04/05/2017 10:23PM

Bergman: Charters the guiding force behind the Hambletonian Society

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Hambletonian Society
Tom Charters spent two decades as the President of the Hambletonian Society.

He didn’t create the Breeders Crown.

He made it better.

He never raced in the Hambletonian, but he helped guide its arrival from one century to the next.

He didn’t save harness racing, but he managed to save an incomparable number of stakes races.

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Without Tom Charters much of what we have seen in the last quarter century may not have come to fruition.

Yet as Charters leaves his post as President of the Hambletonian Society in July and moves to a less active role on the roster, he does so having accomplished so much and very often being given minimal if no credit.

“I think supporting more than 130 stakes races would be at the top,” Charters said in regard to what he’s helped advance over the last 20 years. “There’s been many changes and we’ve been entrusted to support stakes racing. I believe maintaining and increasing these opportunities is what I’m most proud of.”

To some it’s hardly sexy, but the mission of the Hambletonian Society is to advance the breed and no person has had to deal with as much turbulence as Charters and navigated it with a master’s touch.

“I have to thank the staff that has made this possible,” Charters said, recognizing the invaluable contribution of others to see all of the details worked out. When things go well, very often those behind the scenes don’t get noticed. To put together the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown year after year is no small task and there are always bumps in the road. With Charters leading the way the races became the big story, not those putting them together.

What Charters brought to the table for the Hambletonian Society was a person with unending passion. A horseman that respected those he came in contact with, a person with the willingness to listen to others before making critical decisions.

“I can’t tell you how many times I spoke with Del Miller, Norman Woolworth and Andy Grant,” Charters said. “They all gave me an incredible amount of their free time. I would talk to Andy for hours at a time.”

Charters replaced Grant as the president of the Society some 20 years ago. It was a natural progression from his early work guiding the fledgling Breeders Crown from its infancy in 1984 to the pivotal showcase it would later become. It was his allegiance to the Breeders Crown and its future placement that allows the Hambletonian Society’s next president, John Campbell, to move into the chair with a solid foundation.

“I let the Hambletonian Society know last August that when my contract ran out that I wanted to step down,” Charters said. “I think John will do a great job. I think he’d be great at anything he decided to do.”

In securing the first Breeders Crown for Hoosier Park in 2017 and having all the races return to The Downs at Mohegan Sun Pocono in 2018, Charters has solidified valuable partnerships that will allow the event to prosper in years to come. That in fact was the mission of the Society, and Charters always had a firm grasp of what to do next so that horsemen and breeders could move forward with a sense of confidence that their future investments were protected.

For Charters, the changes from the original Breeders Crown where races were contested at different venues is stark but was obviously necessary. “It was so hectic in those first few years. I found myself traveling all the time. I had to be at all the locations for the draw and the event,” Charters said, recalling a time where events were at different tracks on a weekly basis.

Charters has helped navigate the Society through many changes including the conditions of the Hambletonian and Breeders Crown. He helped draft and redraft the conditions for both and is proud of one single accomplishment.

“We never lost a challenge in court,” Charters said proudly.

Those conditions led to alterations that some purists didn’t agree with. There were fights but few that materialized in public as Charters counseled with Society Directors and was able to build consensus.

Perhaps there were times along the way that Charters got angry but if he did it was near impossible to notice. His demeanor while dealing with varying types is his greatest gift.

In passing the torch to Campbell, Charters believes the Hall of Fame driver is perfect for the job. “He’s familiar with horsemen and he’s familiar with racetrack executives,” Charters said, well aware of how that expertise can go a long way towards solving problems that arise as they often do.

Charters, who turns 69 this year, said he didn’t want to continue a 40-hour week, essentially the minimum required to lead the Hambletonian Society. “My wife Sue has been retired for five years,” Charters said. “We’d like to have time for travel and other things. She’s the type that comes to the racetrack with a book to read.”

Charters will stay on part-time through the Breeders Crown at Hoosier and may offer some support past that date if he’s needed.

“I think some of the greatest pleasure I’ve had leading the Society is when a person comes up to me and says that they were in the Hambletonian and how special it was,” Charters said. “I would ask where did you finish? And they would say ‘sixth, but we had a great time.’ To me that’s the most rewarding feeling.”

How has Charters managed to maintain his enthusiasm for the sport for so long?

“That’s easy. I’m a fan at heart,” Charters said.

The Breeders Crown was fortunate to find him at just the right time.

The Hambletonian Society owes him a debt of gratitude for ably leading during a very critical period in its history.

“The timing was right,” Charters said. “John decided he was going to be retiring from driving, so it worked out well for the Society.”

Charters had the equivalent of Campbell’s hands guiding the Society.

Enjoy the next chapter in your life Tom.