He is so nervous that he literally jumps at his own shadow—or anybody else's, for that matter. His feelings can be hurt so easily that the least little flick of the whip causes him to go all to pieces. His manners are so bad that he sticks out his tongue at everybody, everywhere, all the time. He is a flake and a kook, but then, as Johnny Cash's song has it, "life ain't easy for a boy named Sue"—so how can it be much better for a colt named Laverne, for heaven's sake?
The full name is Laverne Hanover and for all his hangups, he may wind up as one of the best pacers in harness racing. He is so good, in fact, that his trainer-driver, Billy Haughton, does almost everything humanly possible to humor him. But even a man of Haughton's patience has his limits and last week, before racing Laverne in the $109,731 Little Brown Jug at Delaware, Ohio, Haughton was drinking Bloody Marys and wondering just what the colt was going to do to him next.
"I tell you," said Haughton, who has long run one of the biggest and most successful stables in the U.S., "he's got me a little spooked. You can't tell when he's going to pull one of those crazy stunts again."
Haughton got his first glimpse of Laverne's strange twists of mind in the $182,000 Messenger Stake last May at New York's Roosevelt Raceway. He skipped coming around the final turn, recovered and then just refused to pace farther as Stanley Dancer guided Bye Bye Sam past him for the victory. There was some talk after the Messenger that Laverne had indulged his penchant for trying to leap over shadows that appeared in his path, but Haughton contended that Laverne had been cured of that distressing habit as a 2-year-old.
Then there was the matter of The Adios, another important race held at The Meadows in Pennsylvania. Again Laverne appeared to have the first heat locked up in the stretch, but Haughton made the mistake of tapping him with the whip. Laverne went berserk and finished last. The next two heats Haughton didn't touch him and Laverne won both easily. "I haven't hit him since then," Haughton said, ruefully.
Nevertheless, when Laverne had a mind to, he had paced some pretty fantastic miles over the summer, and the talk around Delaware last week centered mostly on his prospects in the Jug on Thursday—that, and the weather.
As often happens, the Delaware County Fairgrounds was one big mud puddle the day before the Jug, and there was apprehension that the race might have to be delayed a day or so if the rain didn't stop quickly. It was bad enough to force postponement of Wednesday's races, an inconvenience that everyone did not take as cheerfully as one fat fellow staying at the Campbell House motel, headquarters for Jug fans. Early that morning he waddled into the motel parking lot, still clad in his paisley print pajamas.
"Well," he said, looking at the dark sky, "it always rains in Delaware."
Then he walked to his car, pulled out a six-pack of beer and, with a smile and a nod, waddled back into his room, apparently for the duration.
Fortunately, by early Thursday morning the rain had stopped completely and a warm sun was drying out the cozy little racetrack at the fairgrounds. By mid-afternoon the track would be hard and fast, and this meant that Laverne Hanover would have good working conditions when he went to the post. So Haughton was happy—but he should have remembered that life ain't easy for a boy named Laverne, no matter how pleasant it might appear.