The horse to your right is known as The Diller, although actually he is registered as Diller Hanover. The horsemen say he is a killer, this Diller, and that next Wednesday afternoon on the fast mile track at Du Quoin, Illinois, he will trot off with the 34th Hambletonian, leaving behind him a struggling line of 3-year-olds. Then real fame, they say, will come to The Diller along with the almighty dollar. And so, perhaps, it shall be.
Two years ago he was standing in the sales ring at Harrisburg, Pa., just another bay colt with good breeding His father was Star's Pride, who as a 5-year-old had trotted to a 1:57[1/5] mile over the same Du Quoin track. His mother was a mare named Dream Hanover, who at the age of 21 had died a disappointment. She had 12 foals in her lifetime, and The Diller was her last.
As Diller came to the ring he caught the eyes of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Hall, a retired couple from Watertown, New York. Mrs. Hall bought him for $6,300, and last year he became the third leading money-winning 2-year-old trotter ever, with earnings of $87,332. The Halls were not, however, primarily interested in money. Like many elderly people they had a very special dream: a dream that they would have a starter in a Hambletonian.
In October last year The Diller's 43-year-old trainer and driver, Ralph Baldwin, decided to unwind him and plan for the 1959 Hambletonian. The Halls agreed. Baldwin took The Diller to Orlando this past winter, rested him and this spring, slowly, meticulously, started to wind him up again. He was jogged in early spring but kept from the races, and Baldwin watched over and cared for him as if he were a precious, bright orchid.
On June 30, with but a bit over two months left to prepare for the Hambletonian, Baldwin brought The Diller back to the races. He won four straight dashes at Saratoga Raceway, beating older horses in the first two of them and then beating Hambletonian eligibles in the other two. He was shipped to Yonkers for the $56,397 Yonkers Futurity, and, after being parked on the outside for the entire mile, lost by half a length to John A. Hanover. The Diller moved on to Sportsman's Park in Chicago and was beaten again, this time by the 4-year-old Hardy Royal. Baldwin was not discouraged. The Diller came back a week later and, after spotting his field 10 lengths, sailed through the stretch to win by a nose.
PASSES IN REVIEW
Then this past Thursday, he convinced knowledgeable horsemen that not for many years has a Hambletonian candidate stood out over his opponents as The Diller does. In the two-heat $18,642 Review Futurity he went on a mile track for the first time this year. He took on 14 other starters, 11 of them Hambletonian candidates, including John A. Hanover. After being shuffled back to sixth at the half-mile in the first heat, he looped his field and coasted to the wire a two-length winner in 2:01 3/5. In the second heat he was again back in the pack but brushed past horses to win by three lengths in 2:01. Twice he demonstrated that the early speed of John A. Hanover was not as serviceable on a mile track as it had been on the tight turns of Yonkers' half-miler. Twice he demonstrated that he was just reaching his mountain while his opponents, who had raced hard and often in the spring, seemed to be moving back down into the valleys.
This year's Hambletonian will probably be the richest in history, and if a field of 20 go as expected it will be the richest harness race of all time, with a gross purse of $133,000. (The Hambletonian, however, has always been a money race. The first one, held at Syracuse in 1926, grossed $73,451; the Kentucky Derby that same year was worth only $60,075.) Aside from the money, however, the thing that makes the Hambletonian important is its attendant prestige. Nearly every important person connected with owning, breeding, training or driving goes to the Hambletonian. Although it is antedated by five major 3-year-old trotting events, none has a roll of winners like the Hambletonian: Greyhound, Bill Gallon, Hoot Mon, Demon Hanover, Hickory Smoke, Scott Frost. The Hambletonian has led a transitory life, to say the least. For the first four years it was shuttled between Syracuse and Lexington. Then for 26 years it settled in the bucolic community of Goshen, and once, during World War II, was held at Empire City. For the last two years it has been held at Du Quoin (see page 18).
So far as Ralph Baldwin and The Diller are concerned, there are really only two problems. The first is the draw for post position, but if Diller gets close to the pole he should have little trouble. The second would be an injury, but with the care that Baldwin has exerted for the past few weeks this seems unlikely.
John A. Hanover, quite naturally, will try to get to the front and steal the race. His driver, Stanley Dancer, is a real professional at this trick. Billy Haughton, who has yet to decide between Circo and Hickory Pride, will probably drive Circo because of his two seconds behind The Diller last Thursday in The Review. Rodney Pick, the "house horse" of Don and Gene Hayes, who run the Du Quoin Fair, will be the favorite son of Illinois, but he doesn't seem capable of taking Diller or Circo.
The rest of the field will probably consist of Lord Chutney, Newport Dillon, Spike Hanover (a full brother to the 1948 winner, Demon Hanover), Tartan Hanover, The Lodger, The Prince and Flight Song. Other possible starters are Tie Silk, Anvil Chorus, Rose Queen, Lady Belvedere and Solid Choice. Both Rose Queen and Lady Belvedere are fillies. Lady Belvedere gave Driver Del Miller encouragement when she won a mile race at Springfield last week in 2:03 3/5.
But any horse that beats The Diller next Wednesday will be a pretty tired horse, and an awfully good one as well.