"I think that all Curly is worrying about now is The Hambletonian," said Hiland's owner, Dr. John Jackman. "This race tonight didn't mean enough for him to push the colt. All he wants to do now, I think, is to get him tight, like he was against Dayan."
Even if it develops that he is not the best Hambletonian prospect, Hiland Hill is at least the biggest, standing a whopping 17 hands and one inch, which is 69 inches in layman terms. He was so big even as a yearling, recalls his breeder, Charlie Hill, who also is the president of Scioto Downs, "that he was an ugly duckling, big and clumsy." Hill even offered to sell Hiland Hill to a friend, but the deal fell through. So Hiland was put up for sale in 1967 at Harrisburg, Pa., where Dr. Jackman, 78, a sedate, white-haired Columbus veterinarian, bought him for a bargain $2,700.
As a 2-year-old Hiland Hill raced 19 times and won seven, but the top colts, including Lindy's Pride, were beating him by as many as 20 lengths. Then last January, Doc Jackman turned Hiland Hill over to his longtime friend Curly Smart.
Since beginning his happy exile in Ohio, Curly, the driving champion at both Yonkers and Roosevelt some 20 years ago, has been busier than ever. Training and driving are almost secondary to Curly now, but he had agreed to do what he could with Hiland Hill.
First he straightened out Hiland Hill's gait. Then the hard work began. Hiland Hill trotted 30 miles a week, four weeks a month, for five months. "There's a saying around here," says Doc Jackman, "that when Curly puts a horse in a race, you know he's ready or he wouldn't be there." Curly finally deemed Hiland Hill ready in June, and the colt won his first three straight, hitting a peak against Dayan. Then, as Curly says, "I softened up on him.... He might have been a hair too ready, and I didn't want to put a crimp in him."
After the victory over Dayan, Doc Jackman received a telegram from an agent whose anonymous client was prepared to buy the colt for $75,000. While Doc was kicking that around, the offer went to $85,000, then $100,000. After the last offer, when Jackman still was hesitating, the eager bidder sent another telegram offering to pay the necessary $4.05 cable costs if only he would answer the wire. "I wouldn't sell him now in any case," said Jackman, "not when the fun is just ready to start."
Which brings up another matter. If Curly is so set against leaving Ohio, how is Doc Jackman going to get him out to Du Quoin for The Hambletonian? "Oh, we'll get him over there," says Jackman. "And he doesn't know it yet, but we may get him talked into going to California later this fall."
"Hmmph," said Curly, outrageously twisting a maxim of the late George M. Cohan, "when you leave Ohio you're just camping out."