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COUNTRY HORSE AND CITY HORSE
We have repeatedly said of Thoroughbred racing that it mixes sport and business but that if business is allowed to become the dominant partner, sport will disappear (and that will be bad for business). We feel this way about harness racing.
Thoroughbred racing acquired its sporting tradition from English, French and Irish aristocrats, and it came here as a European import. Even now, it still leans heavily on European blood.
The harness racer has been pretty much an American-bred animal since Messenger came over in 1788, and the sport has a national flavor that contrasts with the Thoroughbred sport's internationalism. Long a part of country fairs, it has its own set of sporting traditions to preserve. And they need preserving. For harness racing today is sinking new roots in the plastic and concrete of nighttime betting factories and may be in danger of forgetting its old and deep grass roots in the lovely American countryside.
The 35th Hambletonian, the Kentucky Derby of harness racing, was held this week for the fourth consecutive year in the charming surroundings of Du Quoin, Ill. (pop. 7,147), deep in the heart of Lincolnland. Usually about 25,000 people turn up at Du Quoin for this classic, which is rich in purse money for owners but has no money incentive for spectators other than man-to-man betting and auction pools. Before Du Quoin, the Hambletonian was held in the beautiful and rural New York community of Goshen (pop. 3,311).
The big city track owners have been aching to get the Hambletonian for some years, and they have filled their moneybags and dangled them before the eyes of the Hambletonian Society directors, who have thus far resisted. We hope they will continue to resist. Even the coldest-eyed money-grabber would not dare to put the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes up for auction to the highest bidding track. It would destroy a fine, native-American harness tradition if the Hambletonian or the Little Brown Jug were ever sold off to big night raceways.
Gene and Don Hayes, the seasoned sportsmen who finance the Du Quoin State Fair, of which the Hambletonian is the feature, have done a superb job of staging this classic. They have a three-year contract with the Hambletonian Society which expires in 1962. It should be renewed. The Hambletonians must not be debased by commercialization designed to feed tax collectors and race-track speculators.
The name Brundage has been synonymous with amateur athletics since 1914, although lately his faith in absolute amateurism has seemed to many outmoded and naive. Actually, the line between amateurism and professionalism is as thin as Avery Brundage's skin. All of us know, for example, that the Soviet Union and other Iron Curtain countries subsidize indirectly their athletes and that some of our college champions are subsidized. We are glad to learn that the whole question is to be studied and reported on to the IOC at its next meeting in Athens in 1961. We trust the public will be permitted at least a peek at the arguments and determinations.