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Galbraith, turning 70, still hot to trot

The older the Happy Handicapper gets, the more he hopes harness racing legend Clint Galbraith, who turns 70 on Sunday, is right.

"I don't think age means anything, really, if your health is good," Galbraith said a few weeks ago at Buffalo Raceway. "Some people are old at 50."

Galbraith doesn't get around on foot as fast as he did in 1957, when he left his home farm in tiny Tara, Ont., to drive at Batavia Downs (where last fall, he drove his 3,000th winner).

"I've got two new [transplanted] knees," he said. "They're a year and a half [old] . . . I had to learn to walk all over again."

But in a sulky behind a racehorse, Galbraith still is a contender. At Hamburg this year (through last weekend) he'd driven five winners in 35 races and was 14 for 46 in the money as a trainer.

According to the U.S. Trotting Association, Galbraith has driven 3,009 winners which earned more than $19.5 million in purse money. Last Sunday, at Tioga Downs near Elmira, he drove five of his 3-year-old trotters in New York Sire Stakes to bring his career total to 18,300 races. (Tonight, he's driving two horses at Vernon Downs, near Syracuse.)

Since 1997, the year he turned 60, Galbraith-driven horses won 276 races and more than $1.5 million. As a trainer since then, he's got 326 winners for about $2.02 million.

"We got about 27 [horses] on the go now," he said. "I love this. . . . There's nothing else I'd rather do. . . . I don't golf and I don't fish. I've been around this all my life. There's nothing else to do."

Besides his milestone birthday, the highlight of Galbraith's July was his annual visit to the race meet and induction ceremonies at the Harness Racing Hall of Fame in Goshen, where he was inducted in 1989.

This year was more than special as Galbraith drove Elite Crown to victory in the annual $10,000 Gerry Memorial Trot. It was the third time Galbraith's purple and white colors led the way in the race exclusively for Hall of Famers at the Historic Track.

"That was great. It's a lot of fun," he said. "You race against John Campbell and Ronnie Pierce and Wally Hennessey. But you've got to be lucky. You've got to be in the right place at the right time. And you need a good horse to drive.

"I won it twice before. I had my own horses those times -- Texas Cheer and Sonora Kash."

Of course, the best and most famous of Galbraith's horses was Hall of Famer Niatross, back-to-back Harness Horse of the Year in 1979-80.

"He was just great. I think he was the greatest horse that ever lived," Galbraith said. "He was just a great horse. . . . easy to drive. He was special."

Co-owned by Galbraith and Elsie Berger of Grand Island, the great pacer won 37 of 39 races and retired as the richest ($2,019,213) harness horse up to that time. Along the way he set since-broken one-mile track records at Buffalo Raceway (1:56 2/5 ), Batavia Downs (1:55) and time-trialed a then world-record mile in 1:49 1/5 at Lexington, Ky.

Although an ownership dispute forced Niatross into retirement after his 3-year-old season, Galbraith says, "I would have liked to have been able to race him as a 4-year-old. . . . He would have made records that they wouldn't have even touched yet."

Galbraith hit the jackpot again with Call For Rain, a 1984 foal who won 28 of 40, set a mark of 1:49 3/5 , earned $1,065,919, was Champion Pacing Horse in 1988 and spent his 17-year breeding career at Clint and wife Barbara Galbraith's Rodney Farms in Scottsville, near Rochester.

While Galbraith's greatest horses were those two pacers, these days he is more involved with trotters, the slower but -- some say -- more challenging tests of horsemanship in the harness world.

This year his trotters include 2-year-olds Earnest Kash and Kashability, 3-year-olds Louisiana Kash and Zapphappy Kash, 5-year-old Heartland Kash and 7-year-old Lanise Kash. All but Kashability are offspring of the Galbraiths' El Paso Kash, the 19-year-old stallion who stands at Rodney Farms, where the "Kash" name is given to many horses bred there.

"I like trotters. . . . As you get older, you like trotters and you like to drive trotters," he said. "I'd like to still get one good trotter.

"Right now, I don't have a real lot of power. . . . I think with the 2- and 3-year-olds, if you get a nice trotter and they're steady and they stay trotting, and they're a good race horse, you're going to get good money."

Galbraith says he has no plans to retire, but adds, "I don't want to drive the rest of my life. . . . If I could, I'd like to train and stuff like that and still have fun."

e-mail: rsummers@buffnews.com

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