by Dean Hoffman
The best horse—-by far—wasn’t even in the 1931 Hambletonian. It was the first time in Hambletonian history that the favorite failed to win. The odds-on favorite, in fact, never finished the Hambletonian.
The winning horse never won a race before the Hambletonian. Or afterwards. And he was killed during a World War II bombing raid.
The winning owner died without ever knowing he won.
That makes the 1931 edition of America’s greatest trotting classic a most unusual Hambletonian.
The dominant colt that season, Protector, was not eligible to the Hambletonian. That left the favorite’s role to the filly Nedda Guy. But she limped off the track lame after the second heat and never raced again.
William Monroe Wright, founder of the Calumet Baking Powder firm, loved trotters and bred and raced them from his resplendent Calumet Farm in Kentucky. He suffered a stroke, however, before the ’31 Hambletonian and lay in a coma during the race. He died without ever knowing that his dream of winning the Hambletonian had come true.
He also died without knowing that his son Warren would soon disperse all of Calumet’s Standardbreds and replace them with Thoroughbreds. Calumet Farm then became an empire in Thoroughbred racing and included such greats as the Triple Crown winner Citation.
Calumet Butler was standing at stud near Hamburg, Germany when he was the victim of a British air raid in World War II.
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.