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"Speedy Crown's a darn good horse," O'Brien said afterward. Then he added, "He's also a younger horse." O'Brien had agreed with the move to have Une de Mai scratched, but an ironic thought now occurred to him. "It might have been different with Une de Mai in there," he said. "Maybe she would have gone with Speedy Crown and worn him down a bit." O'Brien could console himself with the second-place purse of $31,250.
No such complications marred Saturday afternoon's proceedings on the dirt track in Saratoga, where Albatross outclassed six rivals by an awesome 14 lengths. Stanley Dancer, his trainer-driver, did not get the world-record clocking he had hoped for, but it hardly mattered. By taking the $8,000 purse the Big Bird became not only the third-richest harness horse ever, but the youngest to reach the $1 million mark.
Albatross' victory also helped vindicate Dancer, an accomplished horseman who suddenly found himself an embattled figure earlier this year after suffering a spinal fracture in Florida when a fence railing broke beneath him. His back in a cast, Dancer drove Albatross to an unprecedented string of three straight losses—two seconds and a third—and the syndicate that owned the horse, accustomed to nothing but victory, voted to let the driver go. Dancer responded with a breach-of-contract suit. The matter was resolved when control of the horse passed to the sport's biggest breeder, Pennsylvania's Hanover Shoe Farm, which quickly reinstated Dancer. He drove Albatross to nine straight wins following the three losses and now, with a mile-track pacing record of 1:54 4/5 already in hand, felt he could beat Bret Hanover's 1:57 mark for half-mile tracks, made when he was 3.
When the small, cozy Saratoga harness track was elected for the half-mile record attempt, the purse was sweetened to enable Albatross, should he win, to pass both Rum Customer and Cardigan Bay, retired pacers who had barely cleared $1 million. Ballyhooing the event, the track passed out photos of Albatross, offered prizes for the best letters to the horse ("When my daddy takes me to the track, will you please fly for me?") and rechristened its hot dogs "bird dogs."
The temperature hovered near 90� on race morning, but Dancer was happy. Sipping iced tea, he told SI's Herman Weiskopf, "This is the best weather we could have. All the record times by harness horses have been achieved in daylight and hot weather."
With a holiday crowd of 5,600 on hand in a holiday mood, Albatross flew—but not quite high enough. After rushing to a commanding lead at the quarter pole, he finished in 1:57[3/5], less than a second off the pacing record. A stiff breeze had come up and, Dancer said, "That's what made the difference." Even so, it was Albatross' 30th mile in two minutes or better, putting him even with the legendary Dan Patch and just one behind Bret Hanover.
The Big Bird, whose record is now 49 wins in 58 starts, is expected to go into stud at year's end, a reward that also awaits Speedy Crown. The $62,500 International purse raised Speedy Crown's career earnings to $367,369 and, because he is still so young, he probably could become a. millionaire, too. But he is also syndicated and, as Howard Beissinger calculates it, "He's probably good for $250,000 a year in stud." Pulling a sulky is not the only way a good harness horse can strike it rich.