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Dear readers, This is the latest article from frequent contributor, Patty Saffran, the Contributing Editor for Horse Directory Magazine, about the last surviving harness racing track on LI. One aspect is about the English Thoroughbred stallion Messenger, bred by Richard Grosvenor, First Earl of Grosvenor in the 18th C. The magnificent horse came to the US in 1788 and was the foundation stud of just about every important US Thoroughbred and Standardbred you’ve ever heard of including Seabiscuit, Man o’ War, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, etc. Messenger is buried on LI with a memorial plaque.

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Messenger by Currier and Ives, courtesy of the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, Goshen, NY,-public domain image.

Port Jefferson Station, LI residents were once so wild about harness racing that they originally named their village Echo after their local hero, the famous bay gelding harness horse named Echo. Echo won many races at nearby harness tracks located in villages like Setauket, Huntington, and Smithtown and on his local track, the Gentlemen’s Driving Park, which was founded around 1880. There were twenty five harness tracks on LI in the 1880’s. While Echo and his contemporary harness horses may have been pushed aside for the auto and cement roads, the track where he raced, the Gentlemen’s Driving Park has miraculously survived. The Park is the only harness racing track left on Long Island and Jack Smith, President of the Cumsewogue Historical Society of Port Jefferson Station, and many other civic- minded residents are determined to preserve it.

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Harpers Weekly trot, 1881, wood engraving, public-domain image.

Mr. Smith recently gave us a tour of the race track, now in a wooded area and hidden from the main road. While the half mile oval is overgrown in the center and on the perimeter, the track is still visible. As we walked around the track, he explained, “The Driving Park was once part of the Grand Circuit of Harness Racing Tracks of the North East and a member of the National Trotting Association. It was the site of many exciting races in its day. Adjacent to the track was the site of legendary owner and trainer Robert L. Davis’s Cumsewogue Training Stables – he also oversaw the race track. Today that land is occupied by the Davis Professional Park. The track itself is located in the woods east of Morgan Avenue and northeast of Canal Road. The oval track is clearly evident in aerial photos of the area.”

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Currier and Ives, A race from the word go

Mr. Smith continued, “The Driving Park was in use for harness racing until about 1946, but most of the racing was up until about the time of WWI. The reason this track has survived is that until the mid 1950’s teenagers used to race jalopies there. Now, our township is in the process of acquiring the property and, to date, has purchased about half of the acreage. Our Councilman, Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, has been very diligent in pursuing the acquisition of this historic property. It is being preserved and the land purchased through open space funding.”

On our tour, Mr. Smith said that he has found an actual ticket stub from a race day from July 4, 1892. Also, while looking for horseshoes with a metal detector, he found a pair of period field glasses. These and other items about the Gentlemen’s Driving Park were on recently on display during October-November 2012 at the town library.

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In 1892,The Port Jefferson Echo (named after the town hero, Echo) reported: “The trotting and running events on the Gentlemen’s Driving Park [later called the Herman Floyd Race Track] on Thursday afternoon, attracted a large attendance, and the number no doubt would have been greatly augmented had the condition of weather been more favorable. Many ladies were present. The fact that no liquor is sold at the park and the absence of its attendant demoralizing scenes have made it possible for ladies to enjoy the races quite as well as their husbands or sweethearts”. Further back, it was reported that Decoration Day, now called Memorial Day, were special race days at the Park in the late 1880’s with ladies admitted free.

The revered local trotter, Echo, a bay gelding was originally bred and owned by Captain Nathaniel Dickerson. Dickerson’s breeding book has yet to be discovered but from the number of races Echo won and the price that Dickerson sold him to D.B. Goff for in 1881, $1,500. (over $34,000. today), he was considered a quality horse. At some point, Echo was sold to Frank Edsall of New York City, a known owner of harness horses who was such a racing devotee that when he died in 1898, he was buried in the famous harness racing town of Goshen, NY. Edsall owned Echo when he was finally defeated on August 9, 1884 in Smithtown by his arch rival Fredonia Boy owned by Colonel Beecher and George Ticehurst of Smithtown.

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Robert L. Davis, owner of Cumsewogue training stables, who also oversaw the adjacent gentlemens driving park

The Port Jefferson Times from August 2, 1884, describes Echo, with affection, something that is rarely seen anymore with reporting on horse racing, “Echo is the pet of the local turf, and the pride of Capt. Dickerson’s heart. A horse that defeats him, will be a good’un. It is doubtful that Solon can do it – ’tis possible that Fredonia Boy may.” The actual race on August 9, 1884 had the crowd in a stir, with lots of money bet on Echo. It was run at the distance of a mile in five heats. There was a judge’s dispute concerning two of the heats, resulting in one judge so disgusted he left the stand and had to be replaced. When it was all over, Fredonia Boy edged out his rival Echo in three out of five heats with Solon third. The analysis was, “The pride of Capt. Dickinson’s heart was broken” and the loss was pinned to Echo being “out of form”, and Fredonia Boy’s driver, Ticehust, being “the best in the county”. Times were between 2:40 and 2:33, with slower high wheelers. (After 1900, many races were run in faster smaller sulkies with tires and more aerodynamic lower driver positions, and the times started dropping.)

Edsall later entered Echo in another race he did not win at Narraganset in September 1884. A few months later, Edsall sold Echo. In The American Gentlemen’s Newspaper, NYC in November 1884, “By Frank Edsall of this city, has sold, through D. B. Goff. [Echo’s previous owner] to Mr. Wm. C. France, the bay gelding Echo, 2:28)4, by Regulus. He was bred by Captain Dickerson, of Port Jefferson. L. Echo was tried to the pole with F. D., 2244, last Saturday, and they speeded a quarter in 31 seconds.” This period sale notice is actually an exciting find today because it mentions Echo’s sire – Regulus. While the records seem to have been lost for Echo, Regulus has turned up in a stud book, Wallace’s American Trotting Register, Vol. 4. It turns out that Captain Dickerson bred possibly his unnamed mare to “Regulus (Suffolk Chief) foaled in 1864, got by Hambletonian 10, dam by American Star, bred by George Lorillard, N. Y. and owned by Joseph Rowland of Miller’s Place, LI [right next to Port Jefferson Station]”. With Echo’s pedigree going back to Hambletonian10, his sire, Abdullah, and thus also to Messenger, Echo is officially descended from the famous foundation sires of the Standardbred, horse royalty. The get from these sires had a natural ability to trot and pace fast. Even the sire of Messinger, Mambrino in England, was noted as preferring to trot around the pasture. Researchers today have discovered that a horse’s ability to trot or pace and to maintain that gait is genetically determined.

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William C. France in the December 25 1894 edition of American Horse Breeder Magazine, public domain image

It turns out that Long Island turns is rich in horse history and figures in the saga of Messenger. The great Messenger was brought over from England by Irish sportsman Thomas Benger to stand at stud in Philadelphia in 1788 for $15. (Top Thoroughbred stud fees today are from $10,000. to over $100,000.) The gray Messenger was in demand as a sire for pacers, trotters and Thoroughbreds. Messenger was sold, resold and eventually retired to the Townsend Cock farm, Locust Valley, LI after a life at stud in nearby states and locally at the Philip Platt farm in Flushing LI. Messenger colicked and died at the Cock farm in 1808. At what is now called Messenger Hill Farm, a beautiful memorial bronze plaque to this stallion may be found sitting on a large rock along Duck Pond Road, just east of the Piping Rock Road intersection, opposite the Friends Meeting House. The text says:

“Approximately twenty paces to the south of this spot lies MESSENGER, Foaled in England in 1780, brought to America in 1788, Buried with military honors on January 28, 1808, Descended from England’s greatest Thoroughbreds, Son of Mambrino and of a daughter of turf, Bred by the First Earl of Grosvenor, No stallion ever imported into this country, Did more to improve our horse stock, None enriched more the stock of the whole world, Today his blood is carried by most American Thoroughbreds, As the great founder, Of the breed of Standard Bred light harness horses, His blood is now dominant, In America throughout Europe and in Australia, Among his direct descendants is every two minute trotter, ‘None but himself can be his parallel’, [Homer describing Hercules] In tribute to, His enduring greatness, This memorial has been erected by American horse lovers. A.D. 1935”.

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Messenger rock photos by Amanda Fisk, courtesy of Friends Academy, Locust Valley

Messenger’s line is through two of the Thoroughbred foundation sires on both sides (the Darley Arabian on the sire line and the Godolphin Arabian on the dam line). There is a bit of confusion concerning Messenger because Messinger’s sire is Mambrino and one son is also Mambrino. The son was bred in the US to Amazonia, possibly a daughter of a Messenger son, Saratoga. The mare was not beautiful but she was a speedy natural trotter. Amazonia contributed much to the eventual Standardbred’s impulse to trot or pace. Amazonia and Mambrino (US) produced Abdullah, also a homely horse but an incredibly fast trotter. The sires’ line of descent is as follows: Mambrino b. England 1768 – Messenger b. England 1780 – Mambrino b. US 1807 – Abdullah b. US 1823 – Hambletonian 10 b. US 1849, the most important North American sire of harness horses who was born in Orange Country, NY and sired 1,335 offspring for a stud fee of approximately $500. (Top Standardbred stud fees today are around $15,000.) Messenger’s descendants include the Thoroughbreds American Eclipse, Man o’ War, Kelso, Seattle Slew and Secretariat and the Standardbreds Niatross, Dan Patch, Greyhound and Bret Hanover.

Brookhaven

Messenger’s grandson Abdullah (sire of Hambletonian 10) was foaled in 1823 at the Tredwell farm, Salisbury Place, LI. Later in November 1854, Abdullah died later on LI of a not so fortunate fate. The horse’s brilliance and strength in a way condemned him. S.W. Parlin writes in The American Trotter 1905, “The man who took care of him [Abdullah] at one time stated to the writer that the cause of his lack of patronage late in life was the fact that many of his get, though good-gaited trotters, were inclined to pull too strongly on the bit when speeding on the road for the comfort of their drivers. [This made him a fantastic sire for racing harness horses.] It is said that the owner of Abdallah finally gave the horse to a farmer on Long Island, with the understanding that the farmer should care for the horse properly as long as the animal lived. The farmer became tired of his bargain, so the story goes, and sold the old horse to a fish peddler for thirty-five dollars. The fish broker hitched Abdallah to his cart, but the horse did not take kindly to that occupation and kicked himself free. The peddler then turned Abdallah loose, and he finally died on Long Island from neglect and starvation”.

Messenger Rock, photos by Amanda Fisk, courtesy of Friends Academy, Locust Valley, LI  2

Echo, the hero of Port Jefferson Station, who through Regulus was descended from the illustrious Messenger, Abdullah and Hambletonian 10, won races at the Gentleman’s Driving Park and on many other race tracks. As mentioned in the sale notice of 1884, Echo was sold by to William C. France. France at the time was a well known breeder of Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds. A few years before he died in New Rochelle in 1901 at his son’s home, France had financial difficulties. It was reported in his NY Times Obituary that he had been forced to sell his 387 Thoroughbreds [!] from his Highland Stock Farm in KY. France was known for having bred the famous trotters Fred Wilkes and Allie Wilkes at this same farm. After the sale notice for Echo, the trail runs cold for now as to where William C. France ran or retired Echo. Hopefully, more articles will turn up on Echo as well as period photographs of him and the Gentlemen’s Driving Park. Port Jefferson Station should be proud of its efforts to save this historic harness racing track from intrusive development.

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Inquiring readers, Patty Saffran from Brandy Parfums has followed up her lovely post on the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee schedule with a report on the magnificent Household Cavalry Horse Escort. You are treated to a sneak preview of an article that will be published in the July issue of Horse Directory Magazine. Accompanying this post is the layout of her article . You might also be interested in a piece she wrote for us about the horses in Georgette Heyer’s novels. Thank you, Patty, for keeping us in the loop and updating us on these wonderful horses.

First page of the article. Click on image to view the photos in more detail.

The three-month-long elaborate celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee continued with the Household Cavalry in the spotlight on June 5, 2012. The Queen was first driven by car to St. Paul’s Cathedral for a service of thanksgiving. In the Cathedral, the Household Calvary State Trumpeters, wearing gold state dress, greeted the Queen by playing the powerful fanfares for which they are well-known. Upon leaving the cathedral, the Queen walked past an honor guard from branches of the military. Captain Alex Owen of the Household Calvary Mounted Regiment (HCMR) wrote, We had a six man step lining party outside the cathedral from HCMR. They were commanded by Captain Roly Spiller [Adjutant-HCMR] who was in overall command of the Tri-service step liners.

Mercury and his drummer, CoH Kent, ready to plod on down to Westminster.

The Queen was next driven to the Lord Mayor’s residence, Mansion House, for a reception and then on to the Palace of Westminster for a special luncheon. The event that all horse enthusiasts were waiting for came next. The Queen along with the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall stepped into the 1902 State Landau pulled by six Windsor Grey horses from the Royal Mews. (This landau which was built for King Edward VII’s Coronation was in the news last year when it carried Prince William and his bride, Catherine, to Buckingham Palace after the royal wedding.) As the Duke of Edinburgh was in the hospital, the number of landaus was abbreviated to two instead of three. One other state landau pulled by two Cleveland Bays, also from the Royal Mews, followed the Queen with the heirs the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. Originally many more carriages were to be included, but a decision was made to simplify this procession. This determination unfortunately reduced the number of beautiful ceremonial horses, a main element of the pageantry. Some wondered why the Queen chose not to use the ornate Gold State Coach built in 1762 for George III, which would have been more spectacular. The Gold State Coach was the Queen’s coach of choice for the 2002 Golden Jubilee. One opinion offered is that the Gold State Coach, built so long ago, has no shock absorbers and the Queen has a bad back (a common complaint from many who ride frequently.) The other reason given is that the Thames flotilla celebrating the Queen’s 60 year reign was so elaborate on June 3rd that they did not want to overdo the parade to the Buckingham Palace with too much splendor. Yet another reason a landau was used, and not an enclosed ornate coach, is that more people would see the Queen in the open State Landau. It is a pity that a more ornate coach was not used such as the Irish State Coach that the Queen rode in on May 9th to open Parliament this year. A larger procession of carriages would have made horse lovers and all other spectators enjoy the spectacle even more.

All disappointment about not having a grand procession of carriages disappeared when preceding the Queen’s landau and Sovereign’s Escort, the double Household Cavalry Mounted Band made up of 53 musicians and horses appeared on the parade route. In case readers are wondering, the band was not part of the royal wedding last year.

Military bands from various regiments had already marched down the Mall and positioned themselves along the route. The Irish Guards played near Buckingham Palace for the crowd near the Palace Gates.

Led by heavy horses Achilles and Mercury with their enormous double-sided silver drums and banners and with their riders in ultimate festive attire, the entire Household Calvary Mounted Band passed the thousands of cheering spectators lining the parade route. Achilles of the Life Guards and Mercury of the Blues and Royals had waxed handlebar moustaches. While on parade, the drum horses assume the rank of Major (!) (A fantastic Munnings painting that pays homage to the beauty of the drum horse was on display at the Kentucky Horse Park’s 2002 exhibition “All the Queen’s Horses”.)

The Queen’s landau and Sovereign’s Escort

Of particular interest to American horsemen, the Queen’s horses including the Royal Mews horses and race horses are trained according to Monty Robert’s methods (The Man who Listens to Horses). He has also been a consultant to the Household Cavalry and has started drum horses for them.

Captain Alex Owen of the Household Calvary’s Blues and Royals Squadron wrote to me that the horses on parade have a sense of the importance of the occasion and appear to walk with pride. Captain Owen also wrote that the riders may seem to be expert horsemen, but most learned to ride only recently as part of their military training. Many will be rotated back to Afghanistan after their participation in ceremonial duties.

Those who think perfect horse manoeuvres for the Jubilee came easily should realize that many rehearsals and much time was spent to make everything run smoothly. Leading up to the event, Captain Roly Spiller, Adjutant of the Household Calvary Mounted Regiment (HCMR) said, “He had Early Morning Rehearsal for the Queen’s Birthday Parade and were out early again for the Jubilee rehearsal on Friday (stables at 0330 hrs and 0230 hrs respectively!), having already been out early in the morning for further internal rehearsals, so it was a long week.”

Second page of the article, somewhat cropped.

From Westminster, the Sovereign’s Escort of four divisions of 116 men and horses of the Household Calvary escorted the Queen up Whitehall, through the Admiralty Arch and down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. This was a longer route, which meant many more people could see the procession than the usual shorter route through the Horse Guards Parade to the Mall. Captain Roly Spiller wrote ,”Today (June 4th ) has been our final day of preparations for the Jubilee Procession tomorrow. We have been practicing for the Stair-Lining Party outside St Paul’s Cathedral this morning, as well as exercising the horses to ensure they are not too fresh for tomorrow’s parade. Unusually, we will be coming through Admiralty Arch, rather than Horse Guards, so I hope it will be a really impressive sight coming down the Mall.”

Drum Horses Achilles and Mercury and the Household Calvary Mounted Band

The Horse Guards Parade was the staging ground for the King’s Troop Gun Salute. Captain Roly Spiller of the HCMR wrote, As it turns out, the noise bowl [the bleachers at Buckingham Palace] was manageable, as the horses were more concerned about the Gun Salute that the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery was firing from Horse Guards. However, with some determined riding, everyone kept the Escort moving. All in all, we were pleased (and relieved!) with how it went.”

The King’s Troop of 53 horses and 71 troops that form the Queen’s Saluting Battery included six teams of six horses to position gun carriages with thirteen pounder state saluting guns from WWI. The Troops fired a sixty gun salute honoring the Queen in the Horse Guards Parade, which was what concerned the Household Calvary passing nearby. The King’s Troop were originally created by the Queen’s father, King George VI, in 1947 to honor the role of the horse in pre-mechanized warfare.

Among those Household Calvary horses in the procession to Buckingham Palace was a troop favorite, Thomas. He is one of the oldest horses in the regiment. At 24, he is due to retire to the farm of one of the farriers right after the festivities. Thomas is well-liked among the Troopers because he rewards those who give him treats with a sloppy kiss.

The Queen escorted by the Commanding Officer on the rear right wheel.

Another favorite horse in the HCMR Blues and Royals Squadron who also participated in the procession is six-year-old Llamrei (pronounced Clam-Rye). He is named after King Arthur’s charger. Around the stable, Llamrei is affectionately called Sausage. Captain Owen wrote, “Llamrei joined the regiment in November. When he was only recently broke and after four months of training to carry the state kit, Llamrei has now started to earn his keep by helping the soldiers muck out in the mornings with a broom between his teeth.”

The popular drum horse Digger missed the procession this time. He was at the Defence Animal Centre in Leicestershire which trains animals and runs courses on animal handling for the military.

The beauty of the perfectly groomed Royal Mews, King’s Troops and Household Calvary horses in high gloss tack, and riders wearing gleaming brass and colorful uniforms made a superb display for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee that millions will never forget.

Note to readers: A new book with beautiful photographs has just been published: “Uniquely British-Behind the Scenes with the Household Cavalry” by Christopher Joll, Edited by Lt. Col Dan E Hughes HCMR Commanding Officer. Tricorn Books, UK 29 Pounds Sterling. Available in the USA from about July 18, 2012 at http://www.amazon.com

All proceeds from this book go to the Household Calvary Central Charitable Fund for HCR and HCMR veterans and their families, and for the regimental horses. More about this charity can be found at http://www.operationalcasualtiesfund.co.uk

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High Perch Phaeton

Gentle readers, Patty of Brandy Parfums is an avid fan of history, horses, Jane Austen, and Georgette Heyer. She is also a devoted reader of this blog.  Just recently she wrote ‘Georgette Heyer for Horse Lovers’ for the October issue of Horse Directory Magazine. Patty has graciously allowed me to reproduce her article for Jane Austen’s World.

Walnut Hill Driving Competition, the largest driving competition in North America held each August in Pittsford NY, has no speed classes for high-perch phaetons. They tip over too easily to be safe. Yet in the colorful, elegant world of English author Georgette Heyer’s romance novels, many with references to horses, intrepid heros and heroines drive these carriages around corners at high speeds without tipping over.

Georgette Heyer published her first novel in 1921, when she was nineteen, and went on to write over fifty novels. She was especially known for her witty Regency romance novels, and was widely copied and imitated. If you have never heard of her, it is because after a badly made movie based on one of her novels, The Reluctant Widow, came out in 1951, Heyer put in her will that she did not want any other of her books turned into movies.

In Heyer’s Bath Tangle, Major Hector Kirkby questions Lady Serena Carlow about her choice of a high-perch phaeton with its “bottom five feet from the ground” and pair of horses. Major Kirkby says –

‘Serena,-my dearest! I beg you won’t! I know you are an excellent whip, but could you not have a more dangerous carriage!’

‘No! If I were not an excellent whip!…….The difficulty of driving them is what lends a spice!’

Cover of Bath Tangle by Heyer's favorite cover artist, Arthur Barbosa

The Heyer heros and heroines, who are skilled equestrians known as bruising riders, ride horses they treasure, like Maid Marion that Lady Serena rides in Bath Tangle.

By Jove, Lady Serena, you’re a devil to go!’ Mr. Goring exclaimed, in involuntary admiration. She laughed, leaning forward to pat the mare’s steaming neck. ‘I like a slapping pace, don’t you?’

‘I should have called it a splitting pace!’ he retorted…..’My heart was in my mouth when you rode straight for that drop fence!’

The more stable crane necked phaeton with smaller wheels

Because Heyer’s novels take place when horses were used for transportation, carriages and coaches breakdown in many of her books. In The Corinthian, there is little horse activity in the beginning except a coach breaking down, but the hero, Sir Richard Wyndham, a bored bachelor and renowned whip, is sure to get into action at some point in the story. Sir Richard (Ricky) asks his friend, the Honourable Cedric (Ceddie).

Ceddie, were you driving your own horses yesterday?’

‘Dear old boy, of course I was, but what has that to say to anything?’

‘I want ’em,’ said Sir Richard………I must have a fast pair immediately.’

My favorite Heyer novel so far for horseyness is The Quiet Gentleman, a Regency romance and mystery of sorts, with Gervase Frant, the Earl of St Erth, a subdued dandy returning home from military duties at Waterloo. Mr. Warboys says –

‘……..that’s a devilish good-looking hunter you have there, St Erth! Great rump and hocks! Splendid shoulders! Not an inch above fifteen-three, I’ll swear! The very thing for this country!’

‘Oh, he is the loveliest creature!’ Marianne said, patting Cloud’s neck. He makes no objection to carrying me in this absurd fashion: I am sure he must be the best-mannered horse in the world!’

Cover of Infamous Army with horse. Image@Sourcebooks

Georgette Heyer wrote her romance novels over a period of many years and they were always best sellers even during WWII in England, when their lively, entertaining content helped people forget their misery. Heyer also wrote mysteries, and more serious historical fiction like the superb An Infamous Army, which takes place in Brussels in 1815 during the time of Waterloo. Infantry and calvary movements are so accurately described that this book is required reading at Sandhurst.

Other horsey and just plain amusing novels recommended include The Masqueraders, False Colors, Arabella, Sylvester or the Wicked Uncle and The Grand Sophy, a work unfortunately marred by the appearance of a cliché moneylender.  Sourcebooks has reissued many of Heyer’s fifty novels and they are proving quite popular – a wonderful diversion for our uncertain times.

More on the topic:

This is the first video of the film, The Reluctant Widow. Only 9 of the 10 videos are featured. Have no fear, this 1951 film is so badly made that you will probably not make it that far. Click on this link to access it.

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