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By noon on Jug day the track grounds were overflowing with the usual odd mixture of humanity—from tobacco-chewing farmers to bell-bottomed teens. A huge American flag flew over one group eating chicken from the tail gate of a station wagon lest one of them forget where the party was. Another group set up a dice game in the apple orchard off the backstretch. In the paddock the drivers were thinking only about the race and how the wind would affect their times.
Most Happy Fella figured to win the first heat, because George had the worst post in the field—No. 11, on the outside of the second tier of starters. The race went true to form. Taking the lead for good just after the half-mile mark, Most Happy Fella was an easy winner, by 2� lengths, over the dark horse Ferric Hanover. Columbia George had to go outside three horses going into the last turn to find racing room and was fortunate to get up to third. What was surprising, however, was the time—1:57[1/5], only a fifth slower than Bret Hanover's record, set in the 1965 Jug. Back in the paddock Dancer was looking at his stopwatch and shaking his head.
"Look at that," he said. "I caught him in :57 flat and if you get out your magnifying glass you'll see it's actually a tick under that. Even with the wind. I think I could have gotten the record if I had just driven him on. But we've got another heat—and maybe more—still to go, so I didn't want to waste him."
In the second heat Columbia George was expected to make a race of it, coming out of the No. 3 post, with Most Happy Fella on the rail. This time George took the lead at the half, with Leander Lobell, driven by Curly Smart, second and Most Happy Fella third. Just before the three-quarter pole Dancer moved out, threw his colt into high gear and began to catch up on the outside. But suddenly Smart pulled his horse out in front, forcing Dancer to check Most Happy Fella. It was a smart move by Curly, and it cost Dancer the race. Although Most Happy Fella rallied to pull even down the stretch, Columbia George had not been used and one stroke of Beaulieu's whip sent him flying home three-quarters of a length in front. The time was an excellent 1:57[3/5].
Now it was down to the third heat and this time they were head-to-head at the gate, Columbia George leaving from the rail and Most Happy Fella from No. 2. George took the lead and Most Happy Fella settled in right behind. Before the quarter pole Smart again moved Leander Lobell up on the outside and he stayed there until the final turn. But as Leander began to tire and fall back, Dancer took Most Happy Fella out and up alongside Columbia George as they turned for home. With the crowd on its feet and screaming. Most Happy Fella slowly drew out in front. Columbia George battled back—and then it was over. The time was 1:57[3/5]. Never had any horse raced three straight heats all in 1:58 or less, and now two had done it on the same afternoon.
Their eyes fixed straight ahead, Roland and Blondie slowly led their pet back to his barn, through the litter of empty beer cans and worthless mutuel tickets. "I feel I did the best I could and so did the horse," Roland said as he brought George a drink of water. At Dancer's stable a crowd had gathered to gawk and snap their cameras while Most Happy Fella took a bath.
"That last heat was perfect," Stanley said. "You couldn't have drawn a blueprint and done it any better. And if the wind hadn't been blowing, who knows how fast he could have gone in that first heat? This is the best pacer I've ever had. I would like to race him next year, but a million dollars doesn't grow on trees, you know."
No. it doesn't. In Stanley's case it just seems that way.