There was a little girl," goes the nursery rhyme, "and she had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead; when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid." It is a verse that could have been composed for the horse on the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED this week.
Adios Harry can be very good indeed: at the moment, he holds 12 world pacing records at distances from a mile to a mile and a half and, as a 5-year-old in his prime, he is odds-on to lower the few remaining marks in the book before he goes into stud. In one eight-day period at Vernon Downs last summer he shattered the mile standard five times; four times in races and once in a casual morning workout. "Shattered," incidentally, is the only word for what Harry did to the mile racing record. It was 1:57 4/5 when he went up to Vernon and 1:55 when he left. At the close approximation of four lengths per second, Harry went the mile more than 10 lengths faster than it had ever been raced. How he did it—how he always wants to race—is another indication of his phenomenal speed. For 150 years every great Standard-bred has done his best when he has been "covered up" during a great portion of the race and then pulled out for a stretch brush to the wire. This means his driver has tucked him in behind the lead sulky, where he enjoys the physical advantage of having the wind broken for him and the psychological edge of letting another horse set the pace. Not Harry. This Roman-nosed sidewheeler with a coat the color of good Bock beer has only one notion when the starting gate pulls away: to get to the top as fast as he can and stay there. And, since his driver, Luther Lyons, prefers to let Harry have his way, practically all of his record-breaking performances have been pace-setting races from wire to wire and doubly remarkable for that reason. He is on the bit all the way, pulling, bobbing, fighting the restraint of his gait, while the other horses steadily lose ground though they pour all their energy into the fight for speed. This is the very, very good Adios Harry.
But Harry can also be horrid. He may be the most unsociable, temperamental, hard-to-handle champion ever hitched to a sulky. After five years of the constant companionship of human beings, Harry does not appear to feel very kindly toward them. At most harness tracks spectators are encouraged to look at the horses, to feed them carrots, to hold up children to pet them. It is one of the sport's oldest traditions, and the horses seem to thrive on the attention they get. Not Harry. "It upsets him so," says Luther Lyons, "that now when we move to a new track we don't put up Harry's name-plate in front of his stall, just to keep visitors away." Before they started hiding the nameplate, back in 1954, Harry threw quite a scare into Luther and his father, J. Howard Lyons, who owns the horse. It was Little Brown Jug Week at Delaware, Ohio, a colorful, noisy country fair, and the stables were busy with visitors. Harry got so upset that he tried to kick his way out of his stall, hurt himself badly. Out on the track later, he was obviously lame and there was some talk of scratching him at the last minute. What he did instead was win the Jug, pacing three successive mile heats which totaled up to a world record time for 3-year-old colts.
There is another, more romantic, version of this story, which holds that Harry was trying to kick his way out in order to visit with a pretty filly nibbling the grass in a nearby field. Since he didn't get out, it is a bit difficult to substantiate this version. One evening last year at Roosevelt Raceway, however, Harry did get out of his stall. No one knows how he managed this feat, which is a tribute to his ingenuity as well as his independence. For an hour the most valuable pacer alive wandered around in the dark, before he was rounded up. Once again, he may have had a late date in mind, but it is just as likely that he was looking for the training track for a bit of exercise. For Harry is generally a bear for work. Ordinarily, this is good news to a horse trainer, but it isn't to Luther Lyons. "The trouble with Harry," says Luther, "is that he thinks he's in a race every time you take him out for exercise, or at least he acts that way. He darn near pulls my arms out of their sockets if I try to hold him back." And Luther is a powerful, stocky 180-pounder, a fair match for any horse with a will less strong.
July 22, 1956
What happened when Harry broke the mile record at Vernon Downs is fairly typical of his workouts. In harness racing, two minutes for the mile is the same magic mark as four minutes in foot racing; in any season few horses achieve it, and then they are almost always prodded along by close competition. At Vernon, all by himself on the track and without any urging from Lyons, Harry did 1:57½, under the former world's racing record.
All of the foregoing helps explain Harry's one fault as a racer. Unchecked by Lyons, he gets away from the starting gate so fast and reaches top speed so quickly that the first turn (less than 200 yards from the starting line on a half-mile track) always seems to come as a surprise to him. And he often breaks stride before getting around it. When a pacer goes into a break, his driver must pull him up or to the outside of the track until he resumes his gait, and this is a handicap that no horse—even an Adios Harry—can overcome in a mile race. Some horsemen feel that Harry's breaks and his general intractibility cast doubt on Lyons' skill as driver and trainer; others point to the horse's remarkable achievements and ask what there is to blame anyone for, which may be begging the question. In any event, the results bear out Harry's kinship with the little girl with the curl: in his first nine starts this season, he won six times and finished fifth the other three times. Very, very good—or horrid.
Most horrid of all, incidentally, to the two-dollar bettor. Since Harry always goes to the post at extremely short odds, there is hardly any point in betting on him. And if he gets by that first turn, there is no point at all in betting on any of the other horses. In last week's National Pacing Derby at Roosevelt, Harry once again displayed his ungovernable temper. When the gate released him, he was ready to explode—which is just what he did. He broke stride, finished dead last.
It would be nice to be able to report that this marvelously fast and interesting animal is also engaging to look upon. The truth, however, is the final paradox of Adios Harry. The reason Lyons is able to discourage visitors by keeping Harry's name off his stall is that even an expert horseman who had never seen the champion would walk by with no more than a second glance. And to anyone else, Harry looks like just another horse. Out on the track with other pacers, he appears undersized; he is actually a half inch less than the 15 hands at the withers which would class him as average height. The secret of Harry's greatness, as it so often is with champions among men, has little to do with size or sinew. It is deep inside him, inexplicable, that rare and precise combination of heart and mind that adds up to the unconquerable will to win. Rival drivers put it another way: "He's got a motor running inside him all the time."
Aside from Adios Harry, the most interesting feature of the harness racing season so far seems to be a matter of sex. In the 3-year-old class, which carries the major Triple Crown stakes, the top horses at both gaits are fillies: George Landers' pacer, Belle Acton, and the Clearview Stable's trotter, Egyptian Princess.
There is hardly any doubt about Belle Acton's clear edge over an exceptionally good class of 3-year-old side-wheelers. Rubin's Bachelor Hanover is possibly the only 3-year-old capable of beating her in the future.
Somewhat less agreement exists on the top racing of Egyptian Princess among the trotters. Some still prefer the Arden Homestead's Saboteur, despite his recently acquired habit of breaking stride, which has ruined three of his first four starts this year. Saboteur was the pre-season pick, off his sweep of the many 2-year-old stakes in which he'd been entered. But the Princess' 2:02 record in the Hanover Filly Stake at Lexington, and especially her less-than-a-minute clocking for the final half mile, established her as a firm second choice. Then she went on to win four out of five starts in '56, climaxed by a two-heat victory in the Coaching Club Trotting Oaks at Goshen's Historic track on July 2. The Oaks is a Hambletonian preview for fillies, and for the $90,000 Hambletonian on August 8, first leg of Trotting's Triple Crown, the Princess will be the trotter to beat.