If that horse was a baseball player," said Del Miller, one of the most renowned drivers in harness racing, "he'd be the best cleanup man the Yankees ever had." The Yankees should be so lucky. Miller was standing at trackside in Lexington, Ky. and the horse that awed him was an all but unbeatable bay named Speedy Scot. The next day, by not letting any of the country's other top 3-year-olds get within a clip-clop of him, speedy Speedy took the $60,861 Kentucky Futurity in straight heats and won trotting's Triple Crown. In the process the big Castleton Farm colt broke the world record for a two-heat race with a combined clocking of 3:54 3/5, a performance that would have broken still more records had he himself not smashed them all the previous week doing a 1:56 4/5 mile in the Futurity Prep.
The news of Speedy Scot's remarkable performance in the Prep had been buried in the sports pages, even in Lexington. Consequently, fewer than 5,000 people were at the track Friday to see the Futurity and the horse that many acknowledge as the greatest trotter of his day. Not that the minuscule attendance is really surprising—the goings-on at Lexington are enormous news for harness racing buffs, but not many others give the meeting a glance.
Lexington's track stands ingloriously behind a stretch of cluttered highway, along which motorists are instructed to relax with Safeco Insurance, take time out with Tom's Peanuts, do their laundry in half an hour and get whisky by the drink at Clark's Tavern. Yet, it is the Saratoga of the Standardbreds. Rows of towering walnuts and elms shade the white wood barns. Sulkies stand ready by each shed row, and through the early-morning quiet comes the sound of blacksmiths at work in their tents. For years any trainer with a good horse has come to the fall meeting at Lexington hoping in the warm, still days of Indian summer to push his horse to a faster time on the wide, well-banked red clay track. One reason for the pushing is that faster times mean higher market prices. The other reason is prestige. Some 140 trotters and pacers hold records on mile tracks, and half of these marks were set at Lexington. The time trials begin in the late morning, and the small race crowd collects early to watch each Standardbred trying to trot or pace the best time of its life. The horse being tested has no actual competition to help it work up interest, but it is goaded on from behind by two old Thoroughbreds, each harnessed to a special kind of cart. The day is long but leisurely, and after the actual races, if there is one last time trial, the crowd waits to see it, too, as if reluctant to go home.
It was this quiet, untroubled world that Speedy Scot stood surveying from his front-row stall last week. He posed for a photographer and took a shocking nip at a pretty teen-ager's shocking-pink shorts. His caretaker, Wally Good, shadowboxed with him for a while, and then, left to his own devices, the coltish 3-year-old sank to his knees and rolled back and forth in the deep straw, striking out with his hooves at the stall's cement walls. It was obviously wonderful to be worth a million dollars and be a horse. And Speedy Scot is worth a million. Italian horsemen have been trying for months to buy Speedy from his owners, Frances and Fred Van Lennep. Ravenna's Gianni Gambi said last week that he "would give a million dollars for him now, but the horse has no price. It is impossible to buy him."
October 13, 1963
The Italians are not alone in their estimation of Speedy Scot's worth. Joe O'Brien, the trainer of Scott Frost, the only other trotter to win the Triple Crown—the Yonkers Futurity, Hambletonian and Kentucky Futurity—said, "Speedy Scot is certainly great. I don't think there's much doubt he'll win this race. In fact, I can see no reason in the world why he won't." Which is a lot to say about any horse race.
It was more revealing that another driver, Harry Pownall, felt the same way. His colt, Florlis, beat Speedy Scot in the first heat of The Hambletonian seven weeks ago—only to lose to him in the next two—but Pownall held slim hopes for the Futurity. "If Speedy Scot has all the bad racing luck and I have all the good, I might beat him," he said. Nobody else in the eight-horse field seemed to have any chance. On the morning of the race, young Eddie Wheeler, the trainer of one starter, Glidden Hanover, got into a betting pool on the Futurity while he was having his coffee in the track kitchen. He pulled a slip of paper out of a battered straw hat, opened it up and said with disgust, "Oh, I drew my own horse." So much for the opposition.
While the others talked about Speedy Scot, Ralph Baldwin, the gentle, quiet 47-year-old man who has trained and driven Speedy so well, remained, as usual, silent. "I have no strategy," he was finally badgered into saying.
Indeed, as things turned out, he needed none. Going off at 1 to 4 in the first heat (the whole mutuel pool totaled only $8,450), Baldwin shot him out of his sixth post position and had him in the lead by two lengths before the field had rounded the first turn. Florlis tucked in behind Speedy Scot and they passed the half mile in 58.4, maintaining their positions. On the far turn Glidden Hanover made a move, but quickly gave up. At the wire it was Speedy Scot by 2½ lengths. He finished in 1:57⅕ a Futurity record. Florlis was second.
This effort so impressed the track officials that they barred any betting on Speedy Scot in the second heat—a move that would have caused a riot at a metropolitan racetrack, but did not produce a ruffle at Lexington, where horses matter, not mutuels.
The second heat was almost a carbon copy of the first, except that Florlis did not let Baldwin get so far ahead at the first turn. But nothing was going to catch Speedy Scot, who won in 1:57 2/5. Again Florlis finished second.
Baldwin reined Speedy Scot into the winner's circle; horse and driver stood quietly when a chorus line of Kentucky schoolgirls, outfitted in blue and white and red, marched up and surrounded them. Governor Bert Combs offered his congratulations, and the Van Lenneps accepted their trophies. Newsmen and photographers flooded around, and a blanket of yellow mums was draped over Speedy. Baldwin was asked to say a few words over the public-address system. He risked 10: "I am happy to be here at the present time." The crowd chuckled and applauded. Speedy Scot pricked up his ears and stuck out his tongue at the governor. He sticks out his tongue a lot, even when he races, so the governor did not mind.
After the ceremony Baldwin walked down the track in the bright sunlight. He watched Speedy Scot being led off to the barn, then turned to a friend and said, "If I got a horse like that beaten, it would be my fault." He had said that before, but again Speedy had not been beaten, and again Ralph Baldwin could relax. A woman came up to ask for a mum for her scrapbook. "You can have a whole bouquet," he said.