Every time in the past that the great French trotting mare Roqu�pine went out on the track at Long Island's Roosevelt Raceway to earn her owner a feed bag of U.S. dollars, the shortest odds on the board were that something controversial would happen:
?In the 1966 Roosevelt International she was closing fast at the finish but lost by a neck to the Canadian entry. There was some speculation that Driver Jean-Ren� Gougeon had misjudged the finish line. He denied it.
?Last year Roqu�pine won the International with Owner-Trainer Henri Levesque in the sulky, but this time other drivers complained that Gougeon, driving another French horse, had blocked them out of any chance to battle for the lead.
?One week after that fuss, on a very foggy night, Roqu�pine finished first in the Challenge Cup but was legislated back to sixth place by the judges for side-swiping another sulky. His mare had "merely brushed" it, insisted Levesque, who felt the race should have been canceled anyway because of the two-foot visibility.
Yet, despite the hassles, there was 7-year-old Roqu�pine, the belle of the world's trotters, prancing around Roosevelt Raceway last Saturday night, which must be a tribute either to Franco-American amity or the lure of a $100,000 pot in the 10th annual International, the glamour race for top trotters from all over the world. And this year Roqu�pine took her sweet time, stayed in good position, passed Sweden's Kentucky Fibber in the stretch and won without so much as a faint echo of anybody yelling, "Stop, thief!"
Roqu�pine's chief opposition was not expected to come from Scandinavia, even though harness racing ranks second only to soccer there. The second choice in the betting was the United States standard-bearer, a somewhat unreliable horse named Carlisle, driven, trained and formerly co-owned by Billy Haughton.
Now, Carlisle's main trouble is shoes. He is harder on them than the elephant is on the waxed floor in that awful commercial. Up to and through Saturday night's race Carlisle had worn at least six different kinds, including what trotting people call five-eighths half-rounds, three-quarters (plastic) and three-quarters (steel), and, says Haughton, "He's won with them all." The front shoes he used in the International weighed 14 ounces, about twice as heavy as most top trotters need.
All that reshoeing was not so bad; it was Carlisle's tendency to go bare-hoofed that caused problems. He tossed shoes at least three times in races. His latest shoe-throwing episode occurred in the American Trotting Championship on June 22 at Roosevelt when, midway in the race, Haughton saw "that bare foot come up in my face." Crazy boots Carlisle had somehow lost his left front shoe but won anyway and thus qualified for the International.
"I'll be looking all over tonight to see a shoe flying," said one of Billy's stablehands the morning of the race.
For Haughton the International was just one of many races, although by far the most important, during a typically frantic week in which he raced horses at four tracks in three states. He is one of America's best and wealthiest driver-trainers and runs a huge, famous stable. Relaxing on Sunday, he took his family out in their 31-foot cabin cruiser, interrupting the outing to haul in an overturned sailboat. On Monday he loaded his wife and five kids in the boat again and sped off to the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, where the drawing was held for International post positions. Haughton and Carlisle got the third slot. Roqu�pine drew No. 6, not so desirable.