Stan too good to be harnessed

Aug 19, 2003 7:44 AM

THE AMBASSADOR! His name is Stanley Bergstein, a diplomatic official of the highest rank. Let’s add contemporary columnist to that title.

Even since Stanley began writing for us, his views have stirred comments ”” some pro, some con ”” from our readers.

But, no matter where you stand, you have to love his biting wit and stinging commentary. Here’s a short course in Bergstein history.

Over the past half century this man has been instrumental in dealing with the ups and downs of harness racing. I watched in awe as he almost single-handedly promoted the sport with his gifted talents.

When harness racing emerged from its country fair image back in the 1940s, Bergstein fell in love with the sport while doing publicity work for Abe Saperstein and the Harlem Globe Trotters. When a job offer to become announcer and publicist at a Chicago track came his way, Bergstein bid adieu to the Globe Trotters and joined an industry that would become part of his life for the remainder of his years.

After moving on to New York City and assisting with publicizing both Roosevelt and Yonkers raceways, Bergstein went on to become executive director of a newly formed group called Harness Tracks of America, a position he has held ever since. Actually, in the early years of HTA Bergstein was also responsible for the U.S. Trotting Association. But, when he thought there might be a possible conflict of interest between the two groups, Bergstein retired from the USTA and retained his leadership role in HTA.

I got to know him quite well for his role as founder of the Harness Publicists Association. Through it he assisted in developing the careers of a number of track publicists. He also formed Harness Racing Institute and made available to the industry a library of stories and photos that were a sight for sore eyes for one publicist who had dropped out of the thoroughbred game to take up with the trotters and pacers.

Back in the early 1970s, Stanley developed the idea of internationalizing the harness sport and helped form the World Driving Championship, an activity that exposed harness horsemen from around the world to patrons of the sport in every country where harness racing existed.

He was the biggest supporter of the Racing Industry Program at the University of Arizona and hired as his personal assistants more than two dozen graduates of the program to help him over the years with the work of the HTA. Many have gone on to become leaders in the pari-mutuel industry.

In the game of pacers and trotters there is no more recognizable face than that of Stanley Bergstein. For more than 12 years he hosted a harness racing program on local television in the New York City market. He was also commentator on the national telecast of the Hambletonian for a dozen years.

There was never a doubt in my mind that had Bergstein decided to devote his many skills to an industry other than harness racing he would have become a household name. It never fazed him when he was told of the wealth and fame that would have fallen his way in private industry.

"Chuck," Bergstein told me, "I’m going to answer that question with your own line. I’ve heard you say time and again, ”˜If you love your job more than your pay, you’ll be happy every day.’"

Stanley and his wife, June, and their two children relocated from New Jersey to Tucson, Ariz., some 15 years ago. It placed him near the U of A and its racetrack industry trainees.

Through the years Stanley Bergstein has developed friendships with individuals who worked in all areas of the trotting industry, from the executive offices to barns. Regardless of their background, Stanley treated everyone equally.

He is an historian of the sport and continues to be its most sought after speaker.

And whether or not you agree with his views, he’s a skilled craftsman that knows how to express his deepest convictions.

And, for what it’s worth, he truly is one of my all-time heroes.