They weren't much, just a couple of old tractors crawling around the track, driven by a couple of guys named Andy Huntley and Lee Cash, and they had been finishing an unnoticed one-two all Sunday afternoon. Then Nevele Pride, warming up, bore down on them, the prettiest legs in Du Quoin, Ill. flashing a rich black in the warm afternoon sun, Stanley Dancer chirping in the sulky. And—"Damn it, Pride, turn! Turn, baby, turn!" An instant before disaster the super colt swerved to the right, missing the front-running tractor by less than a foot. That was as close as Stanley and Pride were to come to losing this Hambletonian. "Close," said Del Miller, who had Keystone Spartan, and he was laughing. "After the way Nevele Pride won that first heat I knew there was nothing left but a heck of a tight for second place."
This was the big one that had eluded Dancer in eight previous tries, and he wasted no time showing everyone that this one was his, breezing straight heats, wire-to-wire. After the first turn of the first heat his only worry was how to get Nevele Pride out of the winner's circle before he killed somebody.
For the first heat Dancer had the far-outside post, but somehow he had the Pride of Nevele Acres and Louis Resnick streaking along in the seven hole before they ever got away from the gate. "Well," Dancer said later, "I saw some of them weren't leaving too quick, and I figured, what the heck, there was no sense in fooling around. I just fired him up." Dancer had his big 3-year-old colt so fired up that Nevele Pride's nose was sticking through the gate as they flashed past the starting line. Cutting quickly into the rail, Pride was on top going into the first turn. He trotted a blistering final quarter of :27[4/5] and won in a comfortable 1:59[3/5] by four lengths. Del Miller finished second, with not even the thinnest of thoughts of challenging Dancer. "He was so far out in front," said Miller, "that I didn't even think about him. I was only worried about Dart Hanover, and he was behind me."
Snow Speed, Ralph Baldwin's fine colt and the only horse to win a race against Nevele Pride this year, was also the only one given an outside chance of beating Pride, and he lost even that when he broke no more than a few strides past the starting line. He finished last. "He just tried to overtrot himself," said Baldwin, shrugging. "You bring them to a peak, and when you ask for just a little more that's what happens. But I gave up being disappointed about anything a long time ago. A man who lets himself be disappointed spends half his life that way." Snow Speed broke again in the second heat and finished eighth overall, just ahead of one of the two fillies in the race, Carolyn Sue.
In the second heat there was no challenge at all, not even at the start, and Nevele Pride won as he pleased in 1:59[2/5]. At one point he led by as much as 10 lengths, and he won by only 5� because Dancer didn't want to extend his luck trying for a record. "Shucks," said Dancer, "I wasn't even thinking about a record. This Hambletonian has been escaping me for a long time. That's what I was thinking."
Oh, well, you are saying now—Nevele Pride won, and the sun came up at dawn, and one and one makes two. Ho-de-hum. And what other little tidbits of news are going to be dropped on us? That Mary had a little lamb? Or that Lucrezia Borgia was a lousy bartender? So what's the big deal? Well, last week, it suddenly didn't seem all that easy, not even for this great power wonder of a colt. Whispers were circulating the barns about the Dancer jinx. After all, wasn't he oh for eight in The Hambletonian? ("I don't know about the eight," said Dancer, "but I sure as heck know about the oh.") And, of course, there was a lot of talk about the year Dancer came in with Noble Victory, who couldn't lose, and who didn't even finish in the money. "I feel sorry for Stanley," said one man who didn't sound sorry, "but I'd have to bet he couldn't win this race in a Ferrari."
Then there was that race two weeks ago in Springfield, Ill. when Pride tangled with Snow Speed and finished seventh in the first heat. That had ended his winning streak at 18. And if that wasn't the old Dancer jinx warming up in the bullpen, then what was it?
"Greatest thing that ever happened to us," said Andy Murphy, Pride's oft-bitten groom. "What it did was take a lot of pressure off at just the right time. Nobody's going to win every race, not even this horse, and there's nothing like having that loss behind you."
"It was just bad racing luck," said Dancer, taking another view. "Bad luck and Pride's getting mad."
The bad luck came when Dancer and Baldwin, driving Snow Speed, locked wheels in the first turn. They remained locked for more than 90 feet, burning rubber all the way. "I couldn't see what the trouble was, but I sure could smell it," said Del Miller, who was far behind the pair with Keystone Spartan.