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LOOKING BACK: Wayne County’s claim to racing fame


The Kentucky Derby is unquestionably the most famous of all horse racing days. It is the first leg of the Triple Crown (the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes) and not only that, but this year the Kentucky Derby marks 145 years of what is considered the greatest two minutes in sports.

Horse racing in Wayne County was carried out on various tracks. As early as 1849 we have on record that some citizens of Palmyra decided to hold a horse racing competition and a display of agricultural products for their area and surrounding towns in Hathaway’s Grove. Harness racing was always one of the main attractions at the fairs. On our 1871 map of Lyons it shows the Wayne County Agricultural Fairgrounds and a prominent racetrack is displayed. It was located where the Little League field is now, adjacent to the Erie Canal.

At one time the most famous racehorse in America was owned by a Wayne County man. Lyons and Sodus Center resident Manley Sturges bought the undefeated harness racer Dan Patch. At a time when harness racing was one of the largest sports in the nation, Dan Patch was a major celebrity. The horse was undefeated in open competition and was so dominant on the racetrack that other owners eventually refused to race their horses against him. Instead, Dan Patch ended his racing career performing time trials and traveled extensively on exhibition, earning millions of dollars in purses, attendance gate receipts and product endorsements.

Although not the most famous horse in America — but definitely one of the coolest — was a horse named Ashwood. This horse was owned by Sheriff Thomas Clark of Marion. Ashwood was also known as “The Guideless Wonder” because Clark’s dog Deacon (“Deke”) was able to control the horse riding behind him in a two-wheeled cart. Deke’s cart, or sulky, was not so low to the ground as normal, probably so the dog could see the track. The dog controlled the horse during the race by barking at him. They raced at the Palmyra Fair track and also along Main Street in Marion. In the Sept. 14, 1900 issue of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle it was reported that Ashwood was in an exhibition half-mile race in Newark and he and the dog finished the contest in 1:07!

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