It was always a special, exciting day when we took Sugar Haven to one of the fairs to race. It was my job to bring her to her stall in the paddock, brush and rub her down while waiting for our race to be called by the marshal. I was the groom.

Fetching her harness and making sure it was spotlessly clean and properly placed on her was a special treat for me at 13 years of age.

Also, the driver-trainer, Donnie, would expect her to be ready when he came by to take Sugar onto the track for her warmup. I’d wait at the track entrance for them, catching her by the bridle and leading her back to the paddock where I unharnessed, sponge-bathed, watered and watched until her real race was announced.

I loved Sugar and every aspect of the harness racing we participated in on the Maine fair circuit.

Sugar raced well, and placed third. The routine of unharnessing, watering and bathing her were familiar, fun undertakings. After walking her about the area to regain her breath, I waited with Sugar at her assigned stall area and listened to the next few races.

Unexpectedly, Chet had to leave for home immediately following Sugar’s race.

With several more horses to race, Sugar and I would ride back to Cumberland with Donnie and the other horses in the big green truck. With luck, I would ride in the back with the horses.

Eventually, Donnie asked me to load her up into the truck where she could wait safely until we left.

“If you go over to the midway, be back here by 3:30“ were his words.

Upon my return from the midway, it was no small surprise to find that the truck, Donnie and Sugar were nowhere to be found!

Surprise, foreboding, panic, even, engulfed me. Frantically searching about, I saw there preparing to leave was the familiar yellow and red truck of another Cumberland horseman. I explained my predicament to Mr. Norton, who smiled and chuckled while reassuring me that my ride with him was certain.

“When Donnie says he’s leaving at a certain time, he means it,” said Mr. Norton.

Even now, six and a half decades later, everyone in the Maine racing circuit knows this to be true.

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