- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Fireworks streaked the sky above, and notables glittered below as they munched artichauts Jamin last Saturday evening in Roosevelt Raceway's Cloud Casino restaurant. The occasion for this razzle-dazzle was Roosevelt's $50,000 sixth International trotting race. Unfortunately, the evening dazzled only to deceive. There was no race. Rather, there was a contemptuously easy victory for Speedy Scot, the 1963 Triple Crown champion and undisputed king of American harness racing. Speedy Scot impudently stuck out his tongue, as is his habit, and coasted home in the mile-and-a-quarter International two and a half lengths ahead of the other U.S. entry, the gallant 10-year-old gelding Su Mac Lad. The foreign horses were left in disarray. Pickwick of West Germany finished third, six lengths back of the winner. Four of the six foreign entries broke stride.
The event emphasized a trend that has become all too familiar: since the first International, with its victory for the artichoke-nibbling French super-horse, Jamin, and the second, in which The Netherlands' Hairos II was the winner, Europe has slipped and America has taken over. So decidedly, in fact, that there seems to be small reason for even one international trotting race in the United States, let alone several—Roosevelt's and the rival events at nearby Yonkers Raceway.
Among them, Saturday's invaders had won 30 of Europe's better races this year. The French were represented by the 8-year-old gelding Martini II, a fast-closing second last year to the winner, Su Mac Lad. He is a burly, tough gelding who has spent much of his time at provincial tracks in France. Martini II was favored among the European horses principally because the shrewd little Hoosier driver, George Sholty, was behind him. Another French entry was Papyrus, a high-gaited 5-year-old gelding up from claiming races. A third French entry, Ozo, was the tall, temperamental mare who in 1963 won Yonkers' Transoceanic Trot (to which American-owned horses are not admitted) and the Prix d'Am�rique, Europe's foremost race. It is a measure of Europe's slide that Ozo, despite 12 starts and no wins this season, is still considered the best European trotter.
Sweden was represented by a 6-year-old mare, Otkha, and Italy by New Hat, a 7-year-old gelding already racing in the U.S. New Hat was reluctantly chosen for Italy after Roosevelt scouts reported that the 12 best free-for-allers in Italy were expatriate American horses and the 13th best, an Italian, had no chance at all.
But if the truth were told, all the invaders were French-bred. And a knowing insider might add, "not really all French, either." As Olle Gabrielson, one of Roosevelt's bird dogs in Europe, says, "We like to use an American motor in a French body." Since 1937 American breeding stock has been outlawed in France, so Gallic horsemen have been operating an underground of American horses. Nameless American stallions have been slipped over the borders from Germany and Belgium, and these incognito animals, picked for their speed, have helped the French maintain their supremacy in European trotting. When asked about this, the France-based horseman Jonel Chyriacos laughed and said, "Of course it's true. Everybody knows we have cheated, but the government, they will not change the rule. Horses with crossed blood are best. It is like young nations. They are better than old ones. Look at America."
Chyriacos shrugged his shoulders and continued. "Our stud book is worth absolutely nothing. But remember the war. We had Russian, German, Polish, English, American soldiers in France. Today we have tall blond men. They are Frenchmen. You can be sure about a mother, but a father—well, you never know."
One European horseman recalls hearing the seller of a horse shout at a reluctant customer, "I will swear on my mother's head that this breeding is false." The trouble at Roosevelt was that the breeding wasn't false enough. For the first three-quarters of a mile Stanley Dancer set the pace with Su Mac Lad. Ralph Baldwin kept Speedy Scot right behind him. Going into the clubhouse turn the second time around, Baldwin pulled the strong bay colt outside, and in a flash he was past old Su Mac and in the lead. Behind the two Americans the field was disheveled, with horses making or recovering from breaks all over the track. On the final turn Su Mac had his nose against the back of Driver Ralph Baldwin's neck and he looked as if he might be a menace, but Baldwin's Kentucky colt was too good. When Dancer knew he could not get to the winner, he glanced back. "There was no one around," he said afterward in the paddock.
Of Speedy Scot, Baldwin said. "He's a great horse. He's been a great horse since we first started doing anything with him back when he was 2. When you pull out to go around anyone, he feels like a locomotive."
Baldwin does not himself believe in international racing—although when there is an easy $25,000 to be plucked, as on Saturday evening, he does not disdain it. He will not, however, enter Speedy Scot in the classic European races this winter.
Baldwin does intend to send Speedy Scot after Greyhound's absolute record of 1:55� for the mile. Last fall on the red clay track in Lexington, Speedy Scot raced in 1:56[4/5]. On October 9, if the weather is clear and the afternoon warm, Ralph Baldwin plans to take Speedy out on the same mile oval to try to beat Greyhound's 26-year-old mark. After Saturday's performance that record looks vulnerable.