SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Longtime Illinois harness racing fan Ralph J. Gauwitz, Jr. of Peoria will be honored on Tuesday, Aug. 18, at the Illinois State Fair.
Illinois Department of Agriculture officials will present a plaque to Gauwitz commemorating his support of harness racing in Illinois for more than a half-century.
“Ralph is a familiar figure to many people at the fairs, mutuel tracks and horse sales in Illinois,” Charlyn Fargo, bureau chief of County Fairs and Horse Racing, said. “Even those who don’t know him personally have seen him at the races for decades.”
Gauwitz, 69, was born with cerebral palsy, yet that limited his mobility only slightly as he traveled across the Land of Lincoln to many fairs and breeding farms. He was a regular during the races at the Illinois State Fair and the DuQuoin State Fair for many decades and also attended the races and sales at The Red Mile in Kentucky.
“People are just amazed at Ralph’s encyclopedic knowledge of bloodlines and racing history,” Fargo added. “If you mention just about any top horse active in Illinois racing or breeding in the past century, Ralph knows all about that horse.”
Gauwitz was born on July 4, 1940, and when he was 12 years old, he told his parents that he wanted to go to the harness races at the Peoria fair as a birthday present. He received a copy of the Christmas issue of The Horseman & Fair World from 1959 and said later, “I read it over so many times that I just about memorized it.”
Gauwitz himself was a breeder and owner on a small scale with his favorite mare being On To Victory. He gave her foals names taken from his favorite musicals, so On To Victory’s foals had such names as My Favorite Things, Cockeyed Optimist and King Of Siam.
Gauwitz will also make trophy presentations during Tuesday’s racing program at the state fair.