Take a good look at Billy Haughton, the sober, solid young man on the opposite page; there may never be another like him. At 32, he is the owner, manager, trainer and driver of the largest (98 trotters and pacers) and winningest public stable in harness racing history.
In Thoroughbred racing, a Whitney may own the horse, a Fitzsimmons may train him and an Arcaro may ride him. Haughton does all three, and does them superbly well. For three straight years his horses have won more races than those of any other stable. For four straight years he has won more money than any other driver. In five years his horses have won nearly $2,500,000 in purses. And the sport of trotting is growing so fast that it may never again be possible for one man to match his achievements.
The accomplishments of Billy Haughton the man, apart from the athlete, are equally impressive and satisfying. In a sport which has had somewhat more than its share of scandal and squabbles in recent years and which is still fighting a deep-rooted skepticism in metropolitan areas regarding its total purity, he has been a shining example of clean and colorful competition. Haughton began his career as a $7-a-week groom. Today, at the pinnacle of trotting, he is held in as high respect and affection as a person by fellow sportsmen as he is as a horseman—which is saying a great deal. The spacious Haughton home on Lake Maitland near Orlando, Florida is a gathering place for horsemen who bring their stock South for winter training. He is currently building another home on two of Brookville, Long Island's loveliest acres, where the newest Haughton (due next March) will join Billy Jr., 3½, and Peter, 22 months, two apple-cheeked, blond and blue-eyed charmers. And then there is Mrs. Haughton. Since Ernie Vandeweghe quit basketball (Mrs. Vandeweghe is the former Miss America, Kay Hutchins) Dorothy Haughton may be the most beautiful wife of any athlete in the country (see page 64).
In horse racing, it is impossible to achieve unanimity of opinion on what makes a great driver or jockey. Some swear by a vague something called "racing luck"; some insist the good horse makes the driver; others stand on judgment or experience or a properly trained colt. All, however, agree on the key importance of one particular element: the ability to make quick, correct decisions in the heat of competition or, as horsemen put it, knowing when to make your move. Anyone who has watched with an understanding eye as Billy Haughton makes his moves during a race will know what this means. For those who haven't, it is almost impossible to explain without a slow-motion moving picture of the race. But it is possible to illustrate Haughton's quick appreciation of the proper moment for decision—his sense of timing and evaluation—in another sphere, one easily familiar to all.
August 5, 1956
Billy was making his first strong bid for driving honors back in 1951 (he finished second to Johnny Simpson that year) at Yonkers Raceway in New York. One of the track's patrol judges, an oldtime horseman named Whitney Bischoff, took an immediate liking to the newcomer and invited him home to dinner. At the dinner table in Chappaqua, New York, Haughton met 19-year-old Dorothy Bischoff. Says Dorothy, "I was sort of engaged to another boy at the time. He was very nice, but he didn't know anything about horses, and maybe that's why Daddy wasn't sure about him. Anyway, here was Billy, and before he left that night, we had a date for later in the week."
On that date—their first—Haughton made his decision. "I remember," Dorothy says, "that Billy was talking about leaving soon for Florida for winter training and I said I'd always wished I could go along on one of those trips. In a real quiet voice Billy said, 'You can,' and that was it. When he later asked my father if he could marry me, I was afraid for a minute that Daddy was going to cheer."
The Haughtons' one-week honeymoon in Bermuda was a busman's holiday. Every day they hired saddle horses and rode to the island's trotting track where they watched the races all afternoon. It was, incidentally, the only vacation they have had from Billy's job in the five years since. For a harness owner-trainer-driver's life is a full one, a 16-hour-a-day, 6-day-a-week job in season, and only slightly easier in winter.
Haughton is up before 7 o'clock every morning. From 8 till past noon, he trains his horses at the track, tedious painstaking work with trotters and pacers which calls for patient attention to shoeing, balance, pace and gait, in addition to general conditioning. Most of the afternoon is taken up with the office routine of running a large stable: arranging for shipment of horses to tracks around the country and their stakes payments so they can race; the billing for feed, shoeing and harness; consultations with vets about ailing horses; the payroll for a staff of 38 grooms and five assistant trainers, and dozens of other chores. If he's lucky, Haughton gets a quick late lunch and change of clothes at home before he reports back at the track at 7 o'clock to start warming up his entries in that evening's races. With a stable his size, he usually drives in at least four races at the track where he is temporarily based. That brings him home about midnight. And doesn't leave much time to spend with his family. "Weeks go by," says Dorothy, "without us having a meal at home. We don't see a movie or show for ages."
All this, however, is only part of Haughton's routine and that of men like Johnny Simpson, Joe O'Brien, Del Miller and other topflight harness trainer-drivers. Haughton's schedule for last week—a typical midseason week—is illuminating. Monday afternoon he raced at the Kent & Sussex Fair in Harrington, Delaware; immediately afterward he flew to Vernon Downs in upstate New York for stakes engagements that night. Tuesday afternoon he was back at Harrington, and that night he raced at Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island. Wednesday afternoon and night he raced at Harrington and Roosevelt again. Thursday night he was back at Vernon. Friday and Saturday he raced at Roosevelt.
Beginning this week the bulk of Haughton's horses will be based at Yonkers Raceway, from where he will fly to major stakes in Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky, among others, until the season ends in late November. This is in addition to a full schedule of racing at Yonkers itself.
One final facet of Haughton's work yields another clue to the man's personality. In all, those 98 trotters and pacers represent 40 different horse owners, and keeping that number of people happy and satisfied with the training and racing of their horses may well be the most important part of Billy's daily activities. He manages this so well that he is regularly offered more horses by new owners. More horses would, of course, mean more income for Haughton, but he is now at the limit of time and physical endurance. In terms of money, that limit is comfortable indeed. Haughton keeps the standard 10% of all purses won, which totals about $250,000 over the past five years. He also owns or shares ownership of some of those winning horses, which means he keeps far more than 10% of their earnings. For each horse in his stable, he charges $125 per month for training, the owner paying all other costs—grooming, feed, medicines, stakes payments and so on. Ninety horses bring in more than $11,000 a month. These two items—purses and fees—represent the major share of the Haughton income. Offsetting them is a stable payroll of a quarter of a million dollars a year.
Any reasonable estimate of Haughton's net income puts him in the $100,000-a-year-plus class with men like Ted Williams and President Eisenhower. But Billy, it should be noted, can continue to earn at this rate for another 25 years at least, whereas athletes in any field besides horse racing must find other employment when their playing days are over, usually before the age of 40.
Oldtime trotting horsemen still nod their heads in amazement at the racing schedules and the earnings of "youngsters" like Haughton. It is a far cry from the days—not more than 15 years ago—when a good average harness purse was $100. But more important, they still find it hard to believe that anyone can master the complexities of training, stable management and racing technique short of age 45.
Next Wednesday, Hambletonian day at Goshen, New York, marks one of the odd, blank entries in Haughton's record. Though he has won many of the sport's major stakes with such outstanding horses as Quick Chief, Belle Acton, Bachelor Hanover and Galophone, this prize of prizes in trotting has thus far eluded him. The closest he ever came was last year's tie for second with Galophone. He will not be driving one of his own horses this year, and even if he turns up with a "catch" drive it is doubtful that he will be able to challenge seriously the trio of favorites—Egyptian Princess, Saboteur and Darn Gay.
But 1957 will be different. In his stable today Haughton has the speediest trotting filly in many a year, unbeaten in eight starts as a 2-year-old this season—Charming Barbara. Short of a major disaster to the filly, next year will see Billy Haughton climax a remarkable racing career with a Hambletonian victory.