grinder, who I recalled going big miles for Dan Altmeyer in the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes at Liberty Bell in the 1980s.

The horse sold for $10,000. He was named Slick Pavement. He went on to win more than $1 million. Oh well, lost opportunity.

Back then The Meadows, after the Adios card, also raced at 8 p.m. Of course, we stayed. I absolutely hated missing races.

At the urging of my friend Curby Stillings, who is all things Meadows and absolutely hated working those doubleheaders, I’m going to The Meadows for the birthday bash. Maybe it will make up for not being able to celebrate June 7 at the intersection of Knights and Woodhaven roads in northeast Philadelphia.

In any event, happy birthday Pennsylvania harness racing.

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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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