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An old champ returns "home" to help open the new season at Buffalo Raceway Wednesday night.

Niatross, considered by many to be the greatest harness horse of all time, will make a 90-minute guest appearance before the start of the Hamburg track's 55th season of racing at the Erie County Fair Grounds.

The trackside appearance by the 19-year-old pacer and Clint Galbraith, his Hall of Fame driver-trainer, is the penultimate stop on a summer-long North American tour that concludes Friday when they attend the Breeders Crown events at Vernon Downs near Syracuse.

Fans attending the 6:30 to 8 appearance may take pictures of horse and driver, pet the horse and get Galbraith's autograph. The first 2,000 fans will receive a free Niatross souvenir booklet. Other souvenirs will be on sale with proceeds going to the Standardbred Retirement Foundation.

Clubhouse and general admission is free, as it will be for every night of the meet, which extends Wednesdays through Saturdays through July 26. First post is 7:30 p.m.

The Raceway also will continue its $2.95 "All You Can Eat" Wednesday Pasta buffet in the clubhouse dining room. There will be a $15.95 "Lobster feast" on Thursdays, a $4.50 fish fry on Fridays and an $11.95 buffet on Saturdays.

"I was at the Little Brown Jug (at Delaware, Ohio last month) and it was unbelievable how many people were standing in line to see Niatross. It seems like everybody remembers the old guy," said Darrell Wood, the Raceway's director of public relations/marketing.

Both Western New York tracks played important roles in the development of the 1979-1980 Horse of the Year.

Bred by the late Elsie Berger of Grand Island, (he is by Albatross out of Berger's mare, Niagara Dream), Niatross won all 13 of his races as a 2-year-old and earned $604,900. The next year, he won 24 of 26 and $1,414,313.

In the fall of his 3-year-old season, he paced a time-trial mile at Lexington, Ky. in a world-record 1:49 1/5 . Earlier that year, he won a race mile in a world record 1:52 1/5 and took a 1 1/8 -mile race in world-record time of 2:07 2/5 , both at Hollywood Park.

At Buffalo Raceway on June 21, 1980, he broke his sire's track record by winning a mile in 1:56 2/5 before a crowd of 10,258, second-largest in Raceway history.

On Sept. 6, 1980 he smashed Bret Hanover's Batavia Downs track record by winning in 1:55 before 9,915. The clocking stood as a world record for a half-mile track for two weeks, until Niatross won the "Jug" in 1:54 1/5 .

Niatross's last appearance at Buffalo Raceway came on Dec. 21, 1980, when he paced two miles in a public workout before 3,845. It was a tune-up for his final race, a track-record 1:54 3/5 mile at Pompano Park, where he attracted a crowd of 18,451.

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