By Mike Paradise
There comes a time when you realize you can’t do something as well as you did earlier in life. For Illinois Harness Hall of Fame driver Jerry Graham that realization came 11 years ago.
“The last time I drove at horse was at the Altamont Fair in 2007. There was a wreck that knocked me 15 feet in the air,” said the 77-yar-old Graham who was 66 when a two-year-old horse he was driving went down and sent Jerry airborne.
“While the accident wasn’t my fault, I probably should have avoided running into someone and being thrown out of my bike. My reactions weren’t what they use to be. I realized that I was too old to be driving horses.”
A few years earlier at Fairmount Park Graham and the horse he was taking out to the racetrack were literally run over by a water truck.
“There was no way I could see the truck coming with a solid fence at the opening to get on the track. The truck was on the outside of the track and never slowed down. He just ran over us and kept on going. The mare I was taking out died. I was pretty banged up myself and didn’t drive for a while.”
Graham began driving horses with his father and brothers as a 12-year-old and started competing at race tracks when he was 17. USTA statistics show Jerry with 1,421 dash winners however since its Pathway records don’t begin until 1977, Jerry’s total lifetime winning drives is likely much greater.
In 1976 Graham had 76 wins at Sportsman’s, in 1975 he made the Top Five with 35, a year earlier his 37 winners were second best to Joe Marsh Jr. in just the Chicago Downs portion of Sportsman’s summer meeting (there was also a Fox Valley Club meet those days at the Cicero, IL facility) . Graham also was driving at racetracks such as Maywood, Fairmount, and both the Illinois state fairs meets at that time.
The Salem, Illinois native drove many of the family’s star horses on the Chicago circuit in the 1970’s and 80s’, such as Tarport Hap, Misty Raquel, Smashing Don, Misty Misty and Rusty Knight, just to mention a few.
Graham does have a favorite.
“That would be Smashing Don,” said Jerry. “He was quite a horse. He was fast, not as fast horses are now days, but he was consistent. And week in and week out he took on the very best on the circuit and showed he could race with any of them.”
In the mid-70’s Smashing Don was battling the likes of Rambling Willie, Pacing Boy, Why Bill, Gay Skipper, Taurus Bomber, Rin Tin Tim among many other top-notch pacers.
From 1975 through 1978, racing as a 7, 8, 9 and 10-year-old Smashing Don still knew how to find the winner’s circle and rake in the dough. The gelding notched nine season victories in 3 of those 4 years and had eight in the other and those 35 wins came in 125 starts against the best horses on the grounds.
The winner of $504,532 in career earnings did it the hard way with no six-figure sake victories. And a interesting note is that Smashing Don wasn’t meant to be a pacer. He was trotting bred. His sire is Florican, a National Immortal Half of Fame inductee (1976), and his dam Mighty Phyllis was by Scott Frost, the Trotter of the Year in 1955 and 1956 and another Hall of Fame Immortal.
After his driving and training days were over, Graham settled in as a successful Illinois breeder and owner. Not too many years ago Jerry had 35 broodmares on the Graham farm in Southern Illinois. However that number has currently dwindled to just a few.
“I’ve cut back quite a bit,” said Graham. “Now I have just three broodmares. They’re all in foal. Two to an Illinois sire and the other is Indiana bred.”
One of his most successful broodmares is Fox Valley Poetry. “I kept her. She’s dropped some good ones through the years.”
Indeed the mare has.
Fox Valley Poetry gave us such Illinois trotting standouts as Powerful Charger, Macie Rae, Powerful Poe, Powerful Father and Powerful Poet.
Graham also had the former Illinois Trotting Sire of the Year (2013) Powerful Emotion. His sons or daughters include the 2013 Illinois Harness Horse of the Year King Mufasa, as well as Sara The Spy, Master of Excuses, Anthonyskywalker, and the “Powerful” trotters ‘Charger’, ‘Speed’, ‘Poe’, ‘Star’ and ‘Yield’.
“Powerful Emotion is gone too,” said Graham. “I sold him at Delaware (Ohio) a couple of years ago.
“Now days I don’t get around as well as I once did. But I still have lots of fond memories of the good old days when I was driving. Those were happier times.”
Hoosier Stake Lures ICF Trio: Three Illinois bred sophomore horses will be competing (Friday) tonight in divisions of the Pegasus stakes at Hoosier Park.
Trotting Grace, a Beulah Dygert stakes winner on Hawthorne’s Night of Champions for trainer Steve Searle, goes in the second race $26,800 first 3-year-old filly trot division while the Mike Brink Stable’s Maui Mama (Mike Oosting) is a starter in the fourth race second split.
The New Americana, now under the care of trainer Misael Garcia, will go postward in the third race $34,050 Pegasus for open company 3-year-old pacing fillies. Casey Leonard will take over the lines tonight on the Night of Champions Plum Peachy victor.