When the Crown Came to Sportsman’s

By Mike Paradise

The most prestigious night of harness racing nation-wide every year is the Breeders Crown. It’s the single racing program where the crème de la crème in each pacing and trotting division tangle at one place for one night for a lot of money with the outcome often determining the yearly Dan Patch winner in their respective categories.

The Breeders Crown began some 33 years ago back in 1984 in a much different format. In those days the championship races were spread out over a number of weekends and contested on various racetracks and on different size ovals.

  Sportsman’s Park’s 1985 Breeders Crown program cover.

Sportsman’s Park’s 1985 Breeders Crown program cover.

The Breeders Crown came to Sportsman’s Park on September 20, 1985 and its $354,583 purse for the Aged Trotting Championship was at that time the richest pot ever raced for on the Chicago circuit. The elite trot was also the first event of the ten-race Breeders Crown Series for that year.

Sportsman’s Park went all-out marketing the prestigious race with a special souvenir program, placing ads in the major Chicago newspapers and purchasing numerous radio spots, and it paid off with a jam-packed crowd of over 15,000 patrons showing up at the Cicero, Illinois facility.

Sandy Bowl, the powerful son of Super Bowl and the seventh millionaire at that time in harness racing history headed up a strong Team Nordin entry with Keystone Edmund, driven by Jan Nordin. National Hall of Fame driver John Campbell came to town to guide Sandy Bowl, who drew the rail in the nine-horse star-studded field.

The Nordin trained entry was sent off at 4 to 5 odds and when they turned for home outcome wasn’t in doubt. Campbell had sent Sandy Bowl out sharply for the lead, yielded it to Speed Merchant (Tom Harmer), took it back after the half, reached in 58.1, and steadily drew away to a convincing six length victory.

Sandy Bowl’s winning time of 1:56.3 was then a world record for an aged trotting stallion on a five-eighths mile track and the fasted ever by a trotter at Sportsman’s Park. Babe Kosmos finished second in Sportsman’s Crown jewel event of the summer.

Weeks earlier Sandy Bowl rallied for a one-plus length win in the $80,000 American National Aged Trot with a 1:59.1.

Other American National champions crowned in the summer of 1985 included Marauder and the Tom Harmer Stable’s Falcon Seelster in $102,000 divisions of the 3-year-old colt pace, Nanucket Lobell in the $137,000 for sophomore filly pace, Joe Marsh Jr. with Armbro Devona in the $72,700 3-year-old filly trot, and Berndt Lindstedt with Workaholic in the $129,500 trot for second season colts and geldings.

Mr. Dalrae (Dale Hiteman), the 1984 Pacer of the Year, returned to Sportsman’s in 1985 and prevailed in the $60,000 U.S. Pacing Championship and again in the $77,500 American National Aged Pace, becoming a member of the “Millionaire Club.”

The star Illinois bred pacers for the summer of 1985 were the 3-year-old Hothead (Mike Borys) and the 2-year-old Incredible Finale (Tom Harmer).

Ron Marsh, who was chosen to represent the United States in the World Driving Championship, left Sportsman’s Park a week early but already had his second straight driver title wrapped up. Doug Hamilton repeated as the meet’s leading trainer.