Although Frank D. Woodland neither trained nor drove Standardbred racehorses and seldom owned one, he became, nevertheless, one of harness racing’s most significant figures. Born in 1890 in Washington C. H. and raised in Bloomingburg, “Woody,” as he was known to his wide circle of friends, was at various times a writer for turf publications, an announcer, a starter, and most importantly a racing secretary.
Frank Woodland became a harness racing enthusiast at an early age. After graduating from high school, he wrote colorful articles about Fayette County racehorses for the Record-Republican, a local, twice-weekly newspaper. His lively style of writing and his knowledge of harness horses caught the eye of W. J. Galvin, owner of the Horse Journal, a weekly Standardbred paper published in Washington Court House. Galvin made Woodland the Journal’s associate editor in 1912.
It was on Galvin’s recommendation that in 1914, Woodland became secretary of the Ohio Racing Circuit, which sponsored 13 weeks of harness racing at Ohio’s leading county fairs. He often served as the starter and announcer at these and other fairs around the Buckeye state.
In 1916, Woodland’s skillful management of the Ohio Racing Circuit resulted in his being named the racing secretary and general manager of the Southern Trotting Park, a half-mile harness track near Youngstown, Ohio. He was 25 years old.
Built at a cost of $80,000 and opened in 1915, Southern Trotting Park was part of a large entertainment complex that included not only a racetrack and grandstand but also a dance hall, picnic pavilions, and baseball diamonds. Woodland’s outgoing personality and the purse-rich stake races he scheduled lured many of the nation’s top drivers to the Youngstown track.
The fledgling track manager attracted national attention in 1917 by staging at Southern Park a “winner-take-all” match race between Single G. and Ben Earl, two of the year’s most outstanding pacers. More experienced racing officials were circumspect when Woodland put up $500 of his own money and persuaded the owner of each horse to match the amount for a purse of $1,500. The agreement stipulated that the Fayette County native would receive as his share of the gate all of the money paid for admissions in excess of 1,000. One turf journal reported that “a crowd of 4,200 paid to see the race and Woody, like Single G., came home a winner.”
In the 1920s, Woodland operated and partially owned Cranwood Park, a half-mile harness track located in suburban Cleveland. While at Cranwood, he replaced most of the track’s traditional multi-heat races with single dashes. He hired the country’s foremost builder of racetracks to make Cranwood’s twice-around oval an “all weather” track and then advertised its meetings with the slogan “Races—Rain or Shine.”
Frank Woodland had the distinction of calling the first American Pacing Derby, a $25,000 multi-heat affair contested in 1924 at Kalamazoo, Mich. In the 1930s, he called the harness races at the Ohio State Fair. Also in the 1930s and in the 1940s, too, he wrote many articles about harness racing for the turf publications, the Washington C. H. Record-Herald, and other Ohio newspapers. During the same period, he frequently arranged the sale of Fayette County racehorses to eastern horsemen, typically while visiting his parents in Bloomingburg.
Woody’s greatest recognition came as the racing secretary at Saratoga Raceway, an attractive, half-mile, night harness track that opened in Saratoga Springs, New York, in 1941. There, he demonstrated an uncanny ability to card races that consistently brought fields of evenly matched horses to the finish line bunched closely together. As a handicapper, he had no equal.
At Saratoga, he revived the single-dash races he had introduced at Cranwood Park in the 1920s. Single dashes proved popular with Saratoga’s harness fans, and this method of staging races was adopted by the other night raceways that opened after World War II. The single-dash innovation helped to make harness racing “America’s fastest growing sport” in the 1940s and 1950s.
Woodland was a fixture at Saratoga Raceway until his death in 1951 at the age of 61. At his passing, the horse papers were unanimous in describing him as one of “harness racing’s most colorful personalities.” The Wilmington (Ohio) News-Journal noted that “he probably knew more horsemen than any other one person in America.”
For his lifelong contributions to the trotting and pacing sport, Frank D. Woodland was inducted posthumously into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame at Goshen, New York, in 1979.