Veteran horsemen like to wait for the result of the Review Futurity in Springfield, Ill. each year before trying to figure out who will win The Hambletonian. For most of the eligible trotters the Review is the first event of the year offering two important conditions that will be met later at Du Quoin: racing in daylight and racing at least two heats before the winner is determined. Nearly all trotters spend the first half of the season, before the Review, competing in single-dash events at the night pari-mutuel tracks.
Even more importantly, the Review is contested on a mile track, and this year, as is often the case, not a single one of the top eligibles had gone a competitive mile around two turns. Nearly always, racing on a mile track "moves a horse up," that is, he will trot faster because of the longer straight a ways and the absence of two turns. But the mile track helps some horses more than others; a long-striding horse, for example, will usually show more improvement than one with a shorter stride.
For all of these reasons last week's race at Springfield provided significant information about this year's crop of 3-year-olds. Unfortunately the information was not complete, because the owners of Polaris, currently the Hambletonian favorite, decided to skip the race. In addition Billy Haughton took his Carlisle to the county fair races at Carlisle, Pa. instead of to Illinois. Billy had his trotter racing beautifully in the Yonkers Futurity (SI, Aug. 22) before the colt threw a shoe and went into a pace in the stretch. Carlisle has been erratic all year, making breaks apparently without cause, but there is no question that his speed matches the best in the field. He won his race in two straight heats in Pennsylvania last week, and after it Haughton, normally as reticent as most horsemen, said, "I've got a helluva colt here. He's much faster than that other one [Polaris], and if he doesn't break stride he should win The Hambletonian."
At Springfield there were seven Hambletonian eligibles, but the class trotters were Joe O'Brien's Governor Armbro and Frank Ervin's Kerry Way. The morning of the race O'Brien seemed pleased with the progress of his colt, while Ervin was grimly determined to "dig into" Kerry Way, to "win a horse race" and get every possible benefit from it. "She needs work, and she is going to get it," he said. Kerry Way had yet to race to her great form that produced a record $116,549 and the 2-year-old championship of 1965. So far this year the Gainesway Farm filly from Lexington, Ky., had won only one of five starts; Governor Armbro, the second best 2-year-old trotter of 1965, had not made the winner's circle at all.
With Springfield's fast mile track in ideal condition and the weather hot, as it is most likely to be at Du Quoin, Ervin set about his task from the precise moment the starter yelled "go." Kerry Way was off and winging, and she was never headed in the first heat as she trotted away from her competition to win by four lengths in 2:00[1/5]. Ervin muttered his disappointment about "that lousy extra tick" of the clock, but he left the track wreathed in smiles. He had also studied his watch, which showed a final half of: 58[4/5], fast enough to win many Hambletonians. Governor Armbro got up for second, followed by the consistent Sure Mix and Speed.
Kerry Way's second and final trip was even more impressive. She showed on top by eight lengths at the end of a 2:00[4/5] mile, and this time the final half was in: 59, equally respectable because she did it alone. Governor Armbro, who made a break going into the final turn, was a distant sixth.
Ervin was obviously delighted with the outcome, as well he might have been. There is no doubt that his mare will be tight come Du Quoin and, even though she was beaten earlier by Polaris, she will probably wind up a slight favorite. O'Brien's attitude was one of "back to the old drawing board" as he began trying to get Governor Armbro on the beam in the brief time remaining.
Starters in the Review who raced well enough to earn tickets to Du Quoin include Careless Vlado, Sure Mix, Mantle Hanover and Speed. Of the nonstarters the standout, of course, is Polaris, who has been the improving horse recently with five important wins in his last seven starts. His driver, George Sholty, would like nothing better than to capture his first Hambletonian. The same is true of Haughton, who has won more than 2,600 races—more than anyone in the sport—but never the top prize. Billy "hung a ton of weight" recently on Carlisle's front feet to keep the colt from breaking, and it seems to have worked.
So The Hambletonian looks like a much better horse race than it did earlier, and it may even be an excellent one. Polaris and Kerry Way will be the ones to catch, with Carlisle and Governor Armbro the most likely to do it. Bonus Boy was out and jogging this week, but it would seem that only a miracle could return him to his brilliant form in time. Other possible starters include All American, Egyptian Song, Minisink Hanover and Stanley Dancer's late developer, Our Rainbow. And then there is the story from Europe that the American-bred, Swedish-owned Shatter Way is on his way here. Hambletonian impresarios Don and Bill Hayes have no official word as yet, but this richly-bred youngster (Stars Pride-Lady Gainesway) recently became the fastest American-bred 3-year-old ever to race in Europe when he beat aged trotters in 2:04[3/5]. His appearance is an interesting prospect.
Racing form is a constantly changing thing, but the momentum going into The Hambletonian would now seem to be with Kerry Way. There are no better trainers or drivers than Ervin, and Frank's is a hot stable that boasts the likes of pacer Bret Hanover. Winning can be contagious, and Kerry Way obviously relished her role at Springfield. She is the best bet to beat the boys since Emily's Pride last turned the trick eight years ago.