Lew Williams Memorial Trot set for Monday at Pompano

by Steve Wolf, senior director of racing operations, Pompano Park

Pompano Beach, FL — On Monday night, Jan. 21, Pompano Park is proud on the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to honor the memory of the greatest African-American harness racing trainer/driver in the history of the sport of Standardbred racing, Lew Williams.

The fifth race $14,000 Open Handicap Trot is named in his memory and members of the Williams family will be trackside to present a blanket to the winning horse and a plaque to the winning driver.

Born on March 1, 1947 in Cadiz, Ohio, to Charles and Hazel Williams, Williams grew up in a poor rural community where his grandfather, Clyde Williams (a horseman himself), introduced him to the world of harness racing. Williams quit school at the age of 16 to pursue his dream.

Dominating the racing circuit at Northfield Park during the early to mid-’70s, winning 17 Northfield driving titles, Williams won back-to-back “grand slams” in 1972 and 1973 and is regarded as the most successful black man in the history of harness racing.

He broke records all over the country, including The Meadowlands (N.J.), Maywood Park (Ill.), Pompano Park (Fla.) and Hollywood Park (Calif.). He also was a regular at Yonkers Raceway (N.Y.) and in 1972, was the leading driver at Pompano Park with 52 wins.

At age 26, Williams recorded his 1,000th career victory at Windsor Raceway, Ontario, becoming one of the youngest harness drivers ever to reach that milestone.

With his favorite horse, Whata Baron p,6,T1:53.3 ($502,320), he recorded $1.2 million in winnings in 1978, the ninth best record in the nation. Other great horses he trained and raced included Jilly p,4,1:55.3 ($200,048), Baron Gerard p,7,1:58 ($377,985), Real Hilarious p,4,1:58.3f ($191,110) and Flying Dream N p,1:58.4 ($167,388).

His career ended with 2,023 victories and earnings of $8.8 million.

By the time Williams had become a household name in the harness horse industry, he also became involved in drugs, a great temptation in the business. He was suspended (very publicly) several times and was enrolled in drug rehabilitation as many times. After finally overcoming his drug addiction and preparing to return to driving and training harness horses, Lew Williams was tragically killed in a tractor accident at age 42.

Indian Hill Rocket looks to extend his two-race winning streak in the Lew Williams Memorial for driver Kevin Wallis. Over the last two weeks Indian Hill Rocket has dominated the Open Trot with victories in 1:58 and 1:56. He starts from post seven as the 5-2 favorite for owners Yvette Prudenzano and Basil Kellis of Maine.

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