Respect, Speed, Satisfaction
By: SANDERS RUSSELL
IN HIS OWN WORDS...
THE SOUTH DID RISE AGAIN
No, I didn't drive Narragansett pacers for George Washington. Some writers seem to imply that I've been around for most of the nation's 200 years, but I have been handling trotters and pacers for about a third of that time and I have been privileged to live where I could choose my own lifework and follow it where I pleased.
In a general way, I believe each driver in the
Hall of Fame
is a good deal similar to the others. But we change our methods and, if you stay alive, you have to experiment. You follow up the things that prove good for you, and you discard what doesn't give you good results. You change your methods with the change of the breed and the change of the system. You don't train horses now like you did even 10 or 15 years ago. It's a different breed, a faster breed, and the whole style of racing, of maneuvering, is different.
In a measure, it's more like the runners. Horses go more from wire to wire. It's developed more speed than we ever had before. The faster tracks, track maintenance and the use of the starting gate-- so a horse actually only goes a measured mile in a contest‑-that makes the difference. There's not so much Indian-file because you can't wait that long. Very few times can you maneuver a horse exactly as you plan. You have to act as circumstances develop, because if you wait until you think your horse ought to be moved, the holes may all be closed and you've nowhere to go.
My father got me started in this business and I still train at my
Authority was established, it took over more than 500 acres. Some of it is flooded now. The rest of the farm was cut up and my sister has a farm, and Pickens has a farm. I would hardly call my 75 acres a farm but I've got my barns and stuff there including the track.
I'm not really a farmer and don't even do horse farming now. I keep pasture enough for turn‑outs and I did have a couple of broodmares until a year and a half ago. I had Sarabel Hanover who was the dam of this Tip Count horse I'm racing now. She was killed by lightning. Then Worthy Eve who was 22 and blind, had an internal hemorrhage when she tried to foal last year. She was a good old mare I'd bred and raced.
My father was I. P. Russell, and he was a corking good practical horseman who had good hands and could drive. He loved racing. He didn't get any kick out of just winning a race, but if it was hard fought and he or I would get back with a winner, he'd enjoy that fully.
Almost from the time I was about 18, I commenced to race about
everything we had, but sometimes we'd have a stable going two directions at
Fairs and he'd race one wing and I'd race the other. I went to county fairs
through the South, and went up to
When I first went to
I had other good horses like Queen Wilkes with a mark of 2:00.2 and
later on I raced Johnny Brown who won close to $80,000 and was a horse my father
bred. Then I had Hal Tryax who raced in the Ohio Colt
Stakes as a 2-year‑ old in 1949. I gave him a record of two minutes in a
time trial and sold him to
He turned out to be one of the greatest stallions down there. A lot
might be attributed to the fact he had so much Axworthy in him. When he went over there, they had that
Sanders Russell behind "FRESH YANKEE"
Fresh Yankee was
You just can't match Fresh Yankee's story. Actually, she wasn't bought to be sent to my farm for training. More or less by chance, Mr. MacDonald said, "We can't take her home right now. Better take her down and train her."
I said, "Well, if we're going to train her, we want to keep her in some good filly stakes. She might be a good filly." And she was!
I bought her for Duncan MacDonald of
I can't claim to know any more about the colt business than those people who buy for $140,000. If you get your choice of all yearlings, you get a better shot, but on every one of them you can throw the price tag away and go and train them to see what they're going to be. Nobody knows.
Fresh Yankee trained nice from the start. She was a very eager filly and I always had to be very careful not to let her get over‑anxious. She was a kitten in the barn and all fire on the race track. She had a great set of lungs, a great gait, and a will to stay trotting and fight it out all the way. But you couldn't try to hold her away from the gate. If you'd let her rub her nose on it, she was perfect.
Sometimes I'm asked whether I resented having Fresh Yankee taken
away from me, just as they asked Harry Harvey when he lost Albatross. I say it
all depends on the circumstances and sometimes it's a natural sequence. I was
not planning to go to
Mr. MacDonald may have made a few mistakes but he's chosen some pretty good horses on his own and done well since then. But he'd never even seen Fresh Yankee. He just asked if I could find him a cheap colt and I'd asked what he wanted? And how much?
He didn't care what he got but a thousand dollars was the limit. So I got him Fresh Yankee. Now I would never buy a colt I thought was common bred. Fresh Yankee was from the first crop of Hickory Pride and from a Titan Hanover mare that hadn't produced much but the blood lines were there and the filly nice and trim looking, not over large but not stunted, either. She hadn't created much notice and was one of Charlie Keller's first sales, so nobody was paying much attention.
Now my Hambletonian winner, A.C.'s Viking, was a different matter. I had gotten
Pictured above: Sanders Russell behind
acquainted with Mr. A. C. Petersen from
Mr. Petersen often bred his mares to
He was big and a little growthy but had the kind of a gait you hunt but seldom find. He was a natural from the start and could trot barefoot or anyway. He wasn't sound his 2‑year-old year in 1961 until well up into June. Something seemed to be bothering him and Mr. Petersen suggested I turn him out for a rest. I said I wouldn't hurt him but would like to play along for a while.
He trained slowest of my colts at
But he sure matured during the winter down at the farm and I guess he won more in 1962 than any trotter ever had won in a season before that year. He won $198,000 and we weren't racing for the money they race for today.
Bad luck almost cost me the Hambletonian chance. I raced a horse called Mighty Indian at Yonkers And won with him in 2:01.3 and pulled up quickly after the finish line but the fellow driving hard behind me never looked up and just ran right over me. He knocked me out 50 or 60 feet past the wire. Broke my sulky down and I hung my heel in the right stirrup and my ankle was turned around.
I thought it was broken when I was carried into First Aid, but when the doctor pulled it straight and I didn't hear any bones crunch it almost made me forget how much it hurt. They did take a piece of bone out of it and I was on crutches and wore a cast.
I got the cast off and a doctor in the hospital put a football wrap on it the morning of the Hambletonian. I also had my stirrup padded so it wouldn't be too uncomfortable, and of course when A. C.'s Viking won in straight heats, it didn't hurt a bit!
Some people think an accident I had at
Octave Blake, when he was president of the Grant Circuit, saw two horses collide in front of me one night at Roosevelt Raceway and I went up over the pile. Within a week's time he had sent a box of those first make‑shift helmets we used to put inside of our caps.
The next Spring they brought a box of
baseball helmets for us to try and I found one that Duke Snider has used that
just fit me. I wore it for several years. Don't know whether I had that one at
I remember going up and hitting the ground and didn't come to until they were putting me in the ambulance. I had a broken shoulder and collar bone plus cracked ribs and a fractured skull in spite of the helmet. I wouldn't have known about the skull fracture if I hadn't had an ear leak, and that ear has never been as good since. They tell me that was an impressive tumble. It sure impressed me!
The USTA had the power to make helmets mandatory, but you often hear people gripe that the USTA does nothing about Off‑Track Betting, MiniTheater betting and the like. So far as business matters affecting betting are concerned, the USTA can only use its influence and educational abilities. Every state commission is supreme on what goes on in its state. Too many people think the USTA has the final say on everything. It doesn't have. Some of the things politicians do can be disastrous to harness racing, but realistically you have to face facts as they come along and not every one is pleasant.
I've had a lot of pleasure, driven some great horses and can't
think of too many ways I'd want to change my life if I had it to live over. I
still remember my first winner, an old gelding named Frederick who had a jack on
one hock about half as big as your fist. He'd hike a little, too, but had
perfect manners and I won with him at
I drove Chestertown, who won the first two‑mile championship at
Summing up, my career has been an association with horses and people. If I have contributed, either to my home community or to the health and upgrading of harness racing, the rewards have out‑balanced the effort to do so.
I was privileged to be on the committee that worked out and
consummated the first contract ever negotiated between horsemen and race tracks
at Roosevelt and
Our first was Farand Hanover who proved a
successful stakes colt and we sold him to the Italian government where he proved
a successful sire in that country. Our last was Dart Hanover who, in spite of
having to complete with Nevele Pride, Snow Speed and
the like, won just short of $200,000 before being sold to
Mrs. Russell has stuck by me through the vicissitudes of more than 50 years. She has watched with the owners, enjoying winning efforts and sharing the miseries of bitter defeats. Our two sons, Walter and Henry, both of whom are Ph. D's and college‑level teachers, groomed horses during summer vacations. Walter has been in racing as Presiding Steward for many years, while Henry has continued his profession as a language professor. Naturally we are proud of them.
I was both pleased and honored to become a member of our own Living
Hall of Fame, and of
Note: We are indebted to Dean Hoffman, Don
Daniel, and The USTA and Mary Lou Dondarski of "The Hambletonian Society" for keeping “in touch” through the years, and for sharing
their excellent research with the Russell Family at home in
Kathryn E. Phillips
Web Master for the Russell Family website at:
RUSSELL STABLES. COM
MY HOME IN ALABAMA
HOME OF: Sanders, Helen, and Pickens Russell,III