On Sunday, July 5, 2009, “Hall of Fame Day,” the 2008 Immortal Honourees will be inducted into the Hall during ceremonies held under the tent on the museum lawn. This great distinction is given both to people and horses, no longer living, who have made significant contributions to the sport of harness racing.
The new inductees, who are nominated annually by the museum’s members and elected by its Board of Trustees, are: Scott Leighton, George Francis Schreiber, Edward Troye, Col. Richard West, Lewis Williams and Gen. William Temple Withers. Also elected are Standardbred horses Big Towner and Nans Catch.
Scott Leighton was born in Auburn, Maine in 1847. Showing an early interest in horses and art, he took up the horse trade business at fourteen in order to support his artistic aspirations. By the age of seventeen, he had saved almost $2,000 with which he moved to Portland, Maine to study under one of the leading landscape painters of the time, Harrison Bird Brown. During his time in Portland, Leighton completed a number of horse portraits but, receiving a mere average of $2.50 per piece, he was reportedly forced to enter the “fancy furniture trade” to support himself.
In the late 1870s Leighton moved to Boston, where his artistic ability was finally recognized. Contemporary critics praised his ability to portray a horse with anatomical accuracy and he was often referred to as the “Landseer of the United States.”
His work became well-known locally through art shows he participated in at the New England Manufacturers and Mechanics Institute in Boston; the National Academy of Design in New York City; and the Poland Spring Art Gallery in Poland Spring, Maine. His work was able to reach an even wider audience with the advent of lithography. Numerous firms transferred his original paintings into mass-marketable prints; however, it was his work with Currier & Ives that brought him the most fame. More than thirty of his paintings were used by these distinguished lithographers to produce memorable prints of Hopeful, Maud S, Smuggler and Edward & Swiveller, among others.
By the late 1890s Leighton was one of the best known and well-respected equine artists of his time. His most lucrative commission came from A.B. Richmond who offered $8,000, an equivalent of over $200,000 in today’s currency, for the famous painting entitled Sealskin Brigade. The painting was so admired that William H. Vanderbilt reportedly offered Leighton an additional $2,000 for it at completion. Leighton passed away in Waverly, Massachusetts on January 18, 1898 at the age of fifty.
George Francis Schreiber, a native of Germany born in 1803, was the first professional photographer to focus his business on the portraits of race horses. In the formative years of the standardbred breed, he presented the trotting community with one of its most precious gifts: an authentic image of many of its founding sires and dams, including Goldsmith Maid, Ethan Allen, American Girl, Green Mountain Maid, Flora Temple, Lucy, Almont and, the most prestigious of his subjects, Hambletonian. In fact the portrait of Hambletonian produced by Schreiber & Sons in 1866 is arguably the most faithful representation of the great sire. Not only was it taken much earlier than other images of Hambletonian – when he was seventeen rather than when he was old and past his prime – but it is also the only image of him that has never been retouched by studio painters.
Portraits, traditionally the responsibility of artists and illustrators, tended to sacrifice precision and accuracy in order to appease the owner’s vanity. The result was a lovely, often fanciful, rendering of a horse; but not one that could always be trusted. Schreiber amended this characteristic of portraits by focusing on their potential long-term function rather than their short-term enjoyment. In his book, Portraits of Noted Horses of America, Schreiber states: “The value of such pictures as these is not alone in the pleasure of the present, but will increase with years, indefinitely, becoming an interesting part of history that can forever be relied on as perfectly accurate.”
If not for Schreiber’s skill as a photographer and forward-thinking mindset, later generations, including key equine artists Robert Dickey and George Ford Morris, would only have subjective paintings as references, and no record at all of those horses whose portraits were never commissioned, such as Mambrino Patchen, Americus and Sentinel. Schreiber passed away in 1892 at the age of 89.
Edward Troye, born in Switzerland to French parents in 1808, was one of the foremost painters of horses in the nineteenth century. Showing an early interest in art, he received instruction in drawing and painting in England before immigrating to America in 1831. Struggling with his art career, he began work as a magazine illustrator. The next year, at the age of twenty-three, Troye submitted three paintings to the annual exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and was able to attract his first commission from horseman John Charles Craig. This relationship proved very profitable for Troye since it gained him an introduction not only to racing at Long Island’s Union Course, but, more crucially, to the affluent owners who provided him with commissions for the next four decades. Troye gained more fame through his work for The American Turf Register, the nation’s first sporting magazine. Twenty-one of his paintings were chosen to be frontispieces for this new periodical devoted to sports ranging from badger hunting to horse racing.
Following his marriage in 1839, Troye settled in Kentucky. Flourishing amidst the state’s rich horse-breeding culture, he devoted a majority of his time to the focus of horse portraiture. Painting in the pre-photography era, Troye provided the trotting world with expertly crafted portraits of Alexanders Abdallah, Belmont, Dexter, Dictator and Mambrino Pilot – of whom the world might not otherwise have had a visual record. Troye passed away in 1874, at the age of sixty-six, in Georgetown, Kentucky following a case of pneumonia.
A native of Kentucky, Col. Richard West was born on February 26, 1819. Following in his father’s footsteps, he chose the occupation of farming. When his father died in 1851, West was deeded a portion of Edge Hill Farm located in Georgetown, Kentucky. Aspiring to own the entire farm, West bought the other shares owned by his brothers and sisters, eventually increasing the farm to 523 acres.
In 1868 West began breeding trotters. Requiring a strong foundation stallion, he set his sights on Immortal R.A. Alexander’s four-year-old stallion Almont, despite his high price of $8,000. This decision soon proved highly beneficial due to the esteem and wealth that Almont brought to Edge Hill. When West sold Almont seven years later, he had become such a well-respected stallion that General W. T. Withers of Fairlawn Stock Farm gladly paid $15,000 for him.
To replace Almont, West leased Dictator for the next two years. Although Dictator only stood at Edge Hill for a short while, the offspring he produced included Phallas 2:13¾, the first trotter to lower Smuggler’s eight year standing record of 2:15¼; Jay Eye See 2:10, the first 2:10 trotter; and Director 2:17, a great racehorse of the day and founder of the sire line through Direct 2:05½ - Direct Hal 2:04¼ - Napoleon Direct 1:59¾ - Billy Direct 1:55 – Tar Heel 1:57, which ranks as one of the harness world’s greatest speed families.
Due to the national economic turmoil of the late 1870s, West was forced to sell Edge Hill in 1880. He moved to Lexington and purchased Orchard Park Farm. To this new farm he took Egbert, the leading sire of 1889, and Robert McGregor, the sire of Immortal Cresceus. Both of these stallions were standing at Orchard Park when West passed away in 1887.
Lewis Williams, a native of Cadiz, Ohio born in 1947, won his first harness race at sixteen. He soon became the most successful African-American in the primarily Caucasian world of harness racing.
Williams was one of the most popular trainer-drivers in the sport. He dominated the racing circuit at Northfield Park, Ohio during the early to mid-seventies, winning seventeen Northfield driving titles. In 1972 he won a career-best 265 races, to rank fourth among all North American drivers. Often driving six and seven horses on an evening’s card, he went on to break records at tracks nationwide, including The Meadowlands, New Jersey; Maywood Park, Illinois; Pompano Park, Florida; Yonkers Raceway, New York; Hollywood Park, California and even Windsor Raceway in Ontario, Canada, where Lew became one of the youngest drivers to record his 1,000th career victory. In 1985 he surpassed the 2,000 win plateau.
Innovative and creative, Lew modernized the sport of harness racing by introducing a new way to race. The traditional strategy was to make a mad dash for the lead before continuing in single file formation until the last quarter, when a final brush of speed propelled the drivers to the finish line. Lew’s strategy focused on making moves early, forcing other drivers in the field to make poor decisions. Now most, if not all, drivers plan their races in this fashion.
Lew had his angels, but he also had his demons. For many years Lew fought bravely against his substance dependency. On several occasions his driving credentials were suspended and he voluntarily entered rehabilitation facilities. Lew was finally on the rebound and was awaiting reinstatement of his harness driver’s license when he died in 1989 from injuries sustained in a tractor accident. At the time of his death, at age forty-two, Lew had recorded 2,023 winning drives, 337 two-minute miles, amassed over $8.834 million in winning purses and maintained an average UDR of .303. He was inducted into Northfield Park’s Wall of Fame in 1990. He is the first African-American to be inducted into the sport of harness racing’s Hall of Fame.
Gen. William Temple Withers, born in 1823, was a Mississippi lawyer when the Civil War broke out. Although he fought bravely alongside General Ulysses S. Grant, his family lost everything to the Union troops who burned and destroyed both his and his father-in-law’s plantations. Struggling to get resettled, Withers moved his family to Lexington, Kentucky and purchased Fairlawn Stock Farm.
Knowing little about trotting bloodlines, Withers studied the breed carefully and eventually populated his stock farm with over seventy respectable broodmares. In 1875 he purchased Almont for a reported $15,000 and Immortal Happy Medium for a price in excess of $25,000 – an equivalent of about $500,000 in today’s currency. Other stallions that stood at Fairlawn through the years included Aberdeen, Ethan Allen Jr. and several other home bred sons of Almont, including Alecto, Almont Wilkes and Maximus. Withers was reportedly the first to take the risk of listing prices in his sale catalogs. As Fairlawn’s fame grew, both Ulysses S. Grant and King Kalakahua of Hawaii visited the farm and horsemen from around the world began to request Fairlawn’s stock. Withers’ efforts disseminated the American trotting breed throughout Australia, Bessarabia, Canada, Denmark, England, France, Germany, Hawaii, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, and Sweden. According to the January 1886 issue of Wallace’s Monthly, in less than two decades Fairlawn had become arguably the most well known stock farm in the world.
Mark Field of Wallace’s Monthly writes of him: “…he has not only made his name illustrious throughout the domain of civilization, but has perhaps more palpably than any other living man demonstrated by actual experiment the general principles upon which the breeding of diagonal steppers may be reduced to a science.”
Withers died at the age of sixty-six on June 16, 1889. Speculation at the time valued Fairlawn Stock Farm, his life accomplishment, at $500,000 – an equivalent of $11,650,000 in today’s currency.
Big Towner, a foal of 1974, was bred by Paul O. Gardner and Florence M. Startsman of Ohio. During his three years at the races, he vaulted to the top of the sport, amassing $547,126 in earnings and compiling a 48-31-5-3 record which included wins in the 1977 Monticello-OTB Classic and the 1978 U.S. Pacing Championship. His best time of 1:54.4 was taken at the mile track in Syracuse, New York.
Big Towner’s breeding career makes him a respected outcross sire. He has sired the winners of over $117 million, ranking him fifth in stallion earnings on the all-time list in 2002 and 2003 and fourth from 2004-2006. He topped the North American Leading Moneywinning Sires list in 1989 and was runner-up in 1988. He has 1,160 in 2:00, 312 in 1:55 and 35 in 1:50. He is the sire of 351 $100,000 winners and currently ranks third among All-Time Pacing Sires of 2:00 Performers (1,160). Big Towner is the sire of five millionaires, including the fillies Town Pro p,3,1:51.4 ($1,229,582) and Sweet Reflection p,3,1:53.1 ($1,004,639). Sons are Broadway Express p,4,1:56.1h ($1,141,726); Sandman Hanover p,3,1:53.2f ($1,089,005); and his fastest performer, Tune Town p,5,1:49.1 ($1,098,140).
Big Towner has sired the dams of over 2,274 in 2:00 and the winners of over $209 million. In 1997 he topped the broodmare sire list for two and three-year-old earnings. For the 2007 season he was listed fourth among Leading 2:00 Broodmare Sires, All-Time; fifth among Top Broodmare Sires, All-Age and ninth among Top Broodmare Two and Three-Year-Olds. He has consistently been ranked above Hall of Famers Jate Lobell, Artsplace, Western Hanover, Most Happy Fella and Cam Fella on the All-Time Leading Moneywinning Sires list. Big Towner passed away on October 12, 2003 at Hanover Shoe Farms, Hanover, Pennsylvania.
Nans Catch was a superb filly on the track during her brief racing career, but she gained even greater fame as the dam of one of the most celebrated trotters of the 20th century: Moni Maker.
A foal of 1985, Nans Catch was bred by David and Fredericka Caldwell of Cane Run Farm in Kentucky. She won the $385,912 Breeders Crown as a two-year-old and was virtually unbeatable during her three-year-old season with a 13-11-2-0 record. Among her victories were effortless wins in the Hambletonian Oaks and the World Trotting Derby filly division. She took her 1:54.4 mark in winning the Grand Circuit stake at the Illinois State Fair. Nans Catch retired with a lifetime record of 29-19-7-1 and total earnings of $766,074.
Nans Catch was first bred to her former stable-mate Armbro Goal and produced Awesome Goal 2,1:57.3 ($105,095); however, it was her third foal that won her immortality. Her 1993 Speedy Crown daughter was Moni Maker 7,1:52.1, the queen of international trotting in the late 1990s and winner of $5,589,256 in her illustrious career. Moni Maker not only won the Hambletonian Oaks and Breeders Crown in North America, but she also endeared herself to European trotting devotees by winning the Elitlopp in Sweden and the Prix d’Amerique in France. In her final public performance, which occurred on October 6, 2000, Moni Maker lowered the record for trotters under saddle to 1:54.1 at The Red Mile. In all, Nans Catch produced ten registered foals. She died at Cane Run Farm, Georgetown, Kentucky in early 2003.
Museum members, in good standing, enjoy the privilege of nominating a person or a trotter or pacer, deceased at least three years, to be an Immortal. Nominations must be accompanied by in depth biographical information outlining the nominee's national contributions to the Standardbred sport and must be received by the museum director no later than March 1st of any given year. These nominations are reviewed by the Immortals Committee; recommendations are made to the museum's full board of trustees, and the board elects Immortals at its annual meeting on Hall of Fame Day, the first Sunday in July.
(Harness Racing Museum & HOF)