Next to the thoroughbred set, the harness horse folks are an unpretentious bunch. Oh, sure, they have their triple crown, but so far no one has got around to capitalizing the t and the c. Shucks, the Hambletonian is a nice little race, Wilbur, but like the pie contest and the cattle judging, it's still only a piece of the DuQuoin State Fair. And so last Friday night they matched three truly superhorses in the second leg of their trotting triple crown, the $93,097.50 Yonkers Futurity, and it was a nice little Fifth Race. They didn't even roll a small drum. With an equivalent Triple Crown field, Belmont would have fired rockets. At the Goodyear blimp.
But then, to get the equivalent, Belmont would have needed, say, a Citation, a Native Dancer and a Regret. Check this lineup that went to the post at Yonkers:
Super Bowl, winner of 32 races including the Hambletonian in world-record time for a mile track, of $459,492 and just syndicated for $1 million.
Songcan, winner of 19 and $223,970. A couple of weeks ago the Nevele Acres-Don Hy Stables colt set the world record for a half-mile track.
And Delmonica Hanover, winner of 30 races and $242,743 and unofficially the fastest trotting filly or mare ever. But in harness racing you must win before you can pick up a record. Delmonica Hanover was unfortunate enough to go under the old records while finishing second to Super Bowl in the Hambletonian. That day her combined time in the two heats was three seconds under the established record for trotters of her sex.
"About what?" yawned Stanley Dancer five minutes before climbing into Super Bowl's sulky. Then the slender little multimillionaire grinned and held out his gloves. They were split on both thumbs and a couple of fingers. "I guess I better have Rachel check our budget to see if I can afford a new pair," he said. Two years ago Dancer bought Super Bowl for his wife Rachel and for Mrs. Hilda Silverstein. For $20,000. "Pretty fair return," Dancer chirped.
Across the narrow dirt ramp leading from the paddock to the Yonkers track Del Miller, in his usual blasé manner, was eating small cubes of chocolate candy and mumbling about the weather. He was driving Delmonica Hanover, but he wasn't giving his filly much of a chance. "We'll go for a ride," he said idly. "Those other two horses are just too good."
A little while before, Miller and George Sholty, the driver of Songcan, had flown in from Lexington, where they had been racing stock. But on the way their Learjet had stopped in North Philadelphia. "We were dropping off a friend," said Miller. "When we got over the airport, there was a blimp drifting around, and the tower told us we had to wait until they got the thing moored. We just kept circling. And when we finally got here the fog was thick. It was a hairy landing."
Also, a late landing. Sholty missed a drive in the third race. "I got to the paddock just as the race went off," he growled. Finally, with Dancer's gloves unmended, Miller's chocolate gone and Sholty still upset over the elements, they got around to the Futurity. In the clubhouse Ben Slutsky, one of the owners of Nevele Acres, warmed up for the classic by booking an unknown German singer into the Nevele Hotel in Ellenville, N.Y. "Her name is Hannelore Gray and she's a 'decadent' cabaret singer," said Joey Goldstein, one of Miss Gray's agents. "She'll soon be on her way from Munich." "Great," said Slutsky. "Let me know when she gets here and we'll throw out whoever's in the nightclub."
Down on the track the horses were following the mobile starting gate. Sholty was having problems getting Songcan into a trot. Then, going to the first turn, the colt began banging his legs together and almost fell. "I thought I had lost him," Sholty said later. But Songcan recovered and quickly moved past Delmonica Hanover into the lead with Super Bowl, from far outside, taking second.
"I was three wide for an awfully long time," Dancer recalled later. "For a moment I thought about ducking back and putting him in third on the rail. But I decided, 'Heck, let's go.' It's a mind thing. There aren't any guarantees you are right."
Turned loose, Super Bowl flowed flawlessly into the lead and turned the first quarter in a speedy 29[2/5]. Then Dancer said, "Whoa," and they crawled the next two quarters in 31[3/5] and 31[4/5] with Songcan socked in second and Delmonica Hanover having an easy trip in third place.
Just before the three-quarter pole Sholty made his move, swinging wide to try to overhaul Super Bowl. When Dancer lifted his horse to a 29[1/5] pace for the last quarter Songcan hung on the outside and died. Super Bowl breezed home in 2:02 with Delmonica Hanover a length back and a length and a half ahead of Songcan.
The victory was Super Bowl's fifth over Songcan in eight starts this season, and as Sholty had said, "You have to figure if he has done it five times, he can do it again." At least this time Ben Slutsky didn't lose a trophy by the toss of a coin. After each of Songcan's victories he has flipped for the silver with Trainer Don Prussack, who owns the other half of the horse. They have tossed for trophies nine times, and Slutsky hasn't won yet.
Three weeks ago at Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, while winning with Super Bowl, Dancer drove the same kind of race—slowing the pace for one quarter—and drew a three-day suspension. He is appealing the ruling. "They said I didn't maintain a pace 'comparable to the class in which we were racing,' " he said. "Heck, I won the race and didn't do anything wrong. I didn't interfere with anyone. I did what I'm paid to do: drive horses. It's an unfair rule. I don't feel anybody should tell us how to drive. That's what we get paid for. They called me up and asked if I wanted to start my suspension on Sunday without a hearing. I said. 'Hell, no. I want a trial.' Look at the race tonight. I won because I drove the same way. I was wide a long time early and I didn't know how much I used the horse. My tank could have run out of gas at any time. Whenever you pop another horse out of the hole and force him to race on the outside, you are using him up and doing your job. We are supposed to win, aren't we? Legally, I mean."
Meanwhile, Mrs. Dancer was having problems of her own. After a shopping spree in Yonkers she and two of their children—Stanley, 13, and Shalle, 7—went to the track for the race. At the paddock entrance she was told that she could come in but not the children. "You've got to be kidding," said Mrs. Dancer. "I've been taking our children in and out of paddocks for 22 years."
She was told that the children of another horseman had recently caused such a commotion in the paddock that Ed French, the track steward, had banned all children. A guard called French and asked if Mrs. Dancer could be allowed in with her son and daughter just to watch the Futurity. French said no. She watched the race through a wire fence in the parking lot. "I was cross-eyed," she said. "I could only see two turns. I don't think two minutes to watch one race would have mattered." When told what happened, Dancer said, "I'm just glad she didn't get mugged out there. In New York you never know."
"This place is getting ridiculous," Miller fumed. "They are taking all semblance of sport out of it. You'd think that when a guy pays $2,000 to start his horse, his wife would certainly be able to see the race."
In the paddock Sholty's fortunes were continuing to run at low ebb. Disgusted by finishing third in the Futurity, the horseman went into the locker room and changed into street clothes. He had forgotten he still had drives in the seventh and ninth races. Reminded, he rushed back into his silks just in time to finish a poor fifth in the seventh.
"That's it," groaned Sholty. "I'm taking myself off the horse in the ninth. This just isn't my night. I'm going home." It wasn't and he did.