Nevele Pride was still several hours away from winning last Thursday's $150,000 Yonkers Futurity Trot—you never thought he wouldn't, did you?—and Sanders Russell, the 68-year-old veteran who would drive Dart Hanover to third place, was saying how it would be nice to take home all that money. "You mean the $82,500 for first place?" someone asked. "Not talking about that," he said. "Talking about the $30,000 for second place. With Pride in there, well, you kind of figure, barring something freaky, you're just racing for second place. You know along about the quarter pole he'll come ambling past you. About all you can do is wave and then go back to worrying about beating those other fellows."
Isn't that the supreme frustration, racing for nothing better than being second best? Del Miller shrugged. He owns, drives and trains Keystone Spartan (who would finish fifth), and he is a man who could sketch Nevele Pride's rump from memory. "When you race against him that's about all that's left," Miller said cheerfully. "Of course, in the big money races second isn't all that bad." Then he winked. "But I got another horse, Larengo Hanover, and he's the best of my 3-year-olds. He's coming up to The Hambletonian [Aug. 25] real good."
Ho, ho, then; at last a horse with a chance.
"Yeah, a real good chance," said Miller. "For second place."
The call came for the Futurity horses to go through their first warmup miles, and Andy Murphy, the groom, attached a hand to Nevele Pride's bridle and began leading the Nevele Acres-Louis Resnick wonder colt from the paddock stall. Nevele Pride responded by trying to stomp on Murphy's left foot. "Stop that, damn you," Murphy roared. "It's too hot to fool around." The horse appeared to grin, evilly. Behind them, at the reins, came Stanley Dancer, and he was laughing. "Keep your hand out of his mouth, Andy," another groom yelled. "You know he ain't suppose to eat before a race."
Out on the track, Dancer climbed into the sulky and, whistling, set off at a leisurely pace. Murphy frowned as he watched them go. The 43-year-old groom has become a worrier of late. "Hell," said Murphy, "he looks awful. He's not warming up good at all. He didn't warm up very good his last race, either. Look at that! He almost broke right there. Stanley had to yell at him."
(In his last race, the Su Mac Lad at Yonkers on Aug. 1, Nevele Pride romped home in an effortless 2:04, running his 3-year-old streak to nine straight and giving him 17-straight overall.)
In a few minutes the horses came in, and Murphy led Nevele Pride back into the paddock. "He warmed up real good," said Dancer.
"Nobody can say their horses didn't thaw out in this heat," said Sanders Russell. "It's not that good hot Hambletonian sun, but it's that good Manhattan humidity."
A small group of New York City newsmen had cornered Dancer, and one began questioning the good sense of racing the supercolt at Yonkers. A coughing virus had struck about 10 days earlier, and 11 of the 26 horses Dancer stables at the track were infected. As a result, Nevele Pride had been trucked in from Stanley's New Jersey farm just a few hours before the race. (He was flown to Springfield, Ill. the following night.)
"What would you have me do?" Dancer asked mildly.
"Well," said the newsman, "scratch him."
For a moment Dancer stared at him.
"Scratch him?" Then he laughed. "Shoot, this race is worth more than The Hambletonian."
"Yeah, but...." said the newsman.
"I'll never forget something Del Miller said a long time ago," Dancer interrupted. "He said, they don't win no money in a glass cage. Heck, you can't run scared. Look at the political assassinations we've had the last six or seven years. What do you want everybody to do, stop running for President?"
The newsman said he didn't think they should stop running for President.
Out in the area in front of the clubhouse, people with money in their hands were staring at the program and wondering where they had to go to get a little action. The Futurity was a nonbetting race—the seventh time in his last 10 races that Nevele Pride has been closed out at the mutuel windows—and some of the betting fraternity were restless.
"What kind of garbage is this?" asked Joe Costino, a round little man from West Nyack, N.Y. "So who cares about the short price? I just feel for people who want to bet horses."
"Aw, who needs him at that price?" said Larry Bauman of Yonkers. "I got a rule: you don't get the price, you don't bet. Right?"
"I wanted to bet, but the other way," said Bill Cudnyj of Paterson, N.J. "I don't care if he has a motor in him. At those odds I bet the other horses."
Upstairs in the dining room, less concerned about betting but just as unsettled, part of the Slutsky family sat over coffee. The Slutskys own Nevele Acres.
"My heart's pounding so bad I can't stand it," said Mrs. Julius Slutsky.
"Here, have a cigarette," said her husband. "Mama, have something."
"Have a glass of water, Mom," said her son Jeffrey who, with his wife Lynn, had lost the draw of short straws and would be dispatched to the winner's circle to pick up the silver hardware. The Slutskys consider getting out of going to the winner's circle almost as much of a victory as the winning of a race.
At last the race was on. Starting from the outside post (No. 6), Nevele Pride was unable to take the lead at the onset, and Dancer pulled him back next-to-last going into the first turn to avoid the traffic jam. "Russell took off, and Del Cameron [with Fashion Hill] took off, and I sure didn't want to be third or fourth into that first turn," Dancer said later.
Coming out of the turn, Nevele Pride swung three wide, streaked into the lead and, yes, Sanders Russell did appear to wave goodby. For the others, after that, it was business as usual: battling it out for second place. Dancer and Nevele Pride came under the wire in 2:03 3/5, a length and a half in front of Fashion Hill, and looking as though they might be heading for a Sunday trot around Central Park.
"Where were you?" Dancer asked Dei Miller later.
"Me?" said Miller, "I was the guy you just nosed out at the wire. Ah, by the way, how much do you get for fifth place?"
Dancer grinned. "After that first turn I kept waiting for you to go so I could chase you. Finally I gave up waiting and chirped him."
"Well, I tried," said Miller. "But when I stepped down on the accelerator nothing happened."
And so ended Nevele Pride's first step in the direction of trotting's Triple Crown. Next week there's a final tune up at Springfield; then Du Quoin, Ill. and The Hambletonian Last step is the Kentucky Futurity in October.
"Well, we got that over with," said John Wood, Nevele Pride's 72-year-old night watchman. "Wasn't much to watch, was it? Golly damn, but doesn't that bugger just seem to play with them?"
Golly damn, John; that's just what that bugger does.