When hundreds of runners step on to the Goshen Historic Track Sunday, Oct. 2, logging the last one third mile to the finish of the Hambletonian Marathon, Half Marathon and Good Time Trotters Relay, they’ll be running at the oldest continuously operated horse racing track in North America.
Opened in 1838, the Historic Track today mostly serves as a celebration of harness racing. The National Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame fronts the track, which is mostly used by horsemen for boarding and training. For seven days in the year, in early June and then around Goshen’s annual July 4th celebration, the track hosts racing.
The Historic Track was the first half-mile track to host a sub two-minute mile, the first track in New York State to have pari-mutuel betting and the first half-mile track to join the Grand Circuit in 1911. In 1966, the National Park Service designated the Historic Track as a Registered Historic Landmark.
Half marathoner Sara Balagna, East Stroudsburg, PA, has a special connection to the Historic Track. Her husband Marcus Miller is a successful harness racer, and her sister-in-law and father-in-law have both raced there.
In fact, this half marathon, Balagna’s third, was the suggestion of her husband Marcus. “Hambletonian is a name that is spoken often in our household,” Balagna said. “Every year it is our goal as horse owners, and my husband as a harness horse driver, to enter The Hambletonian Stakes,” the sport’s premier race held every August at the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, NJ.
“Hambletonian was also an amazing horse. (Hambletonian 10 was born in Sugar Loaf, NY and later bred in nearby Chester, NY.) To honor this horse and the amazing race named after him I signed up for the Hambletonian half marathon,” Balagna said.
Balagna ran track in high school, but it wasn’t until college that she started to run longer distances. “Many people have different reasons why they run. Mine isn’t flattering. I run so I can eat and drink as much as I want. I also run to obtain a clear mind. But mostly, it’s for the food and beverages.” So far, Balagna has run half marathons in Scranton and Stroudsburg, PA.
“My favorite thing about running is running with friends and working to accomplish goals. I have a group of people who are a large support system,” she said. “We meet at 7:30 most mornings. It’s important to have people around to push you.”
Balagna’s husband Marcus works at multiple tracks during the year, including the Meadowlands and Pocono Downs, racing seven days a week from April through October. He also races at tracks in Delaware, Illinois and Kentucky, and is having a very good season so far this year. He hasn’t yet raced at the Goshen Historic Track.
This summer, during the Great American Weekend festivities, Marcus’ father and former Trainer of the Year Erv Miller and his sister Hannah Miller, drove during the Hall of Fame race. Hannah Miller was honored Sunday, July 3, as the Harness Racing Museum’s and Hall of Fame’s top amateur driver.
Would Balagna ever run the full marathon? “I would love to,” she said. “I just have to give myself more time to train.”