by Dean Hoffman
Traditionally, heat racing was an integral part of harness racing. A trotting race wasn’t over after just one heat any more than a baseball game was over after just one inning.
From the start, a horse had to win two heats to win the Hambletonian. The first four Hambletonians were won in straight heats. In 1930 and ’31, the winners lost the first, but won the second and third heats to take home the trophy. In 1932, it took The Marchioness four heats to win twice.
In 1957, things were different. When 21 trotters entered, the Hambletonian was split into two divisions. The trotters in each division would race against the same horses for two heats, and all heat winners—-as many as four and as few as two—-would return for a decisive race-off.
It was the first Hambletonian at the bucolic Du Quoin State Fairgrounds in southern Illinois, a picturesque setting for the great trotting event. The remote rural setting, however, reinforced the Hambletonian’s unwanted nickname as horse racing’s “Corn Tassel Derby.”
Two trotters with the same initials—-the colt Hickory Smoke and the filly Hoot Song—dominated their divisions, winning in straight heats. Then the two returned to the track for a decisive “battle of the sexes” in a third heat.
Hickory Smoke seized the lead and it was a case of girl chasing boy through the homestretch, but the boy was the best. Hickory Smoke is the only horse in Hambletonian history required to win three heats to take home the trophy.
Catch this year’s Hambletonian on August 2nd on CBS Sports Network (check here for channel and availability in your area). A live streaming broadcast can also be view here and all the pre-, during, and post-race action can be followed on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.