view raw text
4 / • i • REFLECTIONS * By Nelson Dunstan- Bill Cane, 78, Too Busy for a Vacation From Yonkers Raceway, Goes on to Goshen Hambletonian Holds His Greatest Interest Mr. Trotting Has Led a Colorful Life NEW YORK, N. Y., May 20. One of the most amazing trot meetings will come to a close at the Yonkers Raceway Saturday night, and the many friends . of Bill Cane, the man behind this success, hoped he would take a long vacation. But Cane would have none of it and, although now 78 years old, he has already turned his thought to the staging of his great race, the Hambletonian, at Goshen, N. Y., on August 6. Behind this man is a story of success which matches that of his closest friend, Henry H. Knight, the Almahurst breeder who has amazed the racing world with his thoroughbred transactions involving millions of dollars. Long before Bill Cane became president and general manager of Yonkers Raceway and turned it into one of the most successful promotions in the sports world of the present century, he had a reputation for initiative and vision in his many projects. A New Jersey boy, most of his friends went to Princeton and when he refused to attend any college, his father, Frederick Cane, urged him to enroll at the famed Heidelberg University in Germany. The son refused and went out into the world, as he said, "To get a head start on the ones who were spending three or four years in college." Of Scotch-Irish descent, he worked for his grandfather, who founded the construction and building business from which William Henry or "Just Plain Bill" retired in 1925. Bill Cane is essentially a builder who is blessed with keen observation and a f ertile imagination. When looking at a project, he would view it more as it would be tinder his guidance many years later. The Crucible Steel Company of Harrison, N. J., was his first undertaking. At the outbreak of World War I., he devoted his first efforts to building and developing the E. W. Bliss Company, Brooklyn. That was a gigantic undertaking and, when the war ended, the energetic Jerseyite was looking around for something new to build. He was always sports-minded, especially interested in horses. Back in the "Fabulous Twenties" since called the "Golden Age of Sports," Cane came up as. part of one of the extraordinary events of that period. The late Tex Rickard, top boxing promoter of his day, had built an arena at Toledo, Ohio, for the Willard-Dempsey championship fight. Rickard promoted many famous fights after that, but shied from building arenas. Then came the day when the boxing promoter matched Jack Dempsey for a world championship fight with the Frenchman, Georges Carpentier, on July 2, 1921, at Harrison, N. J. That was where Bill Cane came in. Born in Jersey City, he knew the answers and he knew construction. He was the man who built Boyles Thirty Acres, which seated 80,000. The fight was soon over, for Carpentier was counted out by referee Harry Ertle in the fourth round. Some people, prefer the thoroughbred sport, while others thrill to the contest of trotters and pacers. Cane followed both, and when the Hambletonian was established at Goshen, in 1926, he became a close follower of that race, later to be known as the "Corn Tassel Derby." It was fitting that this classic event be named the Hambletonian. Bill Rysdicks Hambletonian was no great shakes as a trotter himself, but as a stud he transmitted his speed to such an extent that his fee soared from virtually nothing to 5 and- on up to 00. Before his death in 1876, he had the amazing total of 1,335 foals and had earned Rysdick something like 86,000. Like flat racing, the harness sport has had its lean and flush periods, but there came the day when the Kentucky Futurity and the pacing feature, the Little Brown Jug in Ohio, drew nationwide "attention. But the famed Hambletonian, for three-year-old "trotters, became the Kentucky Derby of the sport. In 1930, on the eve of the biggest depression in history, Cane stepped in to buy the premiere trotting stake that is now associated with Goshen, as the Derby is with Louisville. Although the trend of trotting was definitely upward, it was Cane who made the Goshen race one of Americas outstanding and most unique events, with its picnic lunches, a shouting and pushing throng and, like the Epsom Derby in England, a race for the people in all walks of life. Harness racing has become one of the fastest growing sports in this country. Eleven states now have legalized wagering, and the success at Roosevelt, Saratoga and Yonkers Raceway has been little short of phenomenal. Cane is the veteran trotting promoter and he quickly saw the opportunity when the old Empir6 City track in Yonkers was declared too small for flat racing throngs. From the day he took over, he became "Mr. Trotting," and he is just that. In 1951, a record 23 millions attended harness racing, as compared with 17 million for major league baseball. At the close of the season, Cane predicted the peak had not been reached and the. current Yonkers meeting proves him correct. The final figures are not available, but during the first 17 nights more than 335,-000 fans passed through the Yonkers turnstile, 17 per cent above the figures for the same period in 1951. Cane takes it all in stride. Despite what some people feel is a stern and forbidding mien, he is very human and generous to all who know him. On one Hambletonian Day, this writer was asked at Goshen to accept a check for the Damon Runyun Cancer Fund. We expected to receive about ,000 from one race, but with its extra heats, the amount multiplied to more than ,000. When Cane handed us the check, he said, "I am sorry it is not many times more than ,000," and he meant every word of it. With the close of Yonkers Raceway, Cane will concentrate on the Hambletonian and it can safely be said that his greatest interests remains centered in that little town of Goshen and its classic race. Strangely enough, in the 22 years the Hambletonian has been run at Goshen, Cane has never won it once, but in. 1929, one of the four times that the event was held elsewhere than Goshen, he won the harness classic with his Walter Dear. This year, with a purse of 0,000, the Hambletonian will have two Cane fillies entered. One is Miss Yonkers, and the other is Nancy Dear, both being tutored by Frank Ervin. Fillies have Continued on Page Thirty-Three I REFLECTIONS By NELSON DUNSTAN Continued from Page Thirty-Six won eight of the 26 Hambletonian runnings to date. The Jersey builder does not seem to care whether he has a winner of the "Corn Tassel Derby." In 1938, he sold Mc-Lin Hanover to Lawrence B. Shepherd on the eve of the big race for 0,000 and he won for the new owner. Less than 24 hours before the start of the 1946 Hambletonian, he sold Chestertown to Walter Smith of Hollywood for 0,000 and he also won. Today Cane commutes between Jersey City, Goshen and Yonkers, for, despite his age, he wants everything to go as he wants it to go. While he would not go to Princeton as a young man, he has drawn a will which provides that all his money shall go to that famous Ney Jersey university.