Which could be said about the American horse, Savoir, who won the International last year, whipping Bellino, and is one of only four trotters to have won $1 million. In his first outing this year in early June, the 8-year-old brown gelding did a snappy 1:59.2 mile. But, inexplicably, in his last four trips he has finished no better than fourth (he was sixth in the International) and definitely has lost his trot. There are those who think he popped his cork in that June excursion. But extensive blood tests in the days before the International failed to disclose any malady. Driver Billy Haughton insisted, "There's nothing wrong with him." Clearly, however, there is, and although Haughton came away from the race grumbling that Italian Driver Sergio Brighenti, behind Delfo, had run into him and nearly knocked Savoir over, Billy confessed, "Savoir really has lost a shade off his old self." Bettors who sent him off at 5 to 1 had to be putting their money on him for old times' sake and past favors.
The other American entry, the 4-year-old mare Meadow Bright, had a big chance and finished third, even though her troubles run from chronic arthritis to bad tendon trouble to the fact she is in foal. Now known as the Trotting Mama, she was a sentimental choice at 5 to 1. Who wouldn't enjoy seeing a pregnant lady defeat a man at anything? Never mind that Meadow Bright has a miserable disposition, which prompted her groom, Ted Gawrin, to remark, "She just hates people." Biting and kicking are her most developed character traits. Delvin Miller gave her a good trip, but she ended up boxed in behind Bellino, unable to move even if she had had more move in her.
Miller bred the horse, sold her a year ago for $175,000 and now estimates her worth—thanks to several key wins, like the American Trotting Championship—at $500,000. Said Miller, "I'm tickled to death the mare did so well." Maybe, but after his hopes had been so high, the experience did leave him leaning over a rail spitting in the dirt.
No doubt Miller will remember the outing, for as the eight horses started their quest for a share of the $200,000 purse (Equileo got $100,000, Bellino $50,000 and Meadow Bright $24,000), Mama was on top and led through the first quarter-mile. Then Bellino took the lead, setting a leisurely pace, with Meadow Bright hanging close.
Added excitement was provided by Snegem Flight, whom the fans had pegged at 9 to 2, apparently bemused by the fact that he comes from absolutely undistinguished parentage in a sport where breeding is considered nearly everything—although Bellino has other-side-of-the-tracks breeding, too, coming from a sire and a dam in their 20s (old for horses), neither of whom had raced seriously. Snegem Owner-Trainer-Driver William Megens (now you see how the horse got his name) admits his horse's ability is a fluke, but he is having a high old time, because he remembers the days when he was working as a groom for $30 a week, sending $25 of it home to help his folks and using the remaining funds to live on Rice Krispies and milk. Says Megens, "A man doesn't have to make a lot of money, but he's a lot happier if he at least gets a shot at it."
Snegem appeared at the three-quarter mark in the second spot, fell back, apparently spent, then showed up second again at the top of the stretch. But the company was too classy. Equileo began his move and was readily identifiable by the blur as he stepped past Meadow Bright and then Snegem, who ultimately finished fifth. Froger got out the whip and caught Bellino, too, winning by half a length in 2:33.3, more than two seconds off the world record.
Duke Iran from Sweden (33 to 1) was fourth (excuse: average horse who feuds with starting gate); one Italian horse, Delfo (excuse: late arriving and had to endure quarantine in New Jersey), was seventh, and the other, Patroclo (excuse: terrible workouts), did not finish. Said Haughton: "What we learned was, Equileo was the best—tonight." True, for Equileo had perhaps more excuses than anyone. Now he gets to save them.