SI Vault
Jack Olsen
October 31, 1966
Worlds away from the niceties of Saratoga or Santa Anita, Hidden Valley is one of many stops on the bush circuit, where no holds are barred and no rules are enforced, where ringers run regularly and suckers are fleeced unmercifully
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October 31, 1966

Anything Goes In The Bush

Worlds away from the niceties of Saratoga or Santa Anita, Hidden Valley is one of many stops on the bush circuit, where no holds are barred and no rules are enforced, where ringers run regularly and suckers are fleeced unmercifully

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Every now and then Stull will forget to call a horse by his stage name, and the error is just as embarrassing to him as it is to the owner. "About two months ago we had two ringers in one race, and it was a hell of a good race," Stull recalled, "and toward the finish I got excited and I was thinking about the horses under their real names and I announced, Tonto Sam's out in front!' and Tonto Sam wasn't even supposed to be in the race. They were calling him Sam II that day. And The Martian was in the race, too, but they were calling him Little Red. I knew who he was the minute I saw him, but The Martian's a kind of nondescript horse you wouldn't remember from one race to the next, so he fooled a lot of people. After the race I got kidded something awful.

"It's tougher to fake a horse's name if he's a standout-looking horse. That's why your ideal bush-track horse is ugly and spindly and has poor conformation and runs like hell. Then you can get bets on him, and as soon as he gets a reputation you can change his name and do the same thing all over again. It's not so easy with a horse like, say, Kansas Badger. He was an old gray, one of the greatest bush-track horses, but he was a striking-looking horse and everybody that ever saw him remembered him. His owner tried running him under assumed names a couple of times, but it never really worked. Nobody would bet against him."

"Hell, the last day of the meeting at Anthony this year," Gabby Scott said, "somebody tried to enter a 7-year-old stud horse in a race for 3-year-old fillies. They put blinkers and a shadow roll on him to fool people, but somebody happened to notice that his plumbing was a little obsolete for what he pretended to be. Hell, they got him to the gate, and then they had to back him out. They had a $100 bet with the book, but they got their money back."

"Yeh," said Stull. "I heard about that. They tell me it was a plan conceived over a tub of Old Charter."

"Hell, they even dye 'em once in a while," Gabby went on. "A little shoe polish here and there is O.K. if they don't start sniffing around your horse. Or you can use dye. No, I ain't never seen a whole horse dyed, but I have seen it done to a good percentage of a horse."

"How about our Appaloosa race this year?" Rowland was reminded. Several weeks before, Ron Stull had entered his own Appaloosa, Weigh Behind, once a world-record holder for a half mile and 70 yards, in a special race for Appaloosas only at Hidden Valley Downs. Just before the race began, one owner got permission to withdraw his Appaloosa and substitute another. "I was up at the announcer's stand getting ready to call the race," Stull said, "and I knew I couldn't lose. There wasn't an Appaloosa in this part of the country that could outrun mine. Then all of a sudden I saw somebody leading a horse into the gate, and it wasn't an Appaloosa. I'd seen the horse before. It was a registered Thoroughbred, a son of Hannibal, and Hannibal was one of the great broodmare sires of Kentucky for Thoroughbreds. The horse was black, only now he had about 15 perfect-circle spots on him, remotely like an Appaloosa. Only the spots were red on black, and there never was an Appaloosa looked like that.

"So I hollered to my wife to go tell the race director there was a ringer in the race—you know, it's one thing to put a horse in under a phony name, but it's another thing to stick a Thoroughbred in an Appaloosa race—but there was some confusion and the horses got off, and of course this big colt beat everything easily."

The measure of the bush-track attitude of laissez-faire is that no one was incensed at the man who entered the ringer, at least at the outset. "We all thought it was kinda funny," Bill Rowland said, "and we wouldn't have done anything drastic if the owner'd just admitted after the race that it was all a joke and told us to give the money to the second-place horse. But he just lied and lied continually and got mad at us for accusing him and lost his temper and never admitted a thing. Hasn't yet! We barred him indefinitely. Later on I made a little investigation, and I talked to the beauty operator that told him what to use to spot the horse, and then I found out where he got the stuff. It wasn't peroxide; it was something even better."

"I'll tell you how good the stuff was," said Gabby. "I seen that horse since then and they still haven't been able to wash them spots out. They've tried everything. But, personally, I can't get too mad about what he done. You got to do something to make it on these bush tracks. Hell, it costs quite a bit to take a bunch of horses out on the road. It costs me $100 a month on the road to feed a horse and shoe 'im and doctor 'im, and you got to do something to come out ahead.

"Now, you take that big old bay horse I've got ready to run here. He's a registered Thoroughbred, name of Beauty's Watch, and he's 8 years old. I've run him under Big John, Clijah, Willie Make It, Little Brown, B. Watch, half a dozen other names. Some people recognize him as Beauty's Watch, and then they don't bet me, or they change their bets accordingly. When I run this horse at Anthony this year I called him Mr. Kingman, after my partner, and nobody knew him at all. They keep the bookie right by the paddock in Anthony, and I had this guy waiting in line as soon as the book opened. The bookie didn't know my horse by the name Mr. Kingman, but he knew all the other horses in the race, and there was some pretty good ones. So he opens my horse at 5 to 1 to win, 3 to 1 to place and even money to show. So my man bet $50 across the board. Soon as we made the bet the bookie dropped the price right away, and then when I came in leading the horse at the last minute he recognized that Mr. Kingman was Beauty's Watch, and he came running over to the officials and he says, 'That ain't Mr. Kingman, that's Beauty's Watch.' And I said, 'I just bought the horse, and I can call him anything I want to call him.' And when he won there wasn't nothin' for the bookie to do but pay up."

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