After the man had left, Gabby said, "He runs a good bluff."
Underneath an elm tree a skinny sorrel Thoroughbred named Little Bopper was tied to the back of his van by a short rope, and he was showing his annoyance by trying to paw a hole through to China. "If they's one thing a Thoroughbred can't stand to do, it's be still," a man said. Little Bopper snorted loudly and rolled his eyes as though he could not wait for the race to start. "Lookee him," said the man. "He thinks he's Whirlaway."
Off to one side casting admiring glances at the animal was Stan Goble, a 235-pound stock clerk at a Hutchinson aircraft plant and the prime mover in an eight-man syndicate that had bought Little Bopper three weeks before for $200, or $25 apiece. For seven years the handsome horse had been knocking around the country, racing here and there, getting retired to pasture, trying again and failing again, and now Stan Goble and his fellow pump assemblers and clerks and welders and office workers were going to make something out of him. "He's a lot better horse'n what everybody thinks he is," said Stan, a balding man with a smile that makes the lilacs want to grow and a tendency to make jokes at his own expense. "He just hasn't been trained right. He's not wild, but he's what you'd call an untrained horse. The first day I run him I had to put the saddle on backward so I could breathe, he was running so fast. He was nearly starved when we bought him, ribs stickin' out something pathetic. We've put a little weight on him, feedin' him four gallon of grain a day. He's got the speed, but he needs to learn how to behave. Last guy that owned him, he took him down to Newkirk and he run pretty good for 350 yards, and then he came to the curve and he just didn't know what to do. Turned out he'd always been trained on a straight road. See, a lot of guys in this part of the country haven't got any place to train a horse on a curve. They just train 'em beside their car.
"First time he raced here at Hidden Valley, him and another horse both broke on the same turn and threw their jocks, one over the rail and one under. But he's got the pure speed. Soon's we can train him to run around curves, he'll start makin' us some money. The idea is to build him up with a lot of wins and then sell him at a good price. If he can win at Hidden Valley, he can win at just about any bush track, and then maybe we'd take him to Ak-Sar-Ben in Nebraska or Centennial in Denver, some of those big-time Thoroughbred tracks. Why, I know one old boy that comes out here, he took his horse to Nebraska and won himself $700 in one race! Seven hundred dollars!" Stan and his seven associates permit themselves an occasional dream.
Ron Stull and Bill Rowland and the rest of the bush-trackers talk about their horses the way baseball fans talk about Joe DiMaggio and Ducky Medwick. "Oh, there's been some scorpions around here on these tracks!" Stull said. "Famous horses, too, horses that could have made a fortune on the big tracks, and some of them did, in their spare time. There was one called Black Gold, raised by an Indian down by Pawhuska. He outrun everything on the bush tracks and then won the Kentucky Derby. Horses like Tonto Sam, he's still going, beating everybody, and Shue Fly, out in New Mexico, she ran on bush tracks from Dodge to California and down into Texas and even Old Mexico, and she never won a race by more'n a neck, and she hardly ever got outrun, either. Just enough to keep the bets coming in. They used to call her the Queen of the Straightaways.
"There was another famous horse, a stud named Plowshare, owned by the Wheatcroft family of Kansas, and people said you could breed Plowshare to a boxcar and get a racehorse. He was a sprinting Thoroughbred, and he sired a lot of great bush-track horses out of just any kind of mare. And there was Clabber, they called him the iron horse. They'd race him three times a week, breed 10 mares to him and use him on the ranch to work cattle. And Gabby Scott had himself a mare called Cimarron Miss, a registered Thoroughbred that run everywhere, from 220 yards to a mile, and outrun everything in sight, and he'd run her at the regular track in Denver all summer and then all winter long on the bush tracks. She was probably the greatest Thoroughbred bush-track mare in this country. And there's the big quarter horse that's racing here today, The Martian. His owner bought him at a sale, dying of distemper, paid $135 for him. And the horse barely had the strength to walk home. Now he's a healthy 4-year-old and won seven races already this year. He's a big sorrel quarter horse, and he's helping put somebody through college. What a scorpion!
"We get a lot of old horses that come off the regular tracks, especially geldings that won't be any good for breeding stock, 8 or 9 years old, and they make more money on the bush tracks than they can on the others because of the added gambling on the side and because they don't have to be kept in as good shape as they would at a big track. And we also get some very fast horses that can't run on quarter-horse tracks or at Thoroughbred tracks because (heir breeding is mixed up and they can't be registered as either one or the other. All they are is fast."
"I happen to know," said Gabby Scott, who happens to know an encyclopedia of information about bush-tracking, having devoted his life to the art, "that horses are all the time being sneaked in here from the big tracks, dropped down and given a new name, and they pick up $500, $600 in these races and then go right back up to the big tracks again. They'll show up and win some county-fair derby by eight lengths, and then you'll never see them again. Why, the other day when I win the derby at Deer Trail, Colo, with my horse, Beauty's Watch, there was three horses they hauled down from the track at Denver, and none of 'em under their real names. But I fooled 'em. I beat 'em all."
"A lot of times they'll use different names when they're trying out young Thoroughbreds on our tracks," Bill Rowland put in. "So if the horse does real well and they decide to take him to Raton or to Denver they'll get a lot better odds out there. If the horse is run at Hidden Valley as Old Yaller and he wins a lot of races and all of a sudden he goes out to Raton and really does something under the name of Yellow Goldie, well, he does it with good odds. The owner can bet $5,000 on his own horse and get a price, because nobody knows he's been running on the bush tracks and beating everything around. On the big track he's just another first-time starter."
As the announcer and resident horse expert, Stockbroker Stull is seldom fooled by a ringer, but his policy is to call a horse by whatever name the owner has selected for the occasion. "I go along with 'em," Stull says, "but if anybody's standing around and asks me if I know the horse, of course, I'll always tell 'em the true facts. But if somebody wants to bring the Kentucky Derby winner here and race him as Old Yaller, I won't announce it to the crowd. On the bush tracks it's the owner's business, whatever he wants to do."