On May 20, 1970, Albatross made his debut at The Meadows. He won convincingly, the beginning of a summer-long odyssey that carried him to the forefront of the harness-racing world. He started 17 times, all with Harvey in the sulky, and won 14. His best mile times of 1:57[4/5] on a mile track and 2:00[1/5] on a half-mile track were better than any of his peers, and his earnings of $183,540 made him the leading money-winning 2-year-old pacer of all time.
This year in May, Albatross, now a prime 3-year-old, was syndicated for a whopping $1,250,000. James retained a 25% interest in the horse, with eight other prominent racing people also owning shares. Dancer, whose clients included four of the nine syndicate members, replaced Harvey as trainer-driver. "I was in a state of shock," says Harvey. "It's the worst thing that's ever happened to me."
To compensate Harvey for his projected financial losses—as trainer-driver he would get 10% of the colt's winnings—the syndicate gave him 5% of the gross sales price, or about $60,000. But there was no way they could reimburse him for the thrill of driving the horse, his horse, the one he had broken and developed. Harvey felt that James sold him out, and that he had been squashed in the inexorable machinations of big business. He is so bitter about the deal that he refuses to watch Albatross race, or even visit him when they are at the same track. He still trains a promising filly, Saucy Wave, for James, but their relationship is uneasy at best.
"Oh, we get along," says Harvey. "I'm enough of a realist to know that in this business you're strictly at the mercy of the owner, and Bert's a businessman."
"Look," says James, puffing coolly on his cigar, "I know Harry was upset. But in my position I had to look at the overall picture, and a million plus is a lot of money. In any business my prime objective is to be a success, and I guess that's measured in money, isn't it?"
By that yardstick, the deal is paying off as handsomely as expected. The syndicate plans on racing Albatross all this year and next and, barring misfortune, the colt may win back most of his syndication price even before he is sent to stud at syndicate member Alan Leavitt's Lana Lobell Farm. Everything after that would be so much gravy.
As for Dancer, his stable earned more than $2 million in 1970, and with Albatross he may surpass that sum this year. He might also break a few records with the colt en route. In a race at Yonkers a year ago, Harvey turned Albatross loose in one race and he opened up eight lengths from the� pole to the finish. Recently, in the Commodore Pace at Roosevelt, Albatross was behind turning for home, had to go three horses wide to the outside and still won, coasting, by 2� lengths. "That was the fastest eighth of a mile I ever saw," said Earle Avery, a veteran of over 50 years around harness tracks.
So far Dancer has not asked Albatross to go after Bret Hanover's world records, but races at the fast mile ovals in the Midwest are coming up, and Dancer occasionally wonders what might happen if the colt went all out.
"Sure, I'm curious," he says. "Off what he's done so far he's great—maybe supergreat. But right now I'm more interested in winning races than setting records. This is a business, you know."