(Host) Peter Langrock is a well-known Middlebury lawyer. But since the 1960s, Langrock has led a second life: he’s a harness racer. Now Langrock has decided to retire from racing. Friday at the Tunbridge Fair he and his horse ran their last race.
VPR’s Steve Zind reports.
(Race announcer) “And our first race .”
(Zind) The horses have been running every fall at the Tunbridge Fair for over a century. Peter Langrock has been a familiar figure at the races for more than three decades.
(Langrock) “I drove my first race here in 1968 and for 35 years I’ve driven horses. I’ve driven them all over the country. But I’ve always come back to Tunbridge each year.”
(Zind) Langrock estimates he’s driven nearly a thousand races, in his Columbia Blue and Kelly Green silks, perched between the wheels of his sulky as it flies down the race track behind one of the trotters or pacers he’s owned during his career.
For the last dozen or so years, Langrock has been driving Salisbury Seth. The gelding is named after the Addison County town where Langrock lives. But Seth has to stop racing. At 14, he’s reached the mandatory retirement age for a trotter. And Langrock, who’s turning 65, has decided it’s time for him to retire from racing, too. Friday afternoon, the two drove their last race. Langrock decided finished where he began: at the Tunbridge Fair.”
(Langrock) “Open your mouth, guy, so I can get this bridle in here. Come on, don’t give me a hard time now. He has two bits. One is a snapple bit, which is the driving bit. The other is a check bit, which holds his head up. And that’s so he can put his head down and run. These horses are in a controlled gait. If it were poetry, it would be a sonnet. They’re really very, very strict rules of gait and you’re pushing them at the absolute limit at that gait.”
(Zind) There’s an unnervingly quiet speed and tension to a trotting race. It may seem tame compared to the to the power and noise of a thoroughbred horses, but there’s danger.
(Langrock) “You’ve got eight horses, all vying for a position at the wire where an inch makes the difference, so you’re in really close quarters. If the horses break stride, things can happen. A horse can step into another wheel, a horse can step over a gate, a horse can fall down. The worst accidents I’ve had are when horses have tripped in front of me and gone down like a pile of stones and your horse runs into them and you get catapulted out.”
(Zind) The danger, the accidents he’s witnessed and the few minor scrapes he’s had have convinced Langrock that it’s time to retire from racing.
(Langrock) “The excitement of sitting behind a trotter that is pulling away in the stretch and you’ve got the whip over your shoulder and you half a ton of animal in total coordination with yourself and with the world is one of the great thrills. We all set?”
(Zind) Langrock has won over a hundred harness races. He’s competed in major national races at the Meadowlands in New Jersey and Saratoga in New York. But Langrock says Tunbridge is closest to his heart. It’s time for one last, spirited turn around the track.
(Race announcer) “Here they come!”
(Zind) Even though today’s race is strictly for fun. Both horse and driver gave their all for the two minutes it takes to travel a mile around the racetrack. (Sound of Langrock yelling at his horse during the race.)
(Race announcer) “The fourteen-year-olds race around the turn the final time. Down the stretch they come. It’s C. Star Marty all by himself, Salisbury Seth to the wire and C. Star Marty and here they are!”
(Zind) Each year the retiring horses at Tunbridge are featured in a single race. Today there are only two fourteen-year-olds and Salisbury Seth finishes second. Back in the paddock, Langrock leads Seth to a pail of water and opens a beer for himself. It was a good last race, he says.
(Langrock) “The horse trotted very well. And we’re both done.” (Laughs.)
(Zind) Langrock says he’ll be back next year with his horses, but he’ll leave the racing to younger drivers.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Tunbridge.