The year was 1959. Interest in harness racing was at its zenith and those in the forefront felt that the sport should have international flavor. Since Europe only offered races for trotters it seemed natural that the powers behind such an international event would look across the pond to find the best trotters and bring them to race against the best that the United States and Canada had to offer.
Back then the logical site of what was to be called the International Trot was Roosevelt Raceway, known in those days as the “Taj Mahal” of harness racing after a sparkling new $19 million racing facility was built and completed in 1957 with its Cloud Casino dining room. The onus of promoting the race lay upon Roosevelt Raceway’s publicity and public relations department which got a tremendous boost from a harness racing friendly media including the New York Times. The inaugural racing distance was set at a 1-1/2 miles and the purse of $50,000 was huge in those days.
Lew “Tootie” Barasch hunted down the horses worldwide and promoted the strong field that would participate. Representing the United States was Trader Horn; Philip Frost was Canada’s entrant; Norway sent Jens Protector, while Germany was represented by Ivancourt; Italy had two entrants, Tornese and Icare IV and France sent their stalwart, Jamin. There was even an entrant from New Zealand by the name of Adept.
Sure just the advent of bringing trotters across the vast Atlantic and Pacific was of utmost interest to the racing public but how was the attention of the general public captured to make the event a spectacular showcase for our sport?
The French entrant, Jamin, was one of Europe’s top trotters and when it was discovered that upon arriving in New York his food supply of artichokes was impounded by the Department of Agriculture, the stage became set. To stave off what could have turned out to result in a national disaster a solution had to be found. If not, Jamin would starve. He would lie at death’s door. So humane societies, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, storekeepers and just private citizens, responded to the news stories flashed across the country via AP and UPI, and combed the land for the lifesaving delicacy.
The search scoured along the eastern seaboard without turning up one single artichoke. But, in Monterey, California, a local grower Eugene Boggiato catapulted into action enlisting the aid of the California Artichoke and Vegetable Growers Association which assembled 120 pounds of them grown in Castroville, California and shipped them quickly to Idlewild (now JFK) Airport.
Waiting for the touchdown of the mercy plane with its precious cargo was a horde of newsmen and photographers, a delegation of Raceway officials and, oh yes, a helicopter to hurry the artichokes to Jamin’s stall. It all worked.
It was great publicity and a fitting send off for the inaugural International Trot.
The horse, energized after eating the artichokes, or so it was said, went on to win the race. Jamin held on to victory in front of a crowd of 48,000 spectators, with the Italian horse Tornese in second by half a length and betting favorite Trader Horn, the American entry, in third. Jamin toured the mile-and-a-half distance in 3:08.3.
The monstrous crowd witnessed Jamin and driver Jean Riaud feed artichokes to Jamin in the winner’s circle after the race.
And the following year, on what was built by the Roosevelt Raceway the previous season, a crowd of 58,861 fans jammed into the state of the art racing facility to witness Holland’s entrant Hairos win the second International Trot.
After Roosevelt closed in 1988 the race moved to Yonkers Raceway and was last contested in 1995 when Sweden’s His Majesty won the International Trot besting S.J.’s Photo and Panifesto, both American trotters.
The timing seems right to bring back the International Trot especially with the inroads made by Yonkers Raceway and the Standardbred Owners Association of New York which has pioneered simulcasting to Europe.
The upcoming $1 million purse for the International Trot is a big leap from the original purse and with or without an exceptional sidebar, this year’s edition will be a welcome return of a great event at Yonkers Raceway on October 10.