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This is the era of the superhorse in American harness racing. The top trotters and pacers have so much class that Triple Crown winners are becoming commonplace, and tracks where these horses perform are in dread of large minus pools. New York's Yonkers Raceway, for example, has parted with almost $40,000 in minus pool money within the month (page 10). Some $28,000 of that deficit is due to a wonderfully swift and consistent 3-year-old trotter named Noble Victory, the top animal act at the Du Quoin State Fair (page 24) and a cinch, it says here, to win next Wednesday's Hambletonian. Du Quoin's President Don Hayes offers no betting and thus risks no minus pool.
Between 1956 and 1962 there were a number of outstanding trotters, but none was able to carry off the Triple Crown. Then in 1963 Speedy Scot did it, and last year Ayres did it. Noble Victory, undefeated and the winner of 26 mile dashes (he lost one heat of a race last year at Du Quoin but ultimately won the race), has already taken the first leg of the Crown, the Yonkers Futurity, and it will take an act of God to beat him in the remaining events, The Hambletonian and the Kentucky Futurity.
Few horses are so nobly bred. Sired at the Kentucky Bluegrass showplace, Castleton Farm, by Victory Song, himself a heat winner in the 1946 Hambletonian, Noble Victory is out of the 1958 winner, Emily's Pride. He is that elegant filly's first foal to be raced, and Trainer-Driver Stanley Dancer is beginning to wonder just how fast he is—the colt has never really been extended.
Owner Kenneth D. Owen is curious, too. A Texas geologist by way of New Harmony, Ind., Owen has had some outstanding horseflesh, but he has never owned a Hambletonian winner nor has the shrewd, affluent Dancer. When Owen paid $33,000 for Noble Victory as a yearling two years ago he was buying Kentucky bloodlines that have produced eight Hambletonian victories and the foundation stock for many of the leading breeding farms. Victory Song brought $37,000 as a yearling in 1944, topping that year's sales. Castleton sent him out to defeat the best trotters of his day. He raced his fastest mile at Springfield, III. in the exceptional time of 1:57[3/5]. Out of Evensong, the greatest speed-producing broodmare in trotting, Victory Song sired many champions, including the current 4-year-old leader, Dartmouth.
In the year Castleton bought Victory Song, a filly named Emily Scott won the Coaching Club Trotting Oaks in Lexington, Ky. in straight heats for C. W. Phellis. An expert judge of trotting's first families, Phellis bred her to Star's Pride, who was a world champion, and along came Emily's Pride.
From the way old Em's son has been bullying the other 3-year-olds this year it looks as though he doesn't know how to lose. Take the Review Futurity at Springfield the other day—the classic warmup for Du Quoin. On an off track Noble Victory equaled the season's record for his age and gait in the first heat (2:00[3/5]) and then shattered the record with a 1:59[3/5] clocking. Dancer won both dashes as he pleased.
The opposition will not be as meek in The Hambletonian, where drivers traditionally race like charioteers. The best of the dozen or so trotters taking on Noble Victory is a filly of equally patrician class. She is the Canadian-owned Armbro Flight, and she is also out of a Hambletonian winner—Helicopter. Her sire is the ubiquitous Star's Pride.
Armbro Flight has won her last 21 starts, racing mostly against other fillies. Trainer-Driver Joe O'Brien has a pattern for bringing her up to the Hambletonian in murderous form (SI, July 19), and it seems to be evolving perfectly. "Noble Victory can't make any mistakes and beat that filly," says Horseman Delvin Miller. "But then, he doesn't make any mistakes."