By Mike Paradise
The brief two-day harness racing meet at the Du Quoin State Fair will be this weekend with cards on both Saturday and Sunday.
For decades Du Quoin was a must stop on the Grand Circuit, the host of the prestigious Hambletonian and later the prominent World Trotting Derby. Its harness meet was a week long and its ICF stake purses ranked right up there with those of any other State Fair meets in the country,
Sadly, those days are long-gone.
The once much anticipated State Fair race meeting in southern Illinois is nothing close to what it was once but its proud history can’t ever be taken away or the fond memories it gave many of us.
The one mile track was built in 1942 and opened in 1945 after a fire decimated the old wooden grandstand and the adjoining half-mile oval. It was in the 1940s that Du Quoin became a part of the Grand Circuit and remained that way thru this century’s first decade,
Du Quoin was one of the premier stops on the Grand Circuit after luring the Hambletonian to Southern Illinois in 1957. For 24 years the Hambletonian flourished in our state until the pressure off much more wagering dollars and a bigger purse got it moved it the the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
The Hambo was replaced in 1981 by the World Trotting Derby and that event also made it a must place to be for the crème da la crème of the 3-year-old trotting colts where in the 1980s such star trotters as Power Seat, Baltic Speed, Prakas, Royal Prestige and Peace Corps visited “Victory Lane.”
In the 1990s the World Trotting Derby trophy was presented to the owners of such stalwarts as Pine Chip, C.R. Kay Susie, Continentalvictory and Lord Stormont who upset the nation’s top rated 3-year-old Malabar Man in 1997.
Earlier this decade the World Trotting Derby was won by the likes of Andover Hall, Tom Ridge, Vivid Photo, Chocoltier, Donato Hanover and Deweycheatumnhowe. Its last champion was Muscle Hill in 2006 and it was an ICF trotter, Southern Rocketop, who was second best.
During those glory years when the World Trotting Derby often went for a half-million dollars or more (its inaugural was a $540,270 pot), and an accompanying Filly World Trotting Derby was also contested.
It wasn’t that many years ago the ICF 2-year-old Governor’s Cup was going for $50,000 or more. This time around it’s less than half that amount at $21,000 with the continuing drastic decline of stake nominations and its fees along coupled with the insufficient monies available to the Illinois Department of Agriculture for state-bred races
Many of us still have fond memories of past racing at Du Quoin unfortunately that’s about we have with the never-ending head butting of our elected Springfield politicians.