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WON THE HEATS, LOST TO THE HEAT
Douglas S. Looney
September 13, 1976
Billy Haughton wanted to scratch Steve Lobell from the fourth heat of The Hambletonian, and he was both wrong and right: the colt took the trotting classic and $131,762 in 90� weather but, as Billy feared, collapsed afterward
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September 13, 1976

Won The Heats, Lost To The Heat

Billy Haughton wanted to scratch Steve Lobell from the fourth heat of The Hambletonian, and he was both wrong and right: the colt took the trotting classic and $131,762 in 90� weather but, as Billy feared, collapsed afterward

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With Nevele Thunder out of it and a couple of other horses having withdrawn, a smaller field contested the third heat. Quick Pay, strong all day, led nearly up to the place where they pay the winners, but in a whoosh here came Joe O'Brien and Armbro Regina, equaling the all-age filly and mare world record of 1:56[3/5]. Surprising Zoot Suit was second by a head and Quick Pay was third. Steve Lobell was fourth, Pershing fifth.

Now it was the three winners for the final heat—Zoot Suit, who hates apples and carrots; Steve Lobell, with soft feet; and Armbro Regina, with great fatigue. Setting off on their fourth mile journey in less than four hours, Zoot was tucked in behind Armbro Regina. As for Lobell, Haughton recalls, "I just thought I'd go nice and easy for third money." But as the sun was sinking behind the cornfields, he went to the front with a rush and won by half a length. Armbro Regina was second, but along the way clearly had drifted in front of Zoot Suit. So Zoot was given second place and second money of $65,881, while O'Brien's filly was reduced to third and $31,622. O'Brien had no complaints. The time was 2:02[3/5], and O'Brien said, "I wish I had two acres of air-conditioned pasture to put all these horses in."

Attendance was an estimated 14,000 and wagering on the four Hambletonian heats was a bet-and-giggle $115,512. People around Du Quoin like the races, but they save their money for the cotton candy and the saltwater taffy.

Later, celebrating the victory before his collapse, Steve Lobell quaffed a vodka and tonic and nosed a piece of cake. Having won the Yonkers Trot in July, he has a chance at trotting's Triple Crown—assuming he returns to form sufficiently for Haughton to enter him in the Kentucky Futurity next month in Lexington.

But Haughton, who insists The Hambletonian doesn't mean all that much to him (he won it in 1974 with Christopher T, which he didn't think was really good enough to be entered), says, "I like winning both ends of a daily double just as much." He could be excused for feeling smug about having talked Herman out of accepting a $200,000 offer for Steve Lobell just the week before. The price on the horse, ranked at the start of the season only the 22nd-best trotter in the country, may have just doubled.

Although Herman ordered up a case of champagne, he was still disturbed by what had almost happened. "It's inhumane," he said of the four-heat format. "We're digging holes in Mars and they're racing in the 19th century."

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