As the starting gate folds its wings and A speeds off, harness racing's premier event of the year, the Hambletonian, gets under way. Appropriately, the setting for this classic of a sport wholly American in its origin is the U.S. heartland—the lush, level prairie of southern Illinois. Here, where Abe Lincoln once acted as judge of horse races and drove his homemade buggy on the Illinois legal circuit, the finest of our 3-year-old trotters and their drivers gather each year to discover who is best. This worthy inquiry is conducted before an audience composed, for the most part, of rural folk, who are admirably equipped to gauge the quality of horseflesh. In addition, trotting aficionados from all over the nation help to swell the throng. Hosts for the occasion are the brothers Gene and Don Hayes, Coca-Cola suppliers to the area and owners of both the superb track and the magnificent surrounding fairgrounds. On those grounds, concurrent with the week of racing which features the Hambletonian, the Hayeses also present their annual Du Quoin State Fair, a vast and colorful spectacle that includes blooded-cattle competitions, taffy pulls and Hollywood stage shows. The race itself, as the following scenes from last year's competition show, is always hard-fought, with trotters and drivers achieving the peak efforts toward which they have pointed all season. To win, a trotter must twice show his heels to the field in mile heats. If different horses win the first two heats, a third heat is run. If a third horse wins that one, the three winners are brought together in a fourth heat. For the eventual winner, therefore, it is often a long afternoon. When it is over, however, there is seldom any doubt as to who is the best 3-year-old trotting horse in the U.S. Last year's champion was a lady, a dark beauty named Emily's Pride who skipped lightly over the track surface like a gay young girl on a polished ballroom floor. Next Wednesday, Sept. 2, we will know who has succeeded her.
The traditional call of the starter sends the field of 3-year-olds away at Du Quoin on Hambletonian Day, in quest of brightest jewel in trotting's Triple Crown
Straining in the stretch, the Hambletonian field spreads wide as drivers search for racing room in the last critical yards and the paddock watchers fan out across the track
Shirtsleeved, horse-wise fans (above), typical of Du Quoin, urge trotters across finish line. Flanked by decorative honor guard (below), Driver Flick Nipe accepts victory honors