Bill Hartack, at age 17, came to Charles Town to ride the thoroughbreds at the “bull ring” of a race track they had in Jefferson County. At 5-foot-4 and 111 pounds, Hartack came to Charles Town straight off his father’s farm in Cambria County, Pa.
Born in the thick of The Depression in 1932, Hartack and his sister worked on their father’s farm without a mother, who had died.
When he came to the races at Charles Town in 1949, the intense teen’s muscular body was matched by his driven-to-perfection personality that brooked little or no nonsense and was little impressed by anybody trying to enforce their will or ways on him.
Hartack did not bow to authority simply because that authority was older than him. He usually took charge of any situation and formed his own ideas and his own solutions to any problems he encountered.
By the 1952 meet, at age 20, Hartack led the Charles Town jockey standings in wins. And quickly he was gone to much larger and deeper waters where he moved to the top of the nation’s ranks in a brief time.
In his third full season of riding, Hartack was the country’s leading jockey by number of wins. Before his career in the United States ended in 1978 when he went to Hong Kong to ride until 1981, he had won the riding title another three times.
Among Hartack’s accomplishments were winning the Kentucky Derby five times, winning the Preakness Stakes three times, and getting one win in the Belmont Stakes. He was the first jockey to win over $3 million in one year.
Along the way, Hartack appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1956 and 1964 and on the cover of Time magazine in 1958.
Hartack was inducted into the U.S. Museum and Racing Hall of Fame at the young age of 27.
Over the past weekend, Hartack and seven others associated with the Charles Town races through the years were inducted into that business’s Hall of Fame.
The class of 2012 also included trainer Jeff Runco, thoroughbreds Cortan and Onion Juice, jockey William R. Lewis, Jr., jockey Eddie Maple, and veterinarians Dr. William Trussell and Dr. Dale Keyser.
Runco has over 3,000 wins as a trainer. He has won over 20 percent of his races. Runco has won many Charles Town racing titles and is still very much active at the local race track.
Thoroughbreds he has trained have won three West Virginia Breeders’ Classics and one $1 million Charles Town Classic.
Maple was like Hartack in that he got started as a jockey at age 17 at Charles Town. After getting his career-beginning races in Charles Town and Ohio, Maple moved to New Jersey and finally established himself in New York at Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga. He registered 4,398 wins, including two Belmont Stakes victories.
Maple retired from riding in 1998 and was enshrined in the U.S. Museum and Racing Hall of Fame in 2009.
Onion Juice won 27 of his 65 lifetime starts that lasted from 1982 through 1988. Trained by Buck Woodson, Onion Juice won the first running of the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic.
He had eight stakes wins and earned more than $220,000 in an era before rich purses were introduced at Charles Town.
Cortan had wins in nearly half (28) of his 60 career starts. He campaigned at both Charles Town and at Shenandoah Downs across the road for the most part. One of the most versatile thoroughbreds ever to compete at both local tracks, Cortan won at distances ranging from 3 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/16 miles.
Jockey William R. Lewis, Jr. had 2,647 wins and was winning as late as 2009. He was the rider aboard Onion Juice when they won the first-ever West Virginia Breeders’ Classic in 1987.
Onion Juice was just one of the four wins Lewis, Jr. had in the West Virginia Breeders’ Classic.
Veterinarian Dr. William Trussell was locally born and cared for thoroughbreds for more than 50 years. He was the track vet at Charles Town and Shenadoah Downs from 1934 through 1971.
At one time during his lengthy career, Dr. Trussell was the President of the West Virginia Veterinary Association.
Another 2012 inductee was also a long-time area veterinarian. Dr. Dale Keyser actually came to Charles Town to do his internship with Dr. Trussell. He would eventually become an official with the West Virginia Racing Commission and West Virginia Department of Agriculture.
Dr. Keyser and the seven others in the Class of 2012 go into the Charles Town racing Hall of Fame on Dec. 15 in an induction event at the track.
Bill Hartack passed away in Texas on a hunting trip in 2007 at age 74, just days shy of his 75th birthday. Dr. Keyser died in 2008.
Hartack’s sister lived in Jeferson County long after her famous brother had been race riding his way to fame. She attended local schools and was employed in the area.
The Bill Hartack Charitable Foundation has been established to honor the racing giant. All contributions to the foundation go to the racing industry.