Harness racing history. From the archives: John R Braden

Published: Apr. 1, 2022 at 12:29 PM EDT
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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (WAGM) - Over the next two nights we will look at the history of Harness racing in Presque Isle. We go back in the archives to a story that I did in 2004 about a horse who was a local celebrity back in the 1920′s. Aroostook County was a hot bed for racing back with each community having a horse. John R Braden was the horse who captured the hearts of people from the Star City.

( Helen Palmer)The story of John R Braden was as dramatic as the story of Seabiscuit. He was born in 1912 a late foal in Tennessee on a tobacco plantation. The owner died and the wife had to dispose of stock. Because the old horses and the colt happened to his favorites he said keep them so she kept them .

During the first four years of his life he pulled a plow on a cotton and tobacco farm. At the end of that time they decided to race him. He did very well on the grand circuit and then a group from Presque Isle decided to buy him.

Palmer:” Some of the men from the Mooseluck Club went down to buy a horse and he stood out. They bought him for the astronomical sum of 4800 dollars.”

After the Mooseluck Club brought the horse back to Presque Isle and gave him to John Willard to train and drive the horse. He became very successful on the Maritime and Maine circuit.

Palmer:” He set track records in Houlton, Presque Isle, Caribou, Woodstock, Charlottetown PEI, Fredericton, Bangor and Gorham. He held the Maritime half mile track record and that is why he was inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame.”

Fans would come from miles around to watch John R Braden race and over 40 thousand fans were in attendance to see a race with World free legged Champion Margaret Dillon in the 20′s.

Frank Hayes:” The grandstand was full. I didn’t see much because I wasn’t tall enough. I think Braden won because everyone cheered and I didn’t see much of the race.” Braden also became a hero in Presque Isle. He is probably the only horse who was every in the Northeastland Hotel. The large hall was decorated and there was a party to honor Braden each and every winter. Palmer’s father Charlie Brooks also wanted to honor the horse and he did so by naming a theater after him in 1950.

Palmer:” My dad was always very proud that the man who engraved John R Braden’s stone, the last thing he did was engrave the stone at the Braden.” T

he horse also had a bank account in it’s own name and through the years he was called the People’s horse Hayes:”

Mr Willard would bring John R Braden down State Street in the winter time with a sleigh and all of the kids would come out and yell that Mr Willard is coming with John R Braden. Everyone came out to see him. He was such a good horse.

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