KLASEY: The great American horse race | Local News
The winner of the Great American Horse Race was not a horse. Instead, it was a mule named “Lord Fauntleroy”.
The 1976 event, envisioned by former Kankakeean Randy Scheiding and his friend Chuck Wagoner, was a coast-to-coast horse race in honor of America’s bicentennial. Unlike traditional horse races held on tracks about a mile long, the Great American Horse Race would mostly follow rural roads for a distance of 3,200 miles. It would begin on Memorial Day (May 31) in Frankfort, New York, and end 99 days later on Labor Day, September 6, in Sacramento, California. The runners were competing for a total of $ 50,000 in cash prizes – $ 25,000 for the first place winner and $ 25,000 split among the top nine best.
Each day, the 93 competitors and a caravan of vehicles carrying their support personnel would cover a distance of approximately 35 miles, ending their journey at a designated overnight camp (often, a county fairground or similar facility). The daily winner of the race would be the runner with the shortest elapsed time between campsites; the champion of the entire race would have the shortest total elapsed time for 76 days “in the saddle” (23 days of the 99 days of the race were reserved for rest).
âDay in and day out, the race was less of a neck-to-neck sprint and more of a friendly, protracted sort of reshuffle,â Cara Giaimo wrote in a 2016 online article on the Great American Horse Race. âThe hundred or so riders were accompanied by their second mount, as well as a support staff of around 750 people, mostly friends and relatives who had volunteered to camp in vans and trailers and carry supplies. . The whole troop moved along the same prefabricated route, from camp to camp.
On Saturday June 26 (the 27th day of the GAHR, as the event name was often abbreviated), the caravan arrived in Kankakee, which served as the national headquarters for the race. A crowd of several thousand gathered downtown, reported Carol Wiley, editor of the Kankakee Daily Journal.
âThe runners, who had already reached the finish line of the final leg of the race (from Martinton to the Kankakee County Fairgrounds) early Saturday morning, marched north on Schuyler Ave. and turned towards the is on Court St. en route to the Sportsmen’s Exline Club.As each rider approached the intersection at Court and Schuyler, they were introduced by loudspeaker; nearly all of the riders carried a flag representing their hometown or country.
Among those waving to the riders as they made their way through downtown was Kankakee Mayor Tom J. Ryan Jr., who had proclaimed a “Great American Horse Racing Week” in the city. Ryan and Police Chief Dean Bauer were both dressed in Western outfits, as were two policemen on horseback patrolling the city center.
Attention then shifted to the Exline Sportsman’s Club, where a temporary âvillageâ of campers, caravans and tents has been set up. GAHR participants would spend the next two days at Exline; it would be the longest rest area of ââthe race. Sunday would be packed with activities, ranging from an interfaith church service to a concert and country and western dancing. Monday would be devoted to relaxation and preparation for the next stage of the race; the runners would “break camp” early Tuesday and depart for Clinton, Illinois.
Among those camping at Exline was the only competitor from the Kankakee area, Ms. Sharon Francis of Wilmington. Other runners came from 47 states and the nations of Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Iceland and Switzerland. Team Lafayette, a group of horsemen commemorating France’s contribution to the American Revolution, also participated, but did not compete. French horsemen were costumed in military uniforms like those worn during the War of Independence.
Even though Ms. Francis was the only local runner in the race, the Kankakee region was well represented. Race founders Randy Scheiding and Chuck Wagoner had roots in Kankakee, while the community was represented by three members of the event’s national advisory board. The three board members were former Illinois Governor Samuel Shapiro, Kankakee City Attorney William H. Taube, and businessman William Doss. Taube was chairman of the advisory board.
On September 6, approximately 69 days after leaving Kankakee in the west, the GAHR runners crossed the finish line in Sacramento, California. Only 38 of the original 93 competitors finished the race. Local participant Sharon Francis told The Journal she finished “somewhere in the 1930s.”
The first, as previously stated, was not a fancy purebred horse, but a floppy-eared mule named Lord Fauntleroy. His elapsed time for the race was 315.47 hours, just over 9 hours less than the runner-up. The first place prize of $ 25,000, of course, was collected by Virl Norton, owner and rider of Lord Fauntleroy. Norton, a 59-year-old steeplechase from San Jose, Calif., Told reporters why a mule won the race: “They are just too competitive for the horses.”