Who is Sam Williams? The influence of an American trotter in France
story by Lisa Harkema
The great Ready Cash has seven crosses to the stallion Sam Williams in his pedigree, and since 2018 there hasn’t been born a French trotter without Sam Williams in their blood. Since Verdict Gede won in 1992, a total of 16 different French trotters have won the Prix d’Amerique. All these winners have Sam Williams, usually numerous times, in their lineage, as do several of the recent foreign winners. Naturally, all French-born starters in this year’s Prix d’Amerique have the American-bred trotter in their pedigree. The pedigree of the 5-year-old starter Hohneck contains a whopping 19 crosses to Sam Williams.
The influence of Sam Williams is nothing short of massive but is also a testament to the great genes offered by the colt born a century ago.
In 1923, a beautiful yearling colt arrived at the Good Time Stable in Goshen, N.Y. The son of Peter Scott and Blitzie would turn out to be historic for many different reasons. For starters, it was the first foal bred by William H. Cane, the famed owner of the Good Time Park.
On several occasions, Cane would name his foals for friends and acquaintances of his. This was a habit he started with the very first foal, who was named Sam Williams.
In the care of Walter Cox, the trainer for the Good Time Stables, Sam Williams quickly established himself as one of the best horses in the crop at age 2. His racing prospects didn’t always look that promising, however, as Cox’s colt breaker turned Sam Williams down as a dangerous youngster.
Excellent horsemanship turned the horse around and into a typical perfectly mannered Cox trainee.
Sam Williams was the leading money-winning 2-year-old of his generation with earnings of $8,520. The bulk of that came from winning the Junior Kentucky Futurity. Still, at that age the horse was accused by some as being soft. At age three he became known for great speed. His biggest wins that season came in the Matron and Horseman Futurity. In the latter, a slow first half in 1:07 set up a frenzied speed duel with Aileen Guy at the end, and Sam only won after a final quarter in :29¼.
In the Horse Review Futurity, the speed was even faster. The first three heats were won by Aileen Guy, Guy Ozark and Sam Williams, respectively. In the race-off Sam Williams pushed Aileen Guy, forcing the mare to trot a :28¼ last quarter to narrowly hold him off. Aileen Guy also took home the biggest race of the year by winning the Kentucky Futurity, where Sam Williams placed third in both heats. Aileen Guy dominated the filly class and was the fastest 3-year-old that season, but among the colts and geldings, Sam was the leader both for speed, with a 2:04¾ time, and earnings, $10,446.
Sam was “laid over” at four due to illness but returned to the track in 1927 and dominated the other older horses on the Grand Circuit by winning nine of his 10 starts.
Despite the colt’s dominance, Cane and Cox were not seeking to turn their star pupil into a sought-after stallion. Instead, Cox had a rule that any horse, whether belonging to himself or his patron, was for sale at the right price. Seemingly, he was just waiting for the somebody to meet his high asking price, and eventually that somebody came along. On June 17, 1928, it was announced in several newspapers that Cane had sold Sam Williams to George H. Tipling of Cleveland, Ohio, for $25,000. Tipling was a director of the Hambletonian Society from 1932 to 1952 and owned the 1953 Little Brown Jug winner Keystoner.
Following the sale, Sam Williams was turned over to Charles Lacey, trainer for Tipling’s stable. Sam continued racing at ages six and seven but had fewer opportunities than before in an older group with few horses at the top level. Not only that, his former Cox stablemate Hazelton, a year younger, often got the better of him. Notably, in a time trial Sam Williams trotted 2:01¾, his fastest ever clocking.
With racing opportunities limited for top older horses, in November 1929 Tipling decided to send Sam Williams to Europe. On Nov. 9, the trotter was put on a ship to Europe. Taking care of the speedy son of Peter Scott on the trip was Joe Haldeman of Malvern, Iowa, who knew the horse from his time with Lacey.
The pair arrived well in time for the 1930 Prix d’Amerique and Sam Williams turned in a promising performance under the formal training of Valentino Capovilla. Even though there had been U.S.-born trotters in several editions of the race since its inception in 1920, Sam Williams was the first U.S.-owned horse to participate, and Haldeman became the first American driver in the race.
Vincennes proved a tough adjustment, and that fact has not changed over 100 years. When Sam Williams raced at Vincennes, however, the track was hillier and much more demanding than it is today.
Moreover, Sam Williams had the misfortune to race against two fantastic French mares, Uranie and Amazone B. They are regarded as the first two French trotting queens and are triple and double Prix d’Amerique winners, respectively.
Haldeman steered Sam Williams to the lead in the Prix d’Amerique, but as the field reached the top of the uphill section, he started to fade. When passed by Amazone B, who would go on to win, and Uranie, Sam was already tired and eased up.
After the race, Tipling declared that the horse had not been ready to enter the race, but was entered only to please track officials and Capovilla. Tipling and Sam got some redemption the following weekend, with Sam finishing second to Bravade II in the Prix de Belgique, which back then was contested at the end of January, two weeks after the Prix d’Amerique, instead of as a prep race. As it turned out, the second-place finish was the only top-three finish Sam Williams would ever manage against the best at Vincennes.
In early February 1930, Tipling decided to sell Sam Williams to Marie Villenave, a prominent French owner, for $10,000. On March 5, the now 8-year-old horse started at Enghien, the second racetrack in Paris, and at that flat track he was completely at home. He shattered the track record, but because he was a foreigner, the new record was not entered in the record books.
Villenave knew that Sam Williams was not suited to the Vincennes track and sent him to top European trainer Charlie Mills in Berlin. On April 6, the horse won his debut in Germany, and in the care of Mills he went on to win 20 races in Europe in 1930. In a time trial at the Ruhleben track in Berlin, he trotted a kilometer (five-eighths of a mile) equivalent to a mile rate of 1:59½—a European record until American-bred Muscletone lowered it a few years later.
Together with his former Cox stablemate Hazleton, Sam Williams dominated European trotting, except for at Vincennes. Nevertheless, he and Hazleton raced in the 1931 Prix d’Amerique, but while Hazleton triumphed, Sam Williams had to settle for a 10th-place finish. The following year his connections wisely skipped the Prix d’Amerique.
While 1930 was dedicated to racing, in 1931 Sam Williams performed double duty, both racing and breeding. He entered stud at his owner’s stud farm in Behoust west of Paris. He did not receive an extraordinary amount of interest from breeders but ended up with 99 registered foals. As it turned out, that was all he needed, both for immediate success and to establish a legacy.
In his second crop, he sired Lord Williams, winner of the 1936 Criterium des 3 ans and the 1937 Criterium des 4 ans, the biggest races for 3- and 4-year-olds in France. The next crop included Mousko Williams and the following year Notre Williams. The latter was Sam Williams’ most successful son on the track, finishing third in the 1942 Prix d’Amerique, which was known as Grand Prix de Hiver—the Winter Grand Prix—during the war, and winner of the 1944 Prix de Cornulier.
The lasting influence of Sam Williams came from Mousko Williams. The colt born in 1934 excelled while racing under saddle—known as monte in France—and finished second in both the Prix de Vincennes and Prix du President de la Republique at age 3, races that today have elite Group 1 status. He also was solid hitched to a sulky, finishing second in the prestigious Criterium des 4 ans in 1938.
Mousko Williams proved to be a very good stallion and his impact is through his son Carioca II. Winner of the 1949 Prix de Vincennes and another monte specialist, Carioca II was good, though no superstar, on the track. At stud, however, he was a massively influential stallion. Through his son Narioca, he is the paternal great-grandfather of the legendary Ideal du Gazeau, whose mother also goes back to Sam Williams on her sireline.
Through another son, Ura, Carioca II is also the paternal great-grandsire of another legend, the great Ourasi.
Name a French trotting star of recent years and Sam Williams is guaranteed to be in his pedigree. So massive is his influence that only one French euro-millionaire born since 1986, Gai Brilliant, does not have him on his page.
In 1970 Sabi Pas, another son of Carioca II, was bred to the young French broodmare Ua Uka. The following year saw the birth of Fakir du Vivier, himself a great racehorse and a champion stallion. His son Quouky Williams, whose maternal great-grandmother is also by Sam Williams, is in turn the sire of Coktail Jet, one of the most influential stallions of all time.
Coktail Jet belongs to a very select group of horses that have won both the Prix d’Amerique and the Elitlopp in the same year, which he did in 1996. Coktail Jet’s son Love You is in turn the sire of the Hanover Shoe Farms stallion International Moni. Thus, the sireline of Sam Williams has come almost full circle on its travels from Goshen to France and now back to Pennsylvania.
Sam Williams died at age 20, in 1942, from a heart attack. Even though there was a war going on around him, the Behoust area, today a 45-minute drive west of Paris, was completely spared of any incidents. He is buried at Madame Villenave’s castle in Behoust, which today is a hotel and conference center. His younger brother, the Hambletonian winner Walter Dear, fared worse as he was taken by Russian forces from trainer Charlie Mills’ farm outside Berlin in the spring of 1945 and never seen again. HB
Lisa Harkema is a freelance writer from Norway. She divides her time between Norway, the Netherlands and France. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.