Ben Webster, 81, one of harness racing’s greatest drivers of all time and a New York racing legend, died June 7, 2021.
A third generation horseman, raised in Hilton, N.Y., he started his career under his father, Faye. At the age of 16 he won his first race at the Hemlock Fair. Then in 1958 at the age of 19, he went out on his own, winning his first professional race at Ponce De Leon Racetrack in Jacksonville, Fla.
As his 47-year career unfolded, he would win multiple driving titles. Then on the biggest stages of the harness racing sport Mr. Webster would win the Hambletonian, the Little Brown Jug, the Messenger Stake and the Kentucky Futurity.
Mr. Webster, AKA “The Master of the Half-Mile” and “Benny the Whip,” starting in 1958 competed on the Western New York circuit until 1965 when he decided to relocate to Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceway. Mr. Webster joined what many believe was the greatest driver colony ever, competing against legends like Billy Haughton, Carmine Abbatiello, Buddy Gilmour, Del Insko, George Sholty, Lucien Fontaine, and John Chapman.
In 1975 Mr. Webster won the Little Brown Jug with a little known 3-year-old gelding named Seatrain (Meadow Skipper–Mary Brakefield) p,1:55 ($825,006). Just a week before the big stake, he set a world record for 3-year-old pacing geldings on a half-mile track at Batavia Downs and that prompted his trainer to enter him in the Jug.
In 1976 Mr. Webster purchased Oil Burner (Most Happy Fella-Dottie Shadow) p,4,1:54.2 ($535,541) from Stanley Dancer and won several major races including the Oliver Wendell Holmes and Monticello-OTB Classic. After he retired, Oil Burner was later syndicated for $2.7 million.
Mr. Webster retained 40 percent of one of his first and most successful foals, No Nukes (Oil Burner-Gidget Lobell) p,3,T1:52.1 ($572,430). No Nukes went on to even greater success in the breeding shed and was one of only six $100 million sires in the sport.
Mr. Webster won the 1981 Messenger Stakes with Seahawk Hanover (Bret Hanover–Skipper’s Romance) p,3,1:55.2 ($675,122), the 1984 Hambletonian with Historic Freight (ABC Freight-Proper Freight) 1:57 ($668,392) and the 1985 Kentucky Futurity with one of his favorite horses, Flak Bait (Speedy Somolli-Whims And Wishes) 1:55.2 ($880,576).
In a career that spanned six decades, Mr. Webster won 4,228 races and his horses earned purses of $39,236,730.
Services will be held Saturday (June 12) from 1-4 p.m. at Donovan’s Funeral Home in Goshen, N.Y., for visitation and celebration of life.