Larger Than Life

The Adios statue at The Meadows has quite a history

story by John Sacco

To say constructing the statue of the great racehorse and sire Adios broke the mold would not be entirely correct.

Let it be said, however, that after more than 30 weeks of work on the statute without success, the project almost was terminated.

Harness racing legend Delvin Miller trained Adios and purchased him after his racing career. He was responsible for founding The Meadows in 1963, and commissioned the famed monument maker Simon White and Son early in 1966, shortly after Adios’ death in 1965, to produce a life-size replica—2,400 pounds, not counting its granite base—of the horse.

Miller paid roughly $25,000 for the statue to be created. In today’s world, such a venture would cost roughly $193,200.

Simon White and Son contracted with Norman Pourrier of Cleveland, Ohio, to sculpt the clay model of the horse at the company’s main location in Claysville, Pa., 130 miles southeast of Cleveland.

Even with the help of Miller, his second trainer and Hall of Fame member Harry Harvey, and a veterinarian, Pourrier said he just could not capture Adios’ muscle flow.

Enter James Nelson Slick, one of the great equine artists of his time. This was a project that demanded perfection. Pourrier and Slick worked on the statue out of White’s monument shop that was behind a funeral home. According to those who knew Adios, Slick’s representation was right on the money.

Ellen Harvey, the daughter of Harry Harvey and former executive director of Harness Racing Communications, said she and members of her family owe Adios and Miller for the college educations they received when Miller set up college funds for them after selling Adios.

She remembers, although not vividly, watching the statute being sculpted.

“I saw the Adios statue during its creation in that old shop,” Harvey said. “I was 10 when Adios died and in my early teens I would go with my dad to see the work on the statue in progress. My father was monitoring it on Delvin’s behalf to ensure an accurate representation of Adios. It’s a wonderful memory of the horse.”

Larry Maggi, a longtime and current Washington County (Pa.) commissioner, grew up in Claysville. He and his family were neighbors of Simon White.

White asked Maggi’s mother if she would drive to Cleveland to procure plans and a facsimile of Adios there and bring them back to Claysville.

“I was 14 or 15,” Maggi said. “Mr. White asked us to drive to Cleveland to pick these things up. In June and July of 1966, there was civil unrest in Cleveland. But Mr. White needed this information. We—my mom, my sister, and myself—drove there.”

The family was paid $50 for their efforts.

“I didn’t really know what this was about,” Maggi said. “I didn’t grow up watching harness racing. I knew a statue was being built and we would sneak some peeks here and there. It was covered by a cloth when they were not working on it.

“We’d ride our bikes around there and kind of look in to see what was going on. I never did see the finished project. I’m glad to have been a small part of the story.”

Harvey’s recollections are not crystal clear when it comes to the actual construction of the statue.

Her father managed Meadow Lands Farm, which was Miller’s farm, and when he took over there, Adios was just beginning his stud career prior to being sold to Hanover Shoe Farms and Max Hempt for $500,000.

“I remember it was incredibly dusty in that building where the statue was being sculpted,” Harvey said. “It was like an enormous bay of flour being sifted all over everything in there.

“I recognized it right away. It looked just like Adios.”

Adios died at 25 and was buried in a specially made stainless-steel casket under his favorite apple tree at Miller’s farm.

“Adios was a big celebrity,” Harvey said. “Delvin was a better PR person than any of us. Adios was well-known and beloved. He was racing royalty. When he passed, a local steel company made his coffin. When he was alive, they made him birthday cakes with carrots sticking out. He had the first stall on the left. It was air-conditioned. People didn’t even have air conditioning then.

“That statue looks just like him, the way he carried his head. It is exact. Adios was a demigod in our house.”

Miller named The Meadows’ signature race—the Adios Pace—after the great stallion. The unveiling of the statue coincided with the first edition of that event on Aug. 12, 1967. At that time, The Meadows was the only harness racing track to have a full-sized statue of a Standardbred.

A smaller version of the sculpture is presented to the winner of the race every summer as the official Adios Pace trophy.

“It’s still one of the prized trophies of the harness racing world,” said John Townsend, former general manager of The Meadows and nephew of Miller’s wife, Mary Lib. “Adios was a magnificent animal, a great horse, and he acted like a great horse.”

Incredibly, the Adios statue, which stood at the entrance of The Meadows on Racetrack Road for decades, fell into the hands of a land developer in a transaction that took place when Cannery Casino and Hotel was leasing the casino and track from Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc. (GLPI).

In turn, GLPI has since leased the casino and racetrack to Pinnacle Entertainment and now to Penn National Gaming. The statue was then the property of Forest Properties, who was the group developing the land.

A new convenience store was under construction on a plot of land owned by Forest Properties in early 2019 and racetrack officials intended to move the statue off the property.

When personnel arrived with cranes to move the statue, they were informed it no longer belonged to the casino and track.

The Meadows Standardbred Owners Association (MSOA) stepped up to save the day, not knowing what the developers’ plans were for the statue.

The MSOA paid what is believed to be around $30,000 to purchase the statue and preserve its place at The Meadows. The original asking price was roughly $70,000 for the statue.

According to Kim Hankins, executive director of the MSOA, his organization learned about the Adios statue no longer being owned by Penn National early in the spring of 2019.

“We learned that, for whatever reason, [the statue of Adios] was not separated from the property in that transaction,” Hankins said. “The entire property and what was on it became the property of Alan Sherwood (who represents Forest Properties). We approached the casino with the cost, and they told us their budgets were in place and they didn’t have the money to acquire the statue.

“Our MSOA board felt it needed to get the statue back and make sure it stayed on the property, where it belongs. The board decided to purchase it and the casino agreed to provide everything that was needed to move the statue to a new spot.”

Hankins would not publicly confirm the statue’s purchase price.

“It was a private transaction,” he said. “It was not an easy transaction. We wanted to save the statue and now it has a nice place to stand and continues to have a presence at the track.

“It was a labor of love. It took a month to get it completed. It was a difficult negotiation for a while. But it’s a novel piece of art. I tried to maintain a professional attitude when the statue fell into odd circumstances. Anyone in the know would have been disappointed this happened when you look at the history. It meant a lot to me to get it back to The Meadows. It was a fantastic feeling to do so.”

The statue of Adios was put in place last spring at its new home, which is the entrance to The Meadows backstretch.

“The Adios statue has greeted horsemen and racing fans alike for more than 50 years,” MSOA President Rich Gillock said. “It’s part of our history. We did not want to see it go away, so we took the initiative to do something about it.”

Maggi, in his role as a county commissioner, spends a lot of time at The Meadows. In his days as a Pennsylvania state trooper, he worked directing traffic there.

“We were assigned there at the beginning and end of the races because of the traffic,” he said. “Going there often now and seeing the statue gives me a warm feeling. I know what Adios means to The Meadows and what The Meadows means to our economy and social activity in the county. The Adios statue represents that.”

Harvey, who returned to Washington and The Meadows in the fall of 2018 for her high school reunion, said seeing the statue was like seeing an old friend.

She, however, is critical of the way the statue was essentially held hostage prior to its recovery. “I’m glad he has a new stall,” Harvey said.

John Sacco is a freelance writer living in Pennsylvania. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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