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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Bill Rowland suddenly leaned forward in his chair and laughed. "I was down at Anthony during the racing, and I remember Mr. Kingman now. Yes, sir, I sure do!" he said. "Why, you run him three, four days later as Mr. Kingman, and everybody came to me and said, 'Bet on that Mr. Kingman, he's some horse,' and I bet on him and he came in third!"

"Sure, he come in third," Gabby said between guffaws. "We was pulling him that time. See, we had two horses in that race, me and my cousin, only nobody knew we were working together. We bet on the other horse and held back Mr. Kingman, I mean Beauty's Watch. We beat the bookies, and we beat the crowd. My cousin went through the crowd, and here and there somebody'd say, 'I'll take Mr. Kingman and give you the field,' and he'd take some of that till he had a hundred or so bet through the crowd. We knew Mr. Kingman wasn't gonna win.

"Everybody pulls horses," Gabby went on in his customary nonstop manner. "I carry, say, four, five, six horses along, and I usually got one horse I'm cheatin' with all the time. I give $55 for Lon's Lad in California, and he had a bowed tendon and I turned him out to pasture for a year and a half. Then I brought him to Arizona and I worked him out in the river bottom, never took him near the racetrack for about 40 days. Then I pulled him four straight times in the races. The first time I let him win he paid $60, and I won $1,185 on him. I made my winter's wages right there. Why, here he paid $20 the second time I won with him. Everybody thought the first win was a fluke.

"I've always got one horse I'm cheat-in' with, one horse to gamble with. The next time I go I'll maybe use another horse, change horses at different meets. In Arizona that year I ended up winning nine races with Lon's Lad, and then they claimed him from me for $1,500. He made me about $6,000."

Lest anyone get the idea that Marvin Scott sees horses only as big meaty dollar signs, let it be understood that there is an emotional side to him as well. Gabby can talk for hours about his grandfather, Guy Scott of Cimarron, one of the famous bush-trackers of his day: "He probably win more races on the bush tracks than any man living. My grandfather raced Thoroughbred racehorses for 55 years before he passed away." Several years ago Gabby's father and two uncles put up a Guy Scott Memorial Award, a fancy blanket, for the derby at Dighton, Kans., where their father's horses had won dozens of times. "I was down in Tucson, Ariz. with some racehorses at the time," Gabby recalled, "and I hauled a racehorse named Little Heel 1,200 miles all the way to Dighton just to win that blanket, 'cause I wanted that blanket. I've got it at home now. It's got wrote on it, 'Guy Scott Memorial, Dighton, American Legion Race Meet, 1963,' on it. I wanted it for my own keepsake."

Gabby is a refreshingly untroubled person, but he does admit to one annoyance: the distrust and cynicism he finds in some racetrackers. "I'm truly surprised at the way people act sometimes. There was a man I'd raced against for years, and he had a real good 3-year-old colt and he entered him in a 2-year-old race this summer, down at Burden, Kansas. So I had a 3-year-old colt, too, and I put him in the same race. And when I outrun his horse, he went and turned me in! So they came over and mouthed my horse, and 'course he had a 3-year-old mouth, there wasn't no doubt about that. So I said, 'Being's we're gonna mouth mine, let's just mouth the rest of 'em.' So they found out his colt was a 3-year-old, and he got throwed out, too! Served him right. But I just get mad about things like that. Why, the other day this old boy that's done everything in racing, I mean he's dyed 'em, pulled 'em, doped 'em, everything they is, he come up to me and he said, 'That's gonna be the ruination of racing, the way you run your horses under different names.' He said, 'That's gonna ruin the future of pari-mutuel racing in Kansas.' I said, 'When I go to the big tracks I do what everybody else does. I register my horses, get 'em tested, everything else. But when I'm around the bush tracks I can do anything I want to.' And I can. That's what I like about the bush tracks. You don't have a whole bunch of formality."

What with all the owners trying to outwait each other for the privilege of entering their horses last, the first race at Hidden Valley Downs got off an hour and 15 minutes late, the usual delay. By the time Ron Stull announced the post parade for the first event, the horsemen's section of the track was littered with rolling stock from Cadillacs to old Ford pickups, from expensive horse-hauling rigs to others made of flatbed trucks and sheeting, with the south ends of horses peeking demurely out of them. "Sorrier looking the rig, the carefuller you better be about betting against the horse," said an oldtimer. "Wouldn't surprise me none to see Equipoise back outa one a them old rigs!"

A cold north wind, the first of the fall, blew down to chill the gray day. Dust and sand and icy little spits of rain filled the air, and tumbleweed blew down the track in long loops, going faster than the horses warming up, making some of them shy and falter. A tattooed man galloped a saddle horse up and down the roadway where the spectators could see him: he was the bush-track counterpart of the man who drives his Porsche 80 miles an hour en route to the Indianapolis 500. A small blonde woman with a rainbow-hued shiner led a horse toward the paddock. Seven people shivered on the white benches overlooking the finish line, and three dozen cars were lined up along the rail. "Cold today, hot yestiddy," a man said. "Y'either freeze or burn, one." Announcer Stull attempted to make a virtue of the weather. "It's a brisk, windy, racehorse kind of a day," he said by way of opening remarks on the P. A. system. Long after the scheduled time for the first race, horsemen were straggling down the track to take up their positions. "You can't hurry horsemen," Stull said cheerily. A horse galloped in front of the stand, and whirling flights of sand and dust were swept away on the wind with each footstep: cameos of Kansas history. "All right," Stull announced, "let's get started. We forgot the bugle, so there won't be any post calls today. You might see racing at Centennial, but you'll never see better-bred horses than right here today at Hidden Valley Downs." Three jockeys, the only ones who had shown up, mounted their horses for the opener. There were Frank Davis, who owns horses, trains them and rides them, and runs a gas station on the side; Ivan Cunningham, a professional jockey on the far side of his career, and Carl Terrell, a 120-pound sheet-metal worker from Wichita who picks up extra cash by racing on weekends ($5 for riding and $5 extra for winning, plus occasional tips from big winners).

For those customers accustomed to races of five furlongs and up, the quarter-mile scamper down the straightaway seemed to be over before it started. One horse cut off the others at the start, then squeezed through a needle-narrow opening halfway down the course and moved away to win easily. One of Bill Rowland's neighbors took a Polaroid picture of the finish, for the benefit of the three official judges, also neighbors, but there was no doubt of the finish, nor was there any doubt that an inquiry sign would have gone up immediately if there had been an inquiry sign, if there had been a film patrol, if the track enforced fouls, if.... "There isn't any way you can call fouls on the bush tracks," Stull explained. "If you call 'em, you just cause more trouble. Anyway, things run pretty much according to Hoyle here. The jockeys know that if they foul they're gonna be fouled right back in the next race. They enforce things themselves. We let "em get their justice on the track."

The second race was over five-eighths of a mile, or a little more than once around the track, and insiders knew that the best of the three entries was a bay gelding listed in the program as "B. Watch" and owned by one Marvin Scott of Cimarron. From the beginning, however, it was plain that, win or lose, this was not going to be Gabby's day. The night before the race, enjoying a session of rest and rehabilitation at the Brown Wheel spa in Hutchinson, Gabby had been taken with a small case of overindulgence, which ended only when he ran out of pocket money and returned to his camper for a few hours' sleep. Now Gabby led Beauty's Watch into the makeshift paddock in the infield, miscalculated the width of the opening and backed the horse into a sharp pole. Beauty's Watch reared, and Gabby had to take a firm hold on the horse's ear to control him. From then on, every step was a battle royal. Soon Gabby was holding the horse by the nostrils, whereupon the excited animal bit his tongue and, to Gabby's dismay, started to bleed from the mouth. "That horse can outrun anything if he gets saddled up O.K.," said one of the overalled derelicts standing next to the paddock, "but he's got his head blowed off now."

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