by Dean Hoffman
Lame horses usually don’t win classic races, but in 1962 Sanders Russell proved that a lame driver, particularly lame old driver, can—-especially if he’s driving a powerhouse trotter.
Russell had the right horse in A.C.’s Viking but he also had a handicap. He had to be helped on and off the sulky and then immediately used two crutches to protect his broken ankle. The 62-year-old southerner had fractured his ankle in a racing accident before the Hambletonian at Yonkers Raceway.
Fortunately, A.C.’s Viking was healthy on Hambletonian Day but perhaps some people felt that Russell should step aside for a younger, sound driver. But Sanders Russell had been driving horses for 47 years and he knew he had the best colt in the Hambletonian. Fifteen horses entered the Hambletonian, and A.C.’s Viking drew post 15. Still, Russell was confident. He merely he padded his sulky stirrup and shaft and wore a tennis shoe instead of the traditional driving boot on his right foot.
A.C.’s Viking did the rest. He threaded his way through traffic to win the first heat easily and came back to edge outsider Issac to take home the trophy.
When someone asked Russell if his ankle had bothered him during the race, he answered, “I forgot I even had ankle.”
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.