Hurst was Harrison County’s world record holder
At the Harrison County Fair in August of 1963, on the harness racing program that week, the “Free for All” pace featured a local bay gelding named C J, owned, trained and driven by Juanita Hurst of Crandall.
Juanita was the daughter of Parvin Wagner, a local horseman. Mrs. Hurst and her husband Charles were veterans of harness racing, having been involved with horses for several years. They brought their best horse back to Corydon for the fair that year, from his regular racing at big city pari-mutuel tracks in the Midwest, with the goal in mind of winning the purse money and perhaps besting the track record.
Juanita passed away on Saturday, May 15, 2021, at the age of 92, leaving a legacy of being a trail blazer for women in the sport of harness racing.
The day of the race in 1963 was hot and dry, perfect weather for a fast mile. There were no other horses in the field that could compete with C J. By the first quarter-mile pole, down the backstretch, he was alone at the front with Juanita holding the lines and confidently urging him on in the race sulky.
Announcer Dick Brown shouted the time fractions into the microphone as C J passed the half mile in front of the grandstand then the three quarters going down the backstretch for the second time.
Brown’s cry of “C J showin’ the way” had the crowd cheering the bay pacer down the homestretch to a finish in 2:02:2. A new track record had happened.
Shortly afterward, it was noted that this was also a new world record for a pacer on a half-mile track with a woman driver. The harness racing magazine “Hoof Beats” noted the significance of this mile in its September issue’s section on county fair racing:
“Sept 1963 Hoof Beats and Fair Affairs.
By Larry Evans
A WORLD RECORD which had stood for ten years was shattered at a county fair track early in August and rates the lead-off position in this month’s column. The folks around Corydon, Ind., are mighty proud of the fact that Juanita Hurst guided the 7-year-old pacing gelding, C. J., twice around the Corydon track in 2:02:2/5-fastest pacing mile by a lady driver on a half-mile track. The old record was 2:04:1/5 set by Miss Billie with Juniata Dillman in the sulky at Maywood Park in Chicago. Mrs. Hurst is no stranger to winner’s circles. Last year she drove in 16 heats and won eight times. The time also is a track mark at Corydon — and some mighty capable men drivers have been in action there over the past century … ”
C J’s time that day is no longer the track record in Corydon. The pacing mark has since been lowered considerably, as the current track record of 1:57:2 was set by Mike Neafus driving Ndana Whooser in 2003. Juanita’s status as the fastest woman driver in Corydon history was eclipsed at the 2017 county fair by a young girl from Albion, Ill. Cassidy Melloy drove her horse to victory in 2:01:0. Melloy was thrilled that day to learn she had accomplished this new record, following in Juanita’s footsteps.
Today in harness racing, women trainers are commonplace and women owners, grooms and caretakers are plentiful, but women drivers are still rare.
Like C J on that hot August day in 1963, Juanita Hurst showed others the way.