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Parker was one of harness racing’s good guys

Parker was one of harness racing’s good guys
Parker was one of harness racing’s good guys
In this photo dated June 12, 1953, 23-year-old driver Ray Parker poses with his parents, Charles Dewey and Estella Woods Parker, and his newphew, Gordon Brown, after Kenneth Brown's standardbred, AHJ, won at the old Louisville Speedway harness track. It was the first of Parker's many wins as a trainer and driver over a six-decade career on the harness racing circuit.

Harness racing lost a great friend on June 23.
Ray Parker, 76, passed away at Floyd Memorial Hospital after falling off of a tractor near his home in Pocohantas, Ill., and suffering what was believed to have been a heat stroke.
Appropriately, he was buried in his racing silks.
The son of Charles Dewey and Estella Woods was born in Corydon on May 26, 1930. He grew up helping Elmer Conrad and his stable of super horses at the Harrison County Fairgrounds.
Conrad, who probably owned, raced and won as many races as all other local owners combined, peaked Parker’s interest in the sport, and the youngster eventually became interested in driving.
Driving Kenneth Brown’s AHJ, Parker won his first race on June 12, 1953 at the old Louisville Speedway, which later became Miles Park and eventually Commonwealth Race Course. He was just 23 years old.
Parker went on to drive for 60 years throughout the Midwest, including the Harrison County Fairgrounds.
Whether it was piloting Bertha Parker (who gave him a ride of 1:59.2 in a 1970 trip at Lexington), Duane Z, R. Shi Pride, or his favorite horse, Oystercatcher, Parker had a knack for working an incredible trip.
Other quick ones included Zoom’s Painter, Dazzling Star and Winter Rose.
Handling the reigns with Charming Ladd, Parker won the first race ever run at the now-defunct Louisville Downs.
With Oystercatcher, Parker won the Invitational Handicap on June 17, 1981 in a time of 2:00 1/5.
Another favorite trotter, Earlibac, brought Parker a slew of victories.
Earlibac, which was owned by Robert L. Lacy of Nokomis, Ill., still holds several track records, including the trotting marks of 2:00.0 set in 1995 at the Jasper County Fairgrounds in Newton, Ill., and 2:03.4 at the Bond County Fairgrounds in Greenville, Ill.
It was with Earlibac that Parker turned heads at The Red Mile during a trotting series.
‘There were a lot of big-name drivers there and they hadn’t heard of Ray Parker. He went out and won some races and by the time it was over, they wanted to know who he was,’ said Gordon Brown, Parker’s nephew. ‘That was one of his favorite memories, but he didn’t talk about them a lot unless it came up. That’s just the way he was.’
Parker had the first sub-2:00 mile in night racing at The Red Mile and he was the first driver to finish a race with a sub-2:00 mile in the state of Ohio.
Parker, who also served as the Speed Superintendent at the Bond County Fairgrounds in Greenville, Ill., once earned a job training for the great Frank Erwin. He also trained 25 horses for a group known as the Louisville Breeders.
‘He was just a friendly guy,’ Brown, a former driver himself, said. ‘I think that’s why he was so well-liked. He knew horses, now. A vet could work on a horse and not do much for it, and then Ray would work on the horse and get it right. He was pretty sharp.’
At one time, Parker held both of the track records at the Harrison County Fairgrounds.
Conrad’s horse, Sis’s Brother, gave Parker his trotting title and pacer CJ, clocked in a finish of 2:03 1/5 in 1961 to set a new mark.
Two years later, Juanita Hurst used CJ to set the standard at Corydon’s limestone track in 2:02 2/5.
CJ held the track record for more than two decades.
‘(Parker) was a good horseman and had a good pair of hands. He could drive a horse without making breaks and things like that,’ Hurst said.
Brown agreed: ‘When it came to driving, he was tough. He always said it’s best to keep a horse in its class. ‘You can’t always win every race,’ he’d tell some of the younger guys and then he’d go out and finish second, second, second. Then he’d sneak up and win one.
‘He was always great about that sort of thing.’