92 years of one family’s dedication to the sport
by Kathy Parker
So often you hear someone say, “He’s a second-generation horseman.” When was the last time you heard someone say, “He’s a second-generation leader?” The Harness Racing Hall of Fame honors and memorializes the sport’s leaders, both on and off the track. But unless a race is named after a person, they may be forgotten as time marches on. The Hambletonian Society will not be letting harness racing forget the leadership of Elbridge T. “Ebby” Gerry Jr.
Gerry became a director of the Society in 1965 and served until this past March, resigning after 56 years of service, including 11 as treasurer (2008-2019).
The Society is recognizing his important leadership by renaming the Hambletonian Maturity the E.T. Gerry Jr. Hambletonian Maturity.
Gerry’s shift from active Hambletonian Society director to director emeritus ends his family’s 92-year era of leadership in harness racing, with an unparalleled impact on the sport. The Hambletonian Oaks is already named after Gerry’s late father, Elbridge T. Gerry Sr., who served as the Society’s treasurer for 40 years.
“Being involved with trotting horses was the most important thing we did, outside of our regular business,” said Gerry when asked about his involvement in harness racing and leadership. “Leadership is obviously important because it ensures that the sport continues.”
Elbridge T. Gerry Jr. was inducted into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in 1995, where he took a place among his family members. His family’s service to harness racing began with his uncle, E. Roland Harriman, whose wife, Gladys, was the sister of Elbridge Gerry Sr.
Born into a life of privilege as a son of E.H. Harriman, a financier who became the controlling partner in the Union Pacific railroad and famously led an expedition to Alaska in 1899, Roland Harriman followed his father’s interest in trotters, but embraced it with even more zeal. E.H. Harriman at one time owned Goshen’s Historic Track and Good Time Park, also near Goshen, and with an estate in the area, the family spent a great deal of time at both tracks, training and driving their horses stabled there.
Although his father’s estate was worth $100 million when he died in 1909, at age 61, Roland followed his father’s example of working and in 1920 he and his brother Averill founded a private banking firm on Wall Street. Averill went on to become governor of New York while Roland spent his non-working hours competing in matinee races and engaging in discussions about the state of the trotting sport.
In 1923, when the Wallace’s Register and Wallace’s Year Book, annual documentations of detailed breeding and racing records, stopped publishing, Harriman stepped in to find a solution.
First, he invited top breeders and owners to dinner at his home in New York City and told them they had to save the publications. The group then formed the Trotting Horse Club of America.
Harriman and the Trotting Club saved the registers of racing data and also revitalized the Grand Circuit, but another problem remained. The Trotting Club was just one of several organizations tasked with managing the trotting sport. There was no continuity. So on Oct. 24, 1938, Harriman sent a telegram calling for a “committee of fifty best friends of trotting” to gather in Indianapolis Nov. 11-13 to discuss matters “…for the good of our sport and to recommend specific action….”
The November meeting in Indianapolis resulted in the creation of the United States Trotting Association. It created a single unified body for the sport, which laid the groundwork for modern-day harness racing.
Harriman never served in any official position with the USTA, but Lawrence B. Sheppard, the founder of Hanover Shoe Farms and the third USTA president, called Harriman “one of the instigators. His impact was tremendous. He loved trotting more than anyone else.”
Harriman joined the Hambletonian Society as a director in 1929 and served as president of the organization from 1946-1966.
He and his wife had two children, both girls. While the Harriman daughters became involved with the family’s trotters and drove in amateur matinee events, Harriman also shared his passion for trotting horses with his nephew, Elbridge Gerry.
“When the Hambletonian was held at Good Time Park, our family went to the race every year,” said Ebby Jr. “I saw my first Hambletonian in 1945. My mother took me there while my father (Elbridge Sr.) was serving overseas in the military. When I married, my wife Kitty and I went to the races every day during the entire Historic race meet.”
Gerry Sr. joined his brother-in-law in Arden Homestead Stable and in 1947 followed him to the board of the Hambletonian Society. Ebby Jr. became a Society director in 1965 as did his younger brother, Peter, in 1987.
For a 50-year period—from 1947 through 1997—three members of the Harriman-Gerry family were directors of the Hambletonian Society, with two different trifectas—Harriman and Elbridge Gerry Sr. and Jr., and then Gerry Sr. and his two sons. All three Gerrys served as treasurer of the Society, with Peter’s tenure in the post from 1996-2007.
Both Ebby Jr. and Peter competed in the Billings Amateur Driving Series for many years. They are both in good health and while no longer driving, they keep an eye on the few horses they have in training under the banner of Arden Homestead Stable. Neither harbor any hopes that they might have another Titan Han-over or Flirth—winners of the Hambletonian for Arden Homestead—in training.
Ebby and Peter’s sister, Marjorie, also is a partner in Arden Homestead Stable.
But like the family’s legacy of service to the Hambletonian Society, there is currently no one to carry on the blue and orange colors of the stable that the three siblings have preserved.
Ebby and Peter shared their love of the trotting sport with their children, just as their parents and uncle had done, but the younger generation of Gerrys have thus far chosen to pursue other interests.
“My oldest son and oldest daughter did train and race in matinees and enjoyed it,” said Ebby, the father of five children, “but as they got older and the game changed, they did other things.”
Peter has three children, two sons and a daughter, and five grandchildren, and a similar story.
“My older son jogged horses and enjoyed it,” Peter said, “but it wasn’t something his friends indulged in, so he chose to play traditional sports.”
While Ebby and Peter fell in love with the trotting sport by spending time with their uncle and father, neither recall any speeches or lessons about leadership. They learned by the example set by their elders.
“We learned it all from Uncle Roland,” said Ebby. “He was an idol we followed.”
“In some ways, it is sad that the family’s leadership is ending,” added Peter. “But all good things must sometimes come to an end.” HB