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Trotters and Pacers

By Edward J. Sack

Across the river from the College, under the WBZ tower, is one of the centers of New England harness racing, the Metropolitan Driving Club of Boston. More colts were trained to harness at its track last year than at any other New England track. The recent upsurge in the popularity of harness racing has begun to affect the Club, whose history reflects the shift that is new going on in harness racing from a rich man's pastime to a popular spectator sport.

Ever since 1904, the Club has been racing its trotters and pacers on the other side of the river. Races are still held every Saturday afternoon during the summer on a strictly amateur basis. The winners get blue ribbons, and no betting is allowed. Now, however, Club members are beginning to send their horses to the new pari-mutuel raceways which are turning night harness racing into a popular sport.

Twelve millionaires started the Club at the beginning of this century to make use of the State-built speedway. They built a sumptuous clubhouse where WBZ's transmitter now sits, and in 1914 put up one of the finest stables in New England. The Club soon grew into a great social institution and outlived all the similar driving clubs around Boston. Its colorful races during the twenties made the Club a haven for New England's trotters and pacers. But the Club's pageantry declined as the old-timers, raised in the tradition of pure harness racing, began to die off.

In 1932, the clubhouse and stable burned in a disastrous fire that killed 42 horses. A smaller clubhouse was built next to the track, but the Club never regained sufficient stature to build another stable. When the Club's leader, W. J. McDonald, the last of the old-timers, died a few years ago, it marked the end of an era for the Club. There are still races once a week during the summer, but the emphasis in harness racing has switched from amateur runs for ribbons at the Charles River Track to night races at the pari-mutuel raceways.

Closely associated with the Metropolitan Driving Club is the Ralston Stable, located at the foot of the WBZ tower. In business for 64 years, this stable trains many of the Club members' horses on the track. Besides the Saturday afternoon races in the summer, the Stable sends horses to nearby Foxboro and Saratoga, Roosevelt, and Yonkers Raceways in New York.

According to Sam, an old hand around the Ralston Stable, harness races have a big future. "They're colorful," he explained. "The horses really look pretty moving along at a good pace. The only fun watching runners is in the betting. I may not live to see it," he said turning to me, "but you will. Harness horses will chase the runners right off the tracks."

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