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There was no saying whoa to this Melvin
Lynn Simross
October 01, 1973
Take away one leg from a pacing colt and what do you have? In the Little Brown Jug, a win by a three-legged horse, namely Melvin's Woe, who was so lame going into the rich, classic race he was nearly scratched
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October 01, 1973

There Was No Saying Whoa To This Melvin

Take away one leg from a pacing colt and what do you have? In the Little Brown Jug, a win by a three-legged horse, namely Melvin's Woe, who was so lame going into the rich, classic race he was nearly scratched

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"You never know what he's going to do," Waples said. "He doesn't like the gate and he's liable to come out running. It wouldn't be the first time he's done it." Dick Buxton, an Ohioan with no fewer than three horses in the Jug, explained that his Faraway Bay had to have oxygen about 20 minutes before every race because of the smoke inhalation he had suffered last winter in a barn fire. "He might still be having trouble because of that fire," Buxton said. "He just hasn't done well so far this season."

So many horses (17) had been entered in the $120,000 race that it was split into two elimination divisions, with the first four finishers in each to come back for another mile. If neither previous winner took that one, a final three-horse race-off would be required. Melvin's Woe was limping when O'Brien took him out on the track for his first warmup. He gimped around at a jog. "He was about like this when we raced in Detroit," said Joe, not without hope. He and Owner Downing decided to "try one heat anyway." Melvin went two slow warmups and waited in the paddock in ice-water bandages.

By race time the track was fast, "as fast as it's ever been," said Curly Smart, the man who oversees its preparation. "Why, we put more water on it with the truck than that little bit of rain did."

What Melvin's Woe looked as he limped out was the opposite of the track—slow. "He'll never make it," said a man by the paddock fence. "Listen," said another, "I was here in '58 when O'Brien won with Shadow Wave, and that horse couldn't walk, either." He could pace, though, and as things turned out so could Melvin's Woe. The first heat was almost a breeze as Melvin and O'Brien swooped around Billy Haughton's Keystone Smartie in the last turn and accelerated into the stretch. At the wire Melvin's Woe was 234 lengths ahead of Valiant Bret.

When the colt returned from the winner's circle, Buckley ran into the paddock with the ice-water boots and O'Brien conferred with Downing and his wife, who had come down from the grandstand. "He just might make it for a second heat," O'Brien said. "The time in the boots should help him. Let's wait and see."

Buxton and his long shot Faraway Bay won the second division, defeating, among others, Ricci Reenie Time, last year's juvenile champion and winner of two straight heats of the rich Adios Pace in Pennsylvania last month. In a searing stretch drive Faraway Bay came up the middle of the track from fifth place to cross the finish line a length in front of Otaro Hanover, driven by Herve Filion. O'Brien and his other colt, Armbro Nesbit, were another length farther back in third.

There was a long wait until the final heat. By the time it came, Melvin's Woe had been able to stand in his boots for almost two hours. But as the eight colts came out on the track, he was limping again, and as they left the gate it was all O'Brien could do to keep him on the pace. Melvin's Woe quickly tucked into third and shuffled around the first turn, nearly falling. Glen Garnsey, who was catch driving Armbro Nesbit for O'Brien, was in front on the rail at the head of the stretch and it looked as if a race-off might well be necessary, for as Melvin's Woe rounded into the stretch he was boxed in on the rail, seemingly with nowhere to go. But then, with only a few yards remaining, Armbro Nesbit bore out. He had done the same thing in losing the Cane Pace in New York in July. Through the unexpected opening spurted Melvin to beat Armbro Nesbit by a neck.

Back at the O'Brien barn after the victory ceremony, Doc Buckley stood grinning—with tears running down his cheeks. O'Brien was massaging his colt's bad leg and saying he guessed Melvin's Woe had raced enough for the year. And Thurman Downing was listening politely as his wife was telling a bystander, "Well, we used to own part of this little island called Norman's Woe, and we have a friend in Kentucky named Melvin, and...."

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