Ralph Baldwin is one of those quiet trainers you meet so often in harness racing: he doesn't have a lot to say to people, but he sure can talk to horses. Baldwin was at his most persuasive last Thursday with a 3-year-old trotter named Circus, who came out of the green hills of Goshen, N.Y. to win the Historic Dickerson Cup and become a new contender for The Hambletonian.
It was an especially satisfying victory for Baldwin, who is in his first year as trainer for the Arden Homestead Stable of E. Roland Harriman and Elbridge T. Gerry Sr. after a decade of developing and racing horses—including Speedy Scot, the Triple Crown trotting champion of 1963—for Kentucky's Castleton Farm. And Harriman—Mr. Goshen himself—was pretty happy, too. It was Roland Harriman who preserved Historic Track for lovers of traditional racing, just as he had virtually saved the entire sport during the lean years of the Depression when he was president of the Grand Circuit.
With Grand Circuit week at Goshen clinging rather precariously to its old-shoe way of life, a home-town victory was just what was needed to insure the validity of racing there. Out of respect for Harriman and the town's rich past, the top horsemen still go to Goshen the first week in July, although many of them do not like to subject their young colts and fillies to racing in heats any more (with two or more races instead of the customary one dash) and do not bring their best. The purses are just as good or better at Pocono Downs, Scioto Downs and Sportsman's Park, and most drivers do not like the surface of the half-mile Historic Track. "It has 999 dips and waves in it," says one well-known trainer.
But the success of Baldwin and Harriman brought no complaints. They began the week by receiving awards of merit at the 100th anniversary dinner of the Grand Circuit, and then went on to end a long racing drought. The day before the Dickerson cup, Arden Stable won its first Grand Circuit victory at Historic since 1968. This was the Coaching Club Trotting Oaks for 3-year-old fillies, and the winner was My Own Star, a daughter of Dartmouth. Since Arden had not taken that particular race since 1945, Harriman beamed beneath his wide-brimmed straw hat and Baldwin offered a shy smile. "Very seldom do you have such good luck at home," Baldwin said.
In the Dickerson, more than luck was involved when Baldwin took advantage of a sudden opportunity to outdrive Billy Haughton—something that does not happen very often. The first heat saw Haughton and his Star's Pride colt, Cap D'Antibes, just manage to hold off Circus at the wire. But from his vantage point behind Haughton and Cap, Baldwin discovered something.
"I noticed Billy's horse bore out a little in the stretch," he said later. "I thought I'd watch that." It paid off in the second heat. Cap hit the top of the stretch at a good clip, with Circus close behind, but sure enough, Cap began to bear out. Baldwin slipped through on the rail to win by a length in 2:01[3/5] and tie the track record for 3-year-old trotters set by Duke Rodney in 1961.
"I didn't think he was ready for that," said Baldwin, explaining that Circus was lightly raced last year and had started only three times this season, finishing first at Vernon and fourth at Montreal and Saratoga.
With a third heat of the Dickerson still to come, Baldwin sweet-talked Circus while Haughton had Cap looked at by the track veterinarian. What the vet found—fatigue from the 93° heat—caused Haughton to scratch, so all Circus had to do was trot around the track to be declared the winner. "I felt a little silly out there alone," said Baldwin. Even though he knew he could have broken a world record for three heats if he had gone in 2:10⅖ Baldwin declined and took little more than a jog at 2:26. "If it were late in the fall I would have tried for the record," he said, "but it's too early in the season." Besides that, Baldwin is talking Hambletonian now, and come Sept. 1 at DuQuoin, Circus is sure to be listening.