Once there was a black beauty of a trotter named Hoot Mon, and he was owned by a pretty young heiress. She was very happy when in 1947 Hoot Mon won The Hambletonian, first among American trotting races. But she was very, very unhappy—although she still possessed a charming house and an enchanting horse farm in the Kentucky Bluegrass—when Hoot Mon left Kentucky to sire other Hambletonian winners at The Hanover Shoe Farms in Pennsylvania. It was said that Hoot Mon was spirited away by leprechauns, or something, but however it happened Hoot Mon got away.
Well, now the lady, who is Mrs. Frederick Van Lennep, daughter of the auto-making millionaire John Dodge, and mistress of Castleton Farm, has a Hambletonian candidate who assuredly will not get away. He is Speedy Scot, a spanking big bay from the first crop of foals by the young Castleton stallion Speedster. As he trained smoothly last week on the venerable trotting track at Lexington, Ky., where the opening of a 25-night spring race meeting had attracted much fancy young horseflesh, he looked like a mighty good bet to gladden Kentuckians and dismay Pennsylvanians come Hambletonian day in late August.
To Kentucky loyalists that would be none too soon. Not since The Intruder did it in 1956 has a Kentucky-sired horse won The Hambletonian. In five of the six subsequent years the winner was the offspring of a Hanover Shoe stallion (two by Hoot Mon), and in Kentucky there is nothing a good trotting man loves to beat more than Hanover Shoe.
One can imagine, then, with what painstaking care the Castleton trainer, Ralph Baldwin, is preparing Speedy Scot for a race on which so much depends. Baldwin, 47, smallish and ruddy of complexion, is the quiet man of trotting. Off course, he is unobtrusive to the point of invisibility. At the tracks he lets his patient handiwork speak for itself—testimony that places him in the same league with such superior colt trainers as Johnny Simpson, Joe O'Brien and Frank Ervin.
As the son of a trainer, Baldwin took naturally to trotting in his native Saskatchewan, moving southward by way of North Dakota and Indiana to Kentucky and Castleton. During World War II he was an Army medic and among those who survived the lethal rain from German ordnance in the Battle of the Bulge. Afterward he served Indiana's Two Gaits Farm as trainer for a decade before signing on with Mrs. Van Lennep at Castleton four years ago.
It was Baldwin, in the Two Gaits days, who handed the strong Hambletonian favorite Diller Hanover to Ervin because he felt obligated personally to drive a tricky colt of sensitive mouth named Tie Silk. Diller Hanover won. Tie Silk was second. Baldwin has yet to win the prize horsemen seek above all others.
Baldwin had previously taken another second place in The Hambletonian with the filly Hoot Song, but had not come close with the trotter he considered his best before Speedy Scot—another filly, Nimble Colby. "If I had been as brave as she was," Baldwin says modestly, "she would have won. She beat the colts in all the other races, but she was never sound and I was afraid to train her."
No such worries plague him regarding Speedy Scot, a sound and stalwart horse. "He was the best 2-year-old I ever had by a long ways," says Baldwin. And one of the best anyone ever trained, trotting a faster racing mile (2:01 1/5) and earning more ($90,796) than any of his crop, while winning 14 of 19 races.
"At 2 Speedy Scot looked like a 3-year-old. When he was sharp he could leave from anywhere and beat the best of them. I am sure he could have trotted in two minutes, but I wasn't trying to break any records. I know Speedy Scot is a great horse. However, I have gotten over being confident in this business. He will have other great horses to beat."
One could make a case for a dozen others as possible winners at Du Quoin on the big day, not excluding Speedy Scot's stablemates, Kentucky Belle, a full sister to the unhappily short-lived champion, Merrie Annabelle, and Captain's Boy. Harry Pownall's Florlis, owned by E. R. Harriman, and George Sholty's Fred Walker were among Speedy Scot's stoutest rivals last year. Ervin has an outstandingly fast filly in Cheer Honey (fastest of all these at 2, with a timed, nonrace mile of 1:59 2/5). O'Brien has another in his "little and mean" Star Act. The Intruder not only was the last Kentucky-sired colt but also the last green 3-year-old to win The Hambletonian, but this year there are three eligibles of decided potential: Simpson's Donner Hanover, Del Miller's Harlan Del and Sanders (Preacher) Russell's A. C.'s Warrior, the last two full brothers to Hambletonian winners.
At this early writing, however, it looks like a lovely summer for Mrs. Van Lennep, Baldwin and Speedy Scot.