Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Earle Avery story - The Bugle April 19, 1975

Earle Avery was 81-years-old when this article, written by Steve Belding, was published on April 19, 1975 in The Bugle newspaper.

He died two years later.

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A 54-year career as a harness horse trainer and driver and winning at least $3.5 million in prize money must mean something to a fellow.

“It’s meant a happy life and a profitable one,” says Earle Avery, Woodstock’s Mr. Harness Racing.

The only problem is he isn’t so sure now that he should have stopped at 54 years in the business.

After one of the most illustrious careers on the wealthiest North American circuits, Avery decided to call it quits in the fall of 1972.

Although he was the oldest active driver on the on the greater New York racing scene at the time, the harness fraternity all over the continent was shocked when it heard of his decision.

Many of his friends, including fellow drivers and trainers, rallied to Earle Avery Night on the eve of September 26, 1972 at Yonkers Raceway, New York.  Such veterans as Paul Vineyard, Hugh Bell, Harry Pownall and Morris MacDonald showed up for the gala which saw Earle presented with the Grand Circuit Award of Merit Medal among other gifts and awards for his long and satisfying career.

In retrospect, Avery thinks the decision was perhaps a little too hasty.  “When I retired in ’72, I just said to everybody that I was retiring this fall and the first thing I knew they were giving a night for me.  If it hadn’t been for the party maybe I wouldn’t have retired after all.”

“I’d rather train a few horses than do anything.”

That sounds rather strange, you might say, coming from a man of 81.

But Earle Avery is not your normal elder statesman.  Not only does he look a quarter of a century younger, he’s also bustling with energy.

“I’m always moving around and doing something.  I can’t sit still,” he says puffing a cigar as he leads you down into the basement of his suburban Woodstock home where his den is situated.

There you’ll find ample proof of Avery’s many accomplishments in the sport of harness racing.  Trophies, awards, plaques, photographs – mementos by the scores are laid out all around the room.  It would be an impossible chore to chronicle what they’re all for.  “I’ve got so many things that I don’t know what’s what,” he admits.

Through his 54 years, Avery claimed over 4,000 victories.

But only 1,250 of those are official within the United States Trotting Association.  The rest were made before the days of the U.S.T.A.  That was when Earle was racing in Canada and at fairground tracks around the eastern United States.

He claims to have set nine world trotting and pacing records during his career with Egyptian Princess, Whleen Fingo, Mr. Bloom, Black Peter, Love Song, Muncy Hanover, Porterhouse, Hillsota, and perhaps the greatest of them all, the famous Meadow Skipper.

Avery’s horses earned an estimated $3.5 million during his half century of racing.  Much of that was one for Norman Woolworth, the proprietor of the Clearview Stables of New Canaan, Connecticut for whom Earle had been the private contract driver for his last 15 years.

The Avery-Woolworth relationship was one of the best known in harness racing.  Earle praised Woolworth as an owner “who never interfered with me at the horse sales or during racing season.”

Avery is credited with one of the smartest deals in the sport when he advised Woolworth to buy a young colt called Meadow Skipper for $100,000 in 1963.  Meadow Skipper rewarded Woolworth and Avery with big purse cheques and fast times and became one of the most successful young sires in the U.S.  One of his greatest sons is the mighty Albatross, the world’s fastest standardbred.

Avery himself declares that Meadow Skipper was the greatest horse he ever reined.  “He was perfect,” says Avery.  “He didn’t break fast, but when he got wound up, he couldn’t be stopped.  I have to consider him the best horse I ever trained.”

Earle remembers fondly the day he purchased Meadow Skipper for Woolworth.  “He was three years old in April when I got him and I got him in June.”

And they were off.   Meadow Skipper went on to become a legend.  The colt was one of the fastest horses in history and also returned good money for stud fees after the horse was retired in 1969.

Under Avery’s guidance, Meadow Skipper developed into one of the greatest pacers ever to hit a racetrack.  In the colt’s first season as a three-year-old Avery drove him to many track records – including a clocking of 1:55.1 in the 1963Poplar Hill Stake at Lexington, Kentucky – a world’s harness mark at the time.  “The day I went in 1:55.1, it was something unheard of then.”  It was the fastest mile he ever drove.

Avery remembers that race.

Meadow Skipper assumed command just past the quarter pole in 28.4 with Overtrick tucked in the two-hole.  They raced that way until the middle of the homestretch with Meadow Skipper taking the half in 57.1 and the three-quarters in 1:26.1.  Then down the stretch Overtrick surged ahead by a half length.  Summoning extraordinary courage, Meadow Skipper fought back and edged his great rival at the wire in 1:55.1.

Meadow Skipper’s toughness was exemplified also in his record-shattering performance in the William H. Cane Futurity stake race at Yonkers. In the Cane, he recorded an incredible stake and track record victory of 1:58.4 over Super Gold and Overtrick.

Most Happy Fella lowered the record to 1:58.3 in 1970.  Most Happy Fella was sired by Meadow Skipper.  Meadow Skipper had lifetime earnings of $428,057.

In addition to a great money winner as a racer, Meadow Skipper also made a lot of money for its owner when he was put out to pasture.  The stallion’s stud fees are $10,000 for a colt, says Earle, since he was retired in 1969.  In addition to Albatross, he sired the likes of Sir Carleton, Blue Skipper, Song, First Family, Joe’s Skipper, Clotheshorse, etc.

In addition to his many North American feats, Avery also raced in Paris on two occasions for three weeks at a time.

Two prestigious events which eluded Avery however were the Little Brown Jug at New Point, Illinois and the Hambletonian at Du Quoin, llinois.  He came close in the Little Brown Jug one year when he steered Muncy Hanover home in 1:58.3 to win the heat but didn’t win the final.

Avery won all the top money races.  He drove Bright Night to victory on July 30, 1959 in the Empire Pace at Yonkers.  That race had the biggest purse in history at the time of $123,700.

Avery trained the first 28 years of his career at Woodstock’s old Island Park.  He raced horses, however all over the Maritimes and eastern United States.

He relocated for good in the U.S. in 1948, after he’d raised his two sons, Bob and Blair, here. 

Earle had been driving and training “about 30” horses for C.T. Black, a local auto dealer in Woodstock who was heavily invested in harness horses.  Black started sending him down around New York often and before long “I got acquainted with everything and I stayed there.”

From that year until he retired, Avery and his wife, Elizabeth, lived like nomads throughout the U.S. going from one harness track to the other.  “We lived in four or five different mobile homes until I moved back here two years ago last October,” says Avery.  “It’s not the kind of life that everyone is cut out for, but our family was all grown up and we enjoyed every minute of it.”

“Most any fellow that ever got started in it, stayed with it.  It just became your life after awhile.”

Before long he got in with Woolworth and other wealthy horse owners and he had it made.

Since retiring Earle still keeps up steady correspondence with many of his old cronies around New York and placed down in the states.  “They’ve used me good.  I still go down, too, once in a while.  They’re always glad to see me and I’m glad to see them.”

“Mr. Woolworth calls me regularly and tells me how his horses are doing.”

Earle, naturally, has been a close observer of the N.B. harness racing scene since he’s back home.  He’s especially impressed with the ever-increasingly professional look of Saint John’s Exhibition Park Raceway.  “In Saint John they’ve had some good horses.  They seem to be doing alright.”

He’s also glad to see the revival of harness racing here.  Organizers plan to run 10 cards at Connell Park this summer which is probably more cards staged at Woodstock since Island Park was destroyed to make way for the Mactaquac Dam.  Connell Park was built in its place and a few races had been held there every year up until last summer when there was none.

But the Maritime competition can’t compare with the big time United States circuits “where the horses cost more money and they have the biggest purses.”  That’s the main reason why Earle decided to spend the most productive years of his career there.

Avery emphatically insists he never threw a race in his life. “I never threw a race.  Drivers get 10% of winnings.  A man any good at all can pick up $100 or $200 a night.  Why would they throw a race?  Of course, I can’t speak for everybody.”

What does it take to train a horse successfully?

“Good help,” says Earle.  “A man can’t do it alone.  I had a good man helping me train in my later years with Woolworth, Glydon Willis from Kensington, PEI.  He’s taken over as Woolworth’s trainer now that I’m gone.

“It takes patience to train a good horse.  About a month or so should give you a pretty good idea if the horse is going to be any good to you.

“There’s so many ways to tell a good horse…look at him from the ground up – what kind of feet and legs has he got.  That’ll give you a pretty good answer.

“And then of course you have to use the horse right.  You can’t go pulling and jerking on him.”

Earle Avery grew up in the small village of Jacksonville, outside of Woodstock.  He was raised on a farm and was the third oldest in a family of seven children.  When he was a boy “father always used to have colts around.  I was riding them since I was 11.”

His love for horses came early and it has never left him.  After he retired from active driving, Avery purchased a couple of two-year-old colts and trained them at Pinehurst, NC “just for something to do.”  After they were trained he gave them away.

Since he’s become reestablished in Woodstock, Avery is a familiar habitant at Connell Park.  At five-foot-nine, 180 pounds, Earle has maintained the same weight as he carried during his prime and he still looks pretty much the same.

If you happen to pay a visit to Connell Park, the fellows hanging around the stables there will tell you that old Earle is someone drivers and trainers are constantly seeking advice from.

And when the old master goes out to the stables himself, well he’s right in his element.  He bought a couple of horses last September, Linda Stone and Wil-Lor-Fin, which he plans to train himself.

Linda Stone is a three-year-old mare earl bought from Bath’s Ralph Giberson and Wil-Lor-Fin is a four-year-old he purchased from Woostock’s Bert Morey.  “Neither of them has had a harness on them before,”  claims Earle, as he takes hold of Linda Stone’s halter and leads her out of her stall.  He can prove that he can still handle a horse.

“I plan on applying for a trainer’s license.  I had an American one, but I don’t have a Canadian license.   I’ll train them myself and get somebody to drive them for me around the Maritimes this season – any place I can race them.”

“I just have to have something to do.”

Earle Avery just can’t get away from harness horses.  They’ve been his work and his life for too long.

“The foolishest thing I ever did was retire,” the grand old man of harness racing says.  “My health being the way it is, I’d be better off still racing.”

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  • Earle B. Avery was born on February 4, 1894 in Knowlesville, NB, about 25 miles northeast of Woodstock.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  
  • In 1899, at the age of five, he saw his first horse race at Bristol, close to Florenceville.

  • As a teenager, he raced horses in the winter time on the frozen river and on the main roads against neighbor’s horses in big-wheeled sulkies.

  • First race track win was on August 19, 1919 with the 9-year-old trotter Black Peter in 2:17 (won three of five heats) at Island Park in Woodstock. Black Peter was his first horse, who he bought for $250.  A few weeks later, Avery’s wife was having a baby.  The 25-year-old Avery rode Black Peter into town to get a doctor, returned to his farm, drove the doctor back to town and then went to race.  They won and first prize was a blanket and $160.

  • While maintaining a 600-acre potato farm, Avery also had a career with horses racing in the Maritimes and the New England states.

  • Established a new track record of 2:05 ¼ with Budwenger at Island Park in his hometown of Woodstock on July 31, 1936.  He had equaled the track record of 2:05 ¾ with the same horse three weeks earlier.

  • Two weeks later on August 20, 1936 Avery and Budwenger won three straight heats in 2:05 ¾ - 2:05 ½ - 2:06 ½ at the Charlottetown Driving Park.  At the time, it was the three fastest heats ever paced in Atlantic Canada.  The mile in 2:05 ½ was a track record for Charlottetown that stood for 20 years.

  • On July 15, 1938 he set a track record of 2:05 with Ray Henley at Island Park that lasted for 28 years.

  • In 1948, at the age of 54, he moved to the United States to pursue a full-time career in harness racing.

  • He was the leading driver at Bay State Raceway (Foxboro) in 1949.

  • He was the leading driver at Laurel and Baltimore in 1951.

  • ·In 1955, joined Norman Woolworth’s Clearview Farm as head trainer and driver.  He enjoyed immediate success with two-year-old trotting filly Egyptian Princess.  She set a world record (2:03.1) in the Reading Fair Futurity.  She was also voted the top trotting filly from 1955-1957 and set four world records during her career.

  • His first major win was with Hillsota in 1:59 in the 1955 American Pacing Classic at Hollywood Park.

  • As a sophomore in 1956, Egyptian Princess won the Trotting Oaks and finished fourth in the Hambletonian. 

  • In 1957, fellow New Brunswick native, Rufin Barrieau, joined Avery as a trainer with Clearview Farm.  Later, both became members of the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame.

  • Muncy Hanover became a major player for Avery on the two-year-old colt circuit in 1959.  He won the Goshen Cup, the Standardbred Stakes and the Arden Stakes.  Muncy Hanover was a two-time world champion.  He finished second in the Little Brown Jug after winning a heat in world record time (1:58.3).

  • He drove two-year-old Bright Knight to a 2:03.2 victory on July 30, 1959 in the Empire Pace at Yonkers in front of a crown of over 25,000.  He paid $45.50 to win.  That race had the biggest purse in history at the time - $123,712.50.  Bright Knight was a maiden going into the race and defeated, among others, Adios Larry, a top colt and winner of 11 out of 14 starts.

  • Avery raced in Paris, France on two occasions in the famed Prix d’Amerique – 1959 with Egyptian Princess & 1963 with Porterhouse.

  • 1961 was a good year for Avery.  Speedy Princess, a three-year-old trotting filly, won the Hudson Filly trot and Lady Suffolk trot.  Miss Blue Jay (Adios) won the Ladyship Stake for three-year-old filly pacers.

  • He won the $50,000 American Trotting Championship at Roosevelt with Porterhouse in 1962.  Porterhouse was an Avery favorite who twice won over $115,000 and was a world champion on a half-mile track for one mile and a quarter race.

  • In 1963, at age 69, Avery established a world record with Meadow Skipper in 1:55.1 at    Lexington.           Meadow Skipper also won the $163,187 Cane Pace in 1:58.4 (equaling the track    record) over Overtrick and          the American Pacing Classic.  He finished second to rival Overtrick in the Little Brown Jug and The Messenger.

  • On November 16, 1963 he won the $50,000 American Trotting Classic with Porterhouse at Hollywood Park. 

  • Avery received the initial Clem McCarthy ‘Good Guy’ Award in 1963 for being the most cooperative with newsmen.

  • The Bugle newspaper in Woodstock had a special “Earle Avery Day” edition on Christmas Eve and the Town of Woodstock declared December 28, 1963, “Earle Avery Day.”

  • In 1965, he won the Hempt Memorial for three-year-old pacing colts with High Level.
  • Pay Dirt and Avery won the Bluegrass Stakes in 1966.

  • Mildred Pierce (Hillsota) won the two-year-old filly pace, The Debutante, in 1967.

  • In 1968, at age 74, Avery won four major stake races with Gun Runner including the Hanover Colt Stakes, the Arden stakes, the Harriman Trot and the Scotland Trot.  Gun Runner was sired by Porterhouse.

  • Gun Runner won the $25,000 Su Mac Lad Trot at Yonkers on July 12, 1969.

  • In 1970, received Golden Service Award by fellow drivers for meritorious service and long-time dedication to harness driving.

  • Earle Avery had nine world record driving performances.

  • Life earnings exceeded $3.5 million and over 4,000 driving wins.

  • Returned home to Woodstock, New Brunswick in October, 1972 after his retirement

  • On June 5, 1976, he was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame, the first member of the harness racing fraternity.  The normal five-year waiting period after retirement was waived for Avery.  He was escorted to the dais by George Woodside.  The citation was read by former Woodstock town manager, Tom Everett. 

  • In 1977, he was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.

  • Avery once wrote a cheque to pay off the debt of the Woodstock Driving Club.

  • Earle Avery died on November 6, 1977 at the age of 83.

  • On the day that he died, he became the 25th person to be elected to the Living Hall of Fame of the Trotter in Goshen, NY.  A lifelike full color statuette is on permanent exhibition at the Hall.  He was posthumously inducted on July 2, 1978.

  • On August 26, 1995 Avery was inducted to Woodstock Sports Wall of Fame.

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