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Across the pond
Wednesday, March 19, 2014 - by Frank Cotolo

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In my March 6 blog, “Accidental Legend,” I promised to follow though with more information on how I discovered harness racing existed in Great Britain. Oddly, I found out more about the sport’s presence on the British isles in the United States than I had learned while living across the Atlantic. That was 20-some-odd years ago.

In the ‘90s, while writing for TIMES: in harness, my discoveries about British harness racing resulted in a John Hervey Award. More about what information led to that unique story about British harness racing will be saved for another blog. In this text, I want to reveal what I learned recently, through the archives kept by Don Daniels, who responded to my March 6 blog with an article written in 1946.

The article was published in Harness Horse magazine and it is one more piece in the puzzle that completes the history of Standardbreds in Great Britain, with new information that comes to me and I am sure to most North American harness buffs.

As Buffalo Raceway prepared for a meet in May of ‘46, it was announced that a 3-year-old filly pacer, Vola Star, was stabled at the track and ready for racing. Vola Star was the first Standardbred from Great Britain to race anywhere else in the world. She was the daughter of Malcom Jay, an imported-to-England son of Lord Jim, who won the Hambletonian in 1934. Her dam, Vola Gay, held a pacing record in England.

Vola Star was in Hamburg, N.Y., with her owner, Baroness Edita Wright of Kent, England. Edita was the breeder and trainer of the filly. She made the journey with more than racing her filly in mind. The Baroness wanted to study harness racing on this side of the pond because she claimed the sport appeared “to have finally gained a footold after fallen into ill repute through machinations of certain gambling elements.”

The Baroness expected to return to England in August of ’34 and attempt to create a governing organization not unlike the United States Trotting Association, to nurture the sport’s growth on the isles. The results of her goals have not yet surfaced but the topic of “usavory gambling elements” would surface as I researched when making my connection that led to my award-winning article.

I learned a lot from sources that spoke under the condition of anonymity about how harness racing in England had been plagued by unsavory gambling elements, although it had grown from 1934 into the ‘90s. I also found out that, to my dismay, there were harness “clubs” holding meets at York Raceway while I was in England. I was living in Harrogate and had gone to nearby York but only Thoroughbred racing was available and no one admited to knowing anything about harness racing there.

My studies continue and I will recount more of what I learned in future blogs. If anyone reading has any facts about this topic, especially if he or she had experience with United Kingdom Standardbreds, please contact me through Hoof Beats at hoofbeats@ustrotting.com.

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