You know that slogan 'Join the Navy and see the world'?" said Eleanor Weiner of 384 East 57th Street, Brooklyn. "Well, for us it's been 'Buy a horse and see the country.' " The country that Eleanor and Hyman Weiner, Meyer Goldstein, Milton Goldstein, George Karl and Seymour Schwartz have seen lately is right out of the movie State Fair. They have been to places like Bloomsburg, Pa. and Du Quoin, Ill., and last week the owners of Brooklyn's Lucky Star Stable found themselves at a county fair in Delaware, Ohio, watching their horse, Romeo Hanover, win the $74,617 Little Brown Jug, harness racing's top event for pacers.
"I never dreamed in my life that Milty and I would be here today," said platinum-blonde Mrs. Goldstein, her spike heels sinking slowly into the paddock mud. But then, what Brooklyn housewife would have?
Lucky Star Stable got its start at a Monday-night poker game five years ago, when, late in the evening, the Goldsteins and Schwartz, who are caterers, and Karl, who is a beauty-salon owner, agreed to buy shares in a pacer from a friend. When they told their accountant, Weiner, he asked in, too. "I'll tell you why," he says. "You sit behind your desk—I'm a C.P.A., and that's the antithesis of being a horse owner—and you dream of all the things you'd like to do. What was that movie with Danny Kaye? Walter Mitty? Well, I'm a Walter Mitty. You dream about things and you never do anything about them. But this time we got up enough nerve to do something. That's all it takes, nerve."
The neophytes subscribed to the trade journals and began to study bloodlines. In 1964 they decided to invest in yearlings instead of hand-me-down raceway horses, and for three months they pored over the pedigrees of the colts in the Harrisburg sale. Weiner even consulted his college textbook on genetics. When he and Milton Goldstein finally set out as "the purchasing agents" for Lucky Star that November, they had a list of 20 yearlings that interested them and $10,000 in the bank. They took along a veterinarian and their 29-year-old trainer, Jerry Silverman, who had left the real estate business to try his hand with trotters only five years before.
Of the yearlings the partners were considering, the veterinarian ruled out 15 as lame, halt or blind, in a manner of speaking. "We got one colt for $3,500 right away," recalls Weiner. "The next two went for very high prices, and by the time they came to Romeo Hanover I didn't think we had a chance to get him for the $6,500 we had left. When the bidding hit that figure I looked at Milty and he looked at me and we decided to keep going. We got the colt for $8,500. I wrote out a check, and we rushed back to New York to cover it."
What Weiner did not know was that two of the most famous men in harness racing, Billy Haughton and Stanley Dancer, had considered buying Romeo Hanover, too. Haughton wanted the colt for his wife, but she said no for a sound female reason: she did not want a chestnut. Dancer was bothered by something more practical than color. The horse had crooked hocks, and Dancer could not find a veterinarian to okay them. That is how a $2 million horse got sold for an $8,500 check, and a rubber check at that.
Another person who went to the Harrisburg sale intending to purchase Romeo Hanover was a onetime insurance man with an apt name, Morton Finder. A not unfamiliar figure around harness tracks and their pari-mutuel windows, Finder passed up Romeo, but a few months later he saw the horse work out and was impressed. "I got talking to Jerry Silverman about him," Finder says, "and he asked me some things about the colt. I gave Jerry some friendly advice." Not long afterward Lucky Star decided it could use a friendly owner who knew his way around racing, and sold 25% of Romeo to Finder for $7,500.
The owners of the colt then hired a canny, close-mouthed horseman, Billy Myer, to drive him. Romeo was hard to steer and headstrong, but Myer calmed him down and the colt became the best 2-year-old pacer in the country, winning 13 of 16 races. Like all harness champions since the days of Goldsmith Maid and Dan Patch, Romeo won his title by racing on the Grand Circuit, moving week after week from one fairgrounds to another through the Midwest. His pleased owners, dressed in their best black silk business suits, followed him.
At the Indiana State Fair the colt paced the mile in 1:59, and you would have thought from the excitement in the grandstand that he had won the 500. "I couldn't get over all those people out there cheering for a horse when there was no betting," says Hyman Weiner. "It was the greatest thing any of us had ever seen. Why, it isn't even the same sport at Yonkers and Roosevelt. They're just betting operations."
There was also the day at Du Quoin, Ill. when the clay track was deep from heavy rain and Hyman Weiner almost found himself in the middle of a race. He was standing near Driver Joe O'Brien at the paddock gap watching Romeo score before the start, and he was worried about the slippery track. "Should we be running Romeo in the mud?" he asked O'Brien. "If he was mine, I wouldn't," the leading Grand Circuit driver replied. "I ran out," says Weiner, "and jumped on a truck that was circling the track. When the truck passed Romeo, I shouted to Billy Myer, Take the horse back.' Then I rode to the judges' stand, ran up the stairs and hollered 'Scratch my horse.' "