Gary Buxton, 80, dies

Columbus, OH — Long-time and well respected racing secretary Gary Buxton, 80, died at his home in Redondo Beach, Calif., over the Christmas weekend.

Mr. Buxton was preceded in death by his wife of over 56 years, Elizabeth “Liz’; he is survived by his daughter, Brenda (Stephen Walsh); son, Bret (Dina); niece, Mary Beth (Fred Henry); nephew, Brad (Jo Ellen); grandchildren, Flynn, Violet and Dakota; and great-granddaughter, Emilynn.

Mr. Buxton worked almost four decades in harness racing, an extraordinary 30 years as a Racing Secretary.

Gary Buxton, 79, died. Photo courtesy of Tom Charters.

A native of Mt. Vernon, Ohio, he was the brother of the late horseman Dick Buxton, an Immortal of the Hall of Fame.

According to the American Harness Racing Secretaries’ directory, Mr. Buxton worked at at least 26 different pari-mutuel racetracks, coast to coast in 11 states and three countries. Although for many years Louisville and Hollywood Park were the linchpins of his calendar, he also was called upon to include new tracks such as Monticello, The Meadows and Foxboro, as well as expand his footprint on the West Coast to include Los Alamitos and Cal Expo in the 1980s.

Many years Mr. Buxton’s workload was extraordinary, working at multiple tracks simultaneously when dates overlapped during the racing season. That was in a time before the technological benefits of the internet, computers and cell phones that are taken for granted today. At 14 of those tracks he was either the Racing Secretary or Director of Racing — a number of venues that exceeds that of any of his contemporaries.

He held various positions, doing anything he could, including charter, program director, associate judge, Director of Racing, General Manager and even as a consultant at the Macau Trotting Club near Hong Kong.

Mr. Buxton retired in 2008.

Remembered John Campbell, “Gary Buxton turned his lifelong knowledge and background in harness racing into a tremendous career as a race secretary, judge and racing official. I was fortunate enough to race under him as a race secretary at Hollywood Park and as a judge at the Meadowlands. The qualifications that Gary brought to these positions is something harness racing desperately needs in today’s world. We were friends for 40-plus years and he never lost his enthusiasm or interest in harness racing and I always enjoyed his insight on the topics of today.”

To which Tom Charters added, “Nobody was more knowledgeable, nor enjoyed the people throughout the sport more! His recollection was incredible. It was a blessing to know him and share a conversation with him, whether late night after the races, or lately over the phone every few weeks. I’ll miss him and especially those priceless memories dearly.”

Beginning in 1961, while he was still in school, he started as a charter on the Ohio, Michigan, Indiana and Pennsylvania fair circuits. He then continued at the USTA Eligibility Department. In those early years he worked in the program department and assisted in the racing office at many smaller tracks in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. There was even a stint at Rideau Carleton in Ontario where he met his late wife Liz when she misspelled his name on his paycheck. His mentors in those days included Hall of Fame executives Ed Keller and Ted Leonard. His first Racing Secretary posting was in 1967 at Audubon Park in Kentucky.

According to an article in Hoof Beats in 2014, his career as a Race Secretary got a big boost the following year when he was program director of the spring meet at The Red Mile. The night before the first draw, Red Mile Racing Secretary Phil Leonard was tragically killed in an automobile accident in Lexington.

“General Manager Biff Lowry called and asked me if I could fill in as Racing Secretary of the spring meeting until I was scheduled to go to Raceway Park,” Mr. Buxton said. “Because of this, I got a lot of work at tracks Phil was scheduled to work. I now had a full-time job at Jackson Harness Raceway, Raceway Park, Aurora Downs and Louisville Downs and The Red Mile.”

It was also in 1968, that he was hired as Director of Racing at Louisville Downs, a post he held for over two decades. For three years in the late 1970s, he complemented the “down” time at Louisville when Joe DeFrank selected him as an associate judge in the Meadowlands stand with Hall of Fame judge Walter Russell presiding. Mr. Buxton also was associate judge at Balmoral and at Latonia in Kentucky.

It is said that Mr. Buxton put Louisville Downs on the map when he launched The Kentucky Pacing Derby in 1978 in the hometown of that “other Kentucky Derby.” Scarlet Skipper beat Hot Hitter the first year, and Niatross and French Chef won the next two years. According to the late Stan Bergstein, that inaugural Kentucky Pacing Derby, which was televised nationally on CBS during a NFL half-time show (Rams vs. Cowboys), was the largest television audience ever for a harness race.

In 1971, Mr. Buxton added Western Harness at Hollywood Park to his resume. He had to give up the prestigious Lexington Grand Circuit in the fall after two years because of the conflict with Hollywood Park dates and a commuting distance which even he couldn’t easily accommodate. He continued to do the spring meet at the Red Mile for another five years.

In California he was the assistant for two years and then Racing Secretary for eight years under Pres Jenuine, another Hall of Famer. An important segment of that job were the American Classics (both a trot and a pace) that were held at the end of each stakes season and that provided some of the most memorable events of that era. Mr. Buxton was able to entice top stables on the Grand Circuit back East and, perhaps more importantly, get the great 3-year-olds and free-for-allers such as Niatross, Rambling Willie, Savior and Classical Way to make the trip across the continent to compete in those events.

In 1989 Mr. Buxton returned to his roots of the Midwest when he was appointed General Manager and Racing Secretary at Muskegon Downs in Michigan for three years and then finished his career as Racing Secretary at Hawthorne from 1993-1997.

Weary of the life away from his home in Southern California, he finished his working days at the racetrack as Director of Pari-Mutuels and Simulcasting at Hollywood Park from 1992 to 2008.

Over the years there were many assistants and younger colleagues he mentored (including Charters) such as John Manzi, Mick Myers, Curby Stillings, Connie Hochstetler, Tom Leasure, Pat McNichol, the late Bill Emerson and Warren DeSantis, among others.

The fact that Mr. Buxton was successful in luring top horses and stables to the “Pacing Derby” or to Hollywood Park is just one indication of the high esteem and rapport that he had with the prominent horsemen of that era, whose many friendships he was pleased to reminisce about with wonderful and sometimes colorful stories by phone in recent days.

Colleagues he mentioned matter-of-factly are “his two best friends,” his late brother Dick and Shelly Goudreau, as well as Billy Haughton, Doug Ackerman, John Simpson, Clint Galbraith and John Campbell, plus a host of Midwest horsemen, such as Bob Stewart and Dave Howard, with whom he worked in Kentucky for many years. Friends in the industry have appreciated what Mr. Buxton brought to the sport, while he, in turn, appreciated what the sport gave him.

No memorial information is available at this time.

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