Vernon Downs Greatest Moments in History Timeline


Great Moment #1: Vernon Downs Opens

Vernon Downs 1953 ProgramJuly 1, 1953
Vernon Downs opens for racing, bringing parimutuel harness racing to a growing legion of fans in Central New York. The track was the first to feature a six furlong track and was widely praised for it's bright grandstand, spacious barn area and beautiful natural scenery. A horse named Bob Abbe II won the inaugural race, paying a whopping $38.60 to win on a $2.00 wager. Thanks to its larger track circumference, Vernon Downs frequently recorded more 2:00 miles than other half-mile tracks. The 2:00 mile was the speed standard in those days and horses that recorded sub-2:00 miles earned their way onto a "charmed list."


Great Moment #2 : The Miracle Mile is Born

Adios HarryJuly 16, 1955
Star 4-year-old pacer Adios Harry arrived at Vernon Downs for the $26,000 American Pacing Derby with a crowd of more than 8,000 fans packed into the grandstand to witness history. A week earlier, Adios Harry had set the world record at Vernon with a 1:55.2 win on a perfect summer night. But on this night, rain had left the track at least a second slower than normal. It didn't matter as 'Harry' became the first 1:55 pacer in history. The record stood for 18 years. Luther Lyons was in the sulky for the performance that became known as "The Miracle Mile" and is still regarded as one of the greatest performances by a harness horse. Adios Harry retired in 1958 with earnings of $345,433.


Great Moment #3: The First of 16

Jack Bailey1959
Jack Bailey won the first of his 16 driving championships at Vernon Downs at the age of 26. Bailey is the all-time leading driver at the Downs including a record 205 wins during the 1977 season. Bailey finished his career with 3,323 driving victories.  He was the first harness racing inductee to the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Upstate New York Hall of Fame in 2010.


Great Moment #4: "Here he comes!"

Jim Moran1964
Track announcer Jim Moran IS Vernon Downs. The Hall of Fame voice first started working at Vernon Downs in 1962 when he took a job as Clerk of Course. He took over the full-time racecalling job from his uncle and mentor, Bud Hebert, in 1964, and hasn't stopped since. Through more than 75,000 races, Moran has called the most memorable races at Vernon Downs and witnessed some of the sport's legendary horses including Bret Hanover, Niatross and Deweycheatumnhowe. His catchphrases are numerous and legendary. Each race still begins with his synonamous phrase, "Heeeere they come!" Moran is a 2010 inductee to the Harness Racing Hall of Fame's Communicator's Corner and a 2003 inductee to the Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame.


Great Moment #5: Bret Hanover

Bret HanoverJuly 19, 1964
Then 2-year-old Bret Hanover wows a crowd of 14,000 at Vernon Downs by setting a track record of 1:57.2. Assistant trainer Don Miller was in the sulky after regular trainer/driver Frank Ervin was injured in a training accident with Bret Hanover in Kentucky. Bret would go on to win the first 35 races in his career. He earned three straight Horse of the Year honors (1964, 1965 and 1966) and retired as the fastest and richest Standardbred in history. He died at age 30 in 1992.


Great Moment #6: The Horse of the Year Comes to Town

NiatrossMay 1980
The great Niatross began his 3-year-old season at Vernon Downs with an easy 1:56.1 victory in the $55,000 Hanover and Hempt Stakes. Niatross earned Horse of the Year honors at 2, a rare accomplishment, and his presence brought 8,248 fans out to see him. Trainer-driver Clint Galbraith sent the son of Albatross to the lead and he never looked back, pulling away to a 3.5 length win. This win was part of his 18-race winning streak. He'd go on to sweep Pacing's Triple Crown and won his second straight Horse of the Year honor.


Great Moment #7: A Star is Born

Brian Sears1990
He's gone on to become one of the greatest drivers of all time, but Brian Sears got his start at home at Vernon Downs. The third generation horseman began his career in 1990 at Vernon and received the United States Harness Writers Association's prestigious Rising Star Award in 1991. He won three straight driving titles at Vernon before making the jump to larger racing circuits. To date, he's won more than 8,000 races and the horses he's driven have earned more than $137 million.


Great Moment #8: A Crowning Upset

Personal BannerOctober 25, 1996
Vernon Downs served as the site of harness racing's championship series, The Breeders' Crown, for the 3-year-old trotters. The sensational Moni Maker looked to continue her undefeated season in the $350,000 Filly Trot. She entered the race a perfect 18-for-18 for trainer Bill Andrews. Her Hall of Fame driver, Wally Hennessey, had won his 4,000th career race a week earlier. However, her main rival Personal Banner had other ideas that night. The filly, who had been sold by owner George Steinbrenner (yes, that Boss) to Italian interests several weeks earlier, upset Moni Maker by a head after a stirring strech duel. It would be Moni Maker's only loss in 20 starts during her 3-year-old season.


Great Moment #9: New York's Best

NY Sire Stakes Night of ChampionsSeptember 26, 2009
For the first and only time, Vernon Downs hosted the New York Sire Stakes Night of Champions. $175,000 finals in all 8 divisions were raced on one night. And although a power outage triggered by a blown transformer delayed the races, champions were crowned on one of the biggest nights of racing in Central New York. He's Gorgeous, who would go on to set an all-time track record at Vernon Downs three years later, captured the 2-year-old colt pace final for locally based owner Ken Jacobs.


Great Moment #10: A 'Gorgeous' Mile

He's GorgeousMay 19, 2012
It was supposed to be just another Saturday night at the races, but 5-year-old He's Gorgeous turned the night's $9,500 Open Pace into one for the record books. The Ken Jacobs-owned son of Art Major turned in the fastest mile in the history of Vernon Downs, a 1:48.3 win with driver Tim Tetrick. The mark was more than a second faster than the previous record achieved by three other horses. Video of the record-setting performance is available by clicking on this link