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One day this winter Billy Haughton and his son Peter were having a bite of lunch at a restaurant near southern Florida's Pompano Park. As they got up to leave, the elder Haughton noticed that the waitress, a fetching creature, was giving his bachelor son a big smile. Outside, he told his son conspiratorially, "If you don't make a move toward that, you're crazy."
Billy Haughton obviously has high expectations for his boy, but then Billy himself is something of an overachiever, being merely the most successful trainer-driver in harness racing history. At 52 Haughton gets by on four or five hours sleep a night and still thinks nothing of shuttling between racetracks half a continent apart the way other people go to the corner grocery. During the last quarter century he has hustled his horses into the winner's circle, his name into the record books and his sculptured likeness into the Hall of Fame of the Trotter in Goshen, N.Y. At the end of last year his lifetime earnings were $22.1 million.
At 21 Peter Haughton does so well off the track that the buffs around Pompano say his stable consists of blondes, redheads and brunettes. But in the past two years he has begun to prove himself as a solid racing driver as well. So there are two Haughtons in the business now. Not long ago, for example, Billy asked Peter to drop whatever he was doing and go to Windsor Raceway in Ontario and drive the splendid pacing mare Handle With Care in a $24,000 race. The elder Haughton originally had been scheduled to go, but at the last moment decided to send Peter, instead.
It was the sort of whirlwind mission that Haughton p�re is famous for, and the way Haughton fils pulled it off suggests that bloodlines apply to people as well as horses. Peter flew up from Pompano in the morning, drove Handle With Care to a half-length victory in the afternoon and caught a return flight home that evening. Back at work on the track next morning, he shrugged and said, "My father sure gives you a lot of notice, right?"
Nor is that Peter's only such triumph. Indeed, young Haughton has contributed so much that practically overnight the pair has become harness racing's top father-and-son team. The sport abounds in family pairings—brother combinations, stepfathers and stepsons and, in the case of Neva and Joyce Burright, who used to campaign on the Midwest county-fair circuit, even a mother-and-daughter team. There are Inskos galore, Filions aplenty and so many Dancers—seven at last count—that until he retired four years ago Charles Dancer, Stanley's brother, seemed a family outcast; instead of a sulky he drove a city bus in Trenton, N.J.
But in typical Haughton fashion, Billy and Peter have developed into something above and beyond the rest. Traditionalists used to insist that no trainer could successfully handle more than a couple of dozen horses. Yet the Haughtons operate the world's biggest racing stable, with nearly 200 trotters and pacers in training. The payroll for 10 assistant trainers, 90-odd grooms and a small army of accountants and secretaries is $15,000 a week. And Billy Haughton refuses even to consider the possibility of slowing down. "You can't have too many good young horses," he says. "You never know which of them is going to come through."
Peter Haughton is the second eldest of Billy and Dottie Haughton's five children. He was named after Peter Campbell, a trotter his parents once owned. ("I'd rather be named for a horse than a lot of people I know," Peter says.) As a youngster he shunned the company of other children in order to listen to his father and other horsemen talking shop. "I didn't have what you'd call a normal childhood," he says. "I was interested only in horses."
Peter was just 16 when he first donned his father's green-and-white racing silks and only 19 when he stunned nearly everybody by winning his first $100,000 race. "I've never seen a kid as good with a horse as Peter," Billy Haughton says. "I'd say it even if he weren't my boy." Then he hastily adds, "But he's got a lot to learn."
Peter agrees with the last. Slightly built, like his dad, but with blond hair instead of Billy's gunmetal gray, he is a serious, articulate young man who downplays his triumphs in the sulky. Instead he talks of becoming "an all-around horseman," a phrase he utters with great solemnity. "To be a good driver, you need good horses," he says. "To have good horses, you've got to be a good trainer. My goal is to be a good trainer and driver."
He has been pursuing that objective most recently at Pompano, a small gem of a track that is something of a winter capital for harness racing. Beneath its towering palms many leading trainers prepare their young trotters and pacers for the Grand Circuit, the touring series of prestige races primarily for 2- and 3-year-olds that gets into full swing in mid-June in places like Detroit, Lexington, Ky. and Saratoga, N.Y. Pompano is analogous to baseball's spring training camps: you get the athletes into shape in the South, then send them North for the regular season.