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Fair Time at an Old Coal Mine
Robert Hackett
August 26, 1963
When summer's humid air settles over southern Illinois, owing residents head for the Du Quoin fairgrounds,1,500 acres of bluegrass and green trees located on the what was once the Black Gold Mine. There next week harness horses will work out in the cool dawn, frisky farm animals will compete for hundreds of multicolored ribbons, the midway's cheesecake will vie for attention with grandma's devil's food and 35,000 will cheer their favor-ties at the greatest trotting race of all: The Hambletonian.
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August 26, 1963

Fair Time At An Old Coal Mine

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When summer's humid air settles over southern Illinois, owing residents head for the Du Quoin fairgrounds,1,500 acres of bluegrass and green trees located on the what was once the Black Gold Mine. There next week harness horses will work out in the cool dawn, frisky farm animals will compete for hundreds of multicolored ribbons, the midway's cheesecake will vie for attention with grandma's devil's food and 35,000 will cheer their favor-ties at the greatest trotting race of all: The Hambletonian.

A Colt and a Driver Worthy of the Bi? Prize

The Hambletonian is raced over one of the most beautiful and best cared-for tracks in the world. Set in lush and wooded country that rolls to the horizon, the track wears its infield lake in silvery splendor against the rich brown of the course and the reds and yellows of neat flowerbeds. It is a fitting backdrop for champions, and this year it serves as a colorful showcase for one of the finest trotters in a decade, Speedy Scot.

Good trotters, skipping lightly and in crisp cadence over the ground, are nearly always distinguished for their grace. Speedy is one of the exceptions. His dominant characteristic is power. When he barrels along a course he is less like a ballerina mincing across a stage than a diesel engine thundering along a steel track. True, his style is classic—the head is still and straight, the broad chest immobile and with the hindquarters delivering thrust to reaching and pumping legs.

But the overwhelming impression is one of strength, not elegance, in motion. Perhaps adding to the inelegance is a habit Speedy has of trotting with his mouth open and his tongue hanging out, way out. This is not only odd but dangerous. Horses have bitten their tongues accidentally during races. But Speedy's trainer and driver, Ralph Baldwin, says, "I could tie his tongue down, of course. We do that often. But his tongue doesn't seem to bother him, and you hate to change things with a colt as good as this one."

It is said often of a trotter that he will win a particular race if he does not break stride and thus lose ground to the rest of the field, or that he will win if he is not forced by bad luck to circle his opposition and stay outside all the way to find racing room. Speedy Scot is the clear favorite in next week's Hambletonian precisely because the record shows that neither of these conditions applies to him.

In two of his most recent races, against the best in his class, he had breaks and bad luck. Speedy broke stride directly after the start of the Historic-Dickerson Cup at Goshen last month. He did the same thing at the Yonkers Futurity last week. As Baldwin fought with the reins to bring Speedy back on gait, the horse lost some dozen lengths to both fields. (Since there was no apparent reason for either break, one is tempted to speculate that the colt enjoys giving his opposition an early advantage.) With Speedy trotting again, Baldwin was in no position to catch up on the inside, from where he would have to thread his way through the field. He took Speedy outside and stayed there, thereby trotting considerably farther than those on or closer to the rail. Speedy relentlessly overcame his handicap with each long, powerful stride. He moved ahead and then easily held off all challenges.

It is also significant that both the Dickerson and the Futurity were raced on half-mile tracks with tight turns and short straightaways, conditions that hamper a come-from-behind effort. At Du Quoin, the wide, sweeping turns and long stretches of a mile oval cannot fail to benefit the racing style of Speedy Scot. He should win, and he is a reasonable bet to set a new Hambletonian speed record in the process.

For Trainer Baldwin, Speedy's preeminence seems simple justice. Baldwin is as widely admired among trotting horsemen as any man could hope to be in an occupation so highly competitive. Not only his skill but a gentleness of manner and character have earned him a reputation as the sport's quiet man (SI, May 20). He has never driven a Hambletonian winner, and the circumstances of his closest approach to victory give a good picture of the man. In the 1959 race Baldwin had two colts with excellent prospects, Tie Silk and Diller Hanover. Silk was erratic and hard to handle. Diller was well-mannered. Baldwin kept the problem horse for himself and gave Diller to his friend Frank Ervin to drive. Ervin and Diller won, and Baldwin and Silk were second.

It seems almost too pat to be true, but the only driver conceded a real chance to beat Ralph Baldwin this year is Frank Ervin. Ervin's entry is the filly, Cheer Honey, rugged for her sex and with a superb flight of speed. Her only apparent flaw seems to be an eagerness to step out too early in a race. In order of merit, the other contenders include Glidden Hanover, Florlis, B. F. Coaltown and Fred Walker.

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