Giant Force: America’s last International Trot winner

cover photo by Francis Annocque

by Standardbred Owners Association of New York

“I was especially thrilled since not too many years previously I was just a player attending the races three or four times a week sitting in the grandstand and now there I was standing in the winner’s circle as a co-owner of the International Trot champion.”

Over the years the International Trots were raced on American soil and featured the most outstanding aged trotters in the world. Since the race was an American initiative, one would figure that the host country would have had the most winners in the event.

Initially that was not the case but over the course of time the United States-based trotters emerged victorious 15 times, only three more than the amount of French victories. Sweden’s three International Trot wins is third best followed by Canada’s two. Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands trotters each had one win in the international event. And though they started multiple times in the International Trots, no German or Finnish horse has won the event. A Finnish horse named Seabiscuit is currently being considered as a potential invitee for this year’s event.

The inaugural International Trot was staged at Roosevelt Raceway in 1959 and that track was the site of the event until its demise in the early summer of 1988. The last International there was won by Sweden’s Callit when he turned down France’s Potin d’Amour in 1987.

With the 1988 edition threatened by the closure of Roosevelt Raceway the powers to be were in a quandary. But Tim Rooney came to the rescue and quickly made plans to race the event at Yonkers Raceway. In doing so he hired Lew “Tootie” Barasch, Roosevelt’s premier PR man who was instrumental in all the previous International Trots at the Roosevelt facility. Tim even secured the United Nations as the venue for the post position draw. With Yonkers Raceway as the host, the world saw the United States’ Mack Lobell cruise to an easy victory over Canada’s AJs Speed in 1988.

Six additional International Trots were then staged at Yonkers Raceway before economics forced the race to be discontinued in 1995. America’s last international champion was Giant Force in 1993. Giant Force was owned by the Spar J Stable (the Katz Family) and Ted Gewertz, still prominent veteran horse owners today.

A son of Meadow Road, Giant Force came into the 1995 event with impressive credentials having won the Nat Ray at the Meadowlands the previous week. One of two American horses entered in the eight-horse field, Giant Force used a burst of speed down the stretch to catch Meadow Prophet and just yards before the wire he dashed past the Swedish champion. Giant Force, the 3-1 second choice behind 9-5 Sea Cove from Germany, trotted the mile and a quarter on the familiar oval in 2:27 flat, shattering the then world and stakes record set by the French horse Reve d’Udon in the 1990 International Trot and equaled by Sweden’s Peace Corps the following year.

“It was getting a little late so I thought it was about time to get started with him, and he really kicked in,” driver John ‘Sonny’ Patterson, Jr. explained while being interviewed after the race. “Luckily, we got behind Meadow Prophet, and my horse really kept on coming down the stretch.”

Unquestionably all involved with Giant Force’s victory were ecstatic but none more so than Ted Gewertz, a fan of Latin dance music who admitted he named Giant Force after a favourite album cover of the same name by bandleader Ray Barretto.

Gewertz couldn’t say enough good things about Tim Rooney and the way he graciously extended both himself and Yonkers Raceway to all the participants, both before and after that International trot.

“After the race we all were invited to a hotel in Westchester for a post-race celebration and Tim had champagne on hand for all the other participants in the race. This after Tim personally opened his home to all at a pre-race dinner,” Gewertz added.

The work behind the scenes to make the International Trot come to fruition can be mind-boggling when dealing with the likes of transportation, quarantine, licensing and all the details prior to the race. Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, was instrumental in the return of the International Trot and he and his organization are working arm-in-arm with Yonkers Raceway to expand simulcast wagering to Europe.

Because of those simulcasting inroads in Europe, for the first time Europeans can not only watch the race when it is being contested, but also wager on the race. This year’s International is expected to have two US representatives, Canadian representative Bee A Magician and up to seven European trotters. The mile and a quarter event will be Saturday October 10 with a 3:25 p.m. post time. First race on the card is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.

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