Ervin and Dr. Tom Dunkin, his veterinarian, stood for a long time in front of Kerry Way's stall, talking quietly. Ervin finally decided to use protective knee boots for the second heat. "And I disagreed," Dunkin said later. "The filly had never worn knee boots in her life. Often when a trotter feels the boots the first time, he'll go off stride and into a pace. I didn't think it was worth taking that risk."
Dunkin was right by any standard but Ervin's. The trainer had everything to lose. If Kerry Way raced badly without the boots, no one would fault Ervin for staying with the equipment that won the first heat. But if she failed with the boots, he would have all the responsibility. "I must admit," Gaines said later, "that my father and I were pretty shocked when we saw her come out with knee boots. It took a lot of confidence for Frank to try them."
Ervin himself wasn't thinking about responsibility or confidence. He was worrying only about his horse. "I was scared to use the boots," he said, "but I was more scared to leave them off." So the boots stayed on, Kerry Way trotted well and Ervin was a winner—with a strong assist from an adventurous Swede named Olaf Widell.
Widell drove Shatter Way, the first European trotter ever to come here for The Hambletonian. The colt was surprisingly fast, but the driver was just surprising. At the start of the first heat, he knocked Rocket Rodney off stride, then veered out into Governor Armbro. "Everywhere I tried to go," said Joe O'Brien, driver of Governor Armbro, "that Swedish horse would be inside me."
George Sholty, who drove Polaris, had a similar problem in the second heat. On the final turn Billy Haughton's Carlisle and Shatter Way were battling for the lead, with Kerry Way and Polaris behind them. Ervin steered Kerry Way into the clear; Sholty couldn't follow him in time. Widell's horse dropped back just enough to trap Sholty and Polaris along the rail, and by the time Sholty got free, Ervin had the heat won. Polaris closed with a rush to get within a neck of the winner, but Kerry Way trotted the second mile in 1:59[3/5], giving her a combined record time for a straight-heat victory.
"A lot of people were saying this was a weak field," Ervin said. "But if I set a record, and had to go all out to do it, there must have been something pretty good behind me. It was a good race."
Later John and Clarence Gaines sipped pink champagne at a victory party, while Frank Ervin sat on a red-and-green camp chair outside Kerry Way's stall, holding court with the citizens of rural Illinois.
"This is the big one to win," said Ervin. "Others give away more money, but they're not the same. I won a $160,000 race at one of those New York raceways last year. They gave me a trophy and then kicked me right off the track so they could bring out a bunch of $7,500 claimers for the next race. Out here you can relax and enjoy the feeling of winning a great race. You can feel, you know, right at home."