and the Role
By: Jim Calli
Dr. Jim Calli was born in Massena,
New York in 1946 and moved to Harness Racing: Indiana's Heritage and the
North Vernon in 1949.
He is a graduate ofNVHS Class of
Role of North Vernon
1964 and John Hopkins University.
1972.McGill University lst year
1973.Medical residency 1972 .. Dan Patch, Greyhound, Worthy Boy. The list goes on with the
1973-1982 Adult Medicine in names of harness horses in Indiana. The above names were the Mi-
chael Jordan of their day, their speed the talk of the local sports
1982-1984 University of Utah discussions in every town around Indiana. The local fairs all had
Medical Center. harness racing as the centerpiece of the event and this was where
1984-1986 University of Vernon
everyone wanted to be.
1986 to present: Invasive
What is harness racing? What is a Standardbred? What was North
Clinical Assistant Professor of
Vernon's role in this industry? All race horses are felt to have de-
Medicine-Indiana University Medi- Jim Calli
scended from Messenger, a thoroughbred from Europe brought to
the US in the late 1700's. There was much cross breeding with
Morgans and Arabians to produce the Standardbred of which all
trotters and pacers are today. Hambletonian, a grandson of Messen-
ger sired over 1300 foals and virtually all Standardbreds racing to-
day come from four of his sons.
My patients--specifically the management of heart failure and Arrhyth-
Harness racing consists of two gaits, trotting and pacing. In trotting
Medical Students-I try to spend more time in teaching and hope I can
two legs on one side come together while those on the other side go
have an influence to let students see the special privilege medicine is.
apart. In pacing the side legs move together as a unit. Each race has
Africa-Ann Marie and I founded Giving Back to Africa in 2003 and this
horses of only one gait. Pacers are faster but trotters are considered
occupies much of our time. We fund and support an orphanage in
the "purest" as this was the gait from the buggy days. In harness
Kinshasa, DRC and run a scholars program for University students at the
racing a cart (sulky) is used along with the harness attachments. The
Protestant University of Congo.
driver (not called a jockey here) sits on the cart and in contrast to
Bicycling- We are fortunate to be able to travel and enjoy mountain ter-
jockeys, weight is not a major factor since the horses start on the
rain riding around the world.
run behind a car specially equipped with wide arms that the horses
put their heads next to. The distance raced is usually a mile and all
"My life was formed by North Vernon and being fortunate to grow up in
records are at this distance and thereby standardized (hence Stan-
an environment of support and wonderful friends. These relationships
and my love and gratefulness to this community and my fiends only
grows with time. Being able to donate the Calli Nature Preserve has
Horse racing dates back to around 4000 BC in central Asia and was
been one of my fondest moments. Seeing kids and families and their
dogs playing and enjoying the trail give me a great continuing sense of popular in Europe after the crusades as the Arabian line was
connection with the land I love so much. There is nothing special about brought in. Harness racing is an American institution and grew out
me donating it, I'm just luck enough to have been able to. There was of racing on country roads in the horse and buggy days. This was
never any questions this land should be preserved for people to enjoy it then formalized at county fairs and harness racing was the center-
as much as I did. piece of thousands of county fairs throughout the Midwest, East,
for the best horses over the next century. With the advent of the auto- live, raise, and race horses. Bo Anthers got into the horse business just
mobile the sport died down and it did not surge back till the late 30's so he could woo Curt's daughter Ann. It worked, they got married and
and particularly when Roosevelt Raceway in New York City opened Bo continued with horses throughout his life.
and had pari-mutual betting. Its popularity then soared. Greyhound
was Horse of the Year in 1937 (the same era as Seabiscuit), establish- My father Dr. Louis Calli, Sr. was in the Army at Fort Knox and hap-
ing a trotting record of 1:55 Y. for a mile at the Indianapolis Fair- pened to buy a horse. When he got out he was driving back to New York
grounds, a record that stood for over 35 years. Dan Patch was then and went through North Vernon. He asked if they had a doctor here and
foaled in Indiana and became a nationwide celebrity, traveling the Dr. Green was getting older at the time and Dad thought this looked like
country in his own railway car and also setting records (1 :55) that a good place to raise horses and practice medicine so he stayed, bought
stood for over 30 years. He was truly the most celebrated athlete of his the house on State Street and a small farm in Commiskey and his career
time. began. The presence of Curt here was a clear influence on his staying.
Our stable along with others was housed at the city park where the race
Indiana was at the epicenter of the industry yet never was able to reap track was well laid out with banked turns and stalls for 30 horses. When
the benefits of the sports popularity because of the lack of pari mutual the town decided to do away with racing and the fair moved out of town,
betting in the state. Every state on our borders had this and huge in- the track was taken down and Dad bought the farm on highway 50 and
dustries and breeding farms sprang up there because the monies from built our own track. That farm and track are now plowed and farmed with
pari mutual supported the tracks and farms with their sires stakes. Vast no sign ofthe hundreds of horses that roamed the fields.
sums of money went out of Indiana to these neighboring states and
horsemen here tried for years to change this but were unsuccessful. By There were many others as Jennings County was a hotbed of the sport.
the time this was changed the sport was in a decline which continues Russell VanBlaricum had a stable and one of his early workers was a
to this day. This began with the movement of the major race in harness young woman named Carol Hukill. She worked with Russell and became
racing, the Hambletonian, from its historic site in Duquoin, Illinois to very successful, driving in races at major tracks, one of the few women
the Meadowlands, a mega track in New Jersey that offered purses far drivers in the country. I remember being at a county fair when Carol was
exceeding what other tracks could keep up with and this money helped driving. I was about eight. She was in a wreck and her foot got caught in
to fuel the decline, and now virtual absence, of county fair racing as the sulky and she was dragged all around the track. It scared me as this
well as a slow death of the major tracks. Casino and off track betting horse was running wild and I jumped up in the truck. She was OK and
also helped fuel this decline. The only areas of resurgence are where continued to drive later.
slots and casinos have been allowed at the tracks. Paradoxically, Indi-
ana has had a dramatic rise in money in its sires stakes purses due to Another main stay of local racing was Dave Howard who worked with
the casinos, albeit too .late. The love of the sport for its beauty and Russel VanBlaricum and then built his own track on his farm near the
spirit, from racing your neighbor down a country lane to the county state school. Dave was the last harness horse man in town and has only
fairs, is gone. The love of the beauty and athleticism of horses is but a recently retired. Dave was a true horseman who raised, broke, trained,
memory, and economically it is not viable to those thousands of small shoed, and was the vet for all his own horses. The Hill family from
owners and drivers who have been the life blood of the sport for years. Bloomington who loaned much of the memorabilia we have here tonight,
were major players in the state industry. My brother Sam Calli drove in
The History ofthe Harness Industry in North Vernon his first race at 16 and continued driving the rest of his life. He would
cover most of the Indiana fair circuit, all through Ohio and Pennsylvania
The history of the harness industry in North Vernon is centered around and raced through most major tracks in North America from Winnipeg,
the Russell family, namely Curt Russell. The Russell's came here in
1821 and had harness horses at that time. They subsequently built
their training track in 1870 (the same plans were subsequently used to
build the old track at the city park). Curt, clearly the focal point for the
I Manitoba to New York City. Dad and Sam bought a stud, Mahlon Hano-
ver who had been the top two year old in the country and was an early
favorite for the Hambletonian, but then went blind. Most of the horses in
the stable were home bred but Dad was always trading and buying and at
local development of harness racing, probably first began racing one point we had over 150 horses. Dad would trade frequently with the
around 1899 at local fairs and raced his last race in 1962 at the age of Amish who prized harness horses for their buggies when they were too
80. Curt and his family were the springboard for many to come here to old to race.
Sam was well known throughout the tracks as "Singing Sam". He loved
to since and croon, a la Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra and did this at the
bars which were the after race venues for the drivers. When the race
announcer would call horses at the head of the stretch he would
yell." ...and here comes Singing Sam on the move".
The era of the harness horse has passed. It's a passing of more than
just racing. It's also a loss of the link to a history and a time when man
and horse were linked not only in sport but in daily life. Images remain
such as Scott Leighton's beautifully artistry of harness horses from
Currrier and Ives lithographs, the pre camera images for newspapers such
as Harpers. The Kentucky Horse Park is a place that pays homage to the
beauty of the animal and its history, but it's only images, as the smell of
the barns, the steam rising over the horses being "walked out", and the
stable talk of "I should have grabbed that hole" are gone.
Every horseman was always waiting for the "big one", the horse that
would win them the envy of other horsemen, and race and beat the best.
Very few ever won much money but whether it was a $100 claimer or a
Hambletonian winner, the real sport was the competition. My fondest
memories are of standing at the fence with Dad at our farm, which is
now the Violet and Louis Calli Nature Preserve, and watching the new
young colts out in the field every year. With the same belief and hope he
would always point to one ofthe foals and say" Look at that gait, he's a
natural trotter, that's going to be the one!"