With sulky designs almost certain to be improved still further, the idea of a 1:50 mile is suggested with a straight face. O'Brien agrees it is not unthinkable. Speed is showing at an earlier age, with some predicting that 2-year-olds soon will hold all the fast marks. And if they burn themselves up, well, they've had one great season, and their life on a breeding farm should be worthy compensation. Fred VanLennep, president of Castleton Industries, thinks the limit on faster times could turn out to be the horse's respiratory system. Already many are becoming allergic to dust.
Certainly tracks have not reached a speed limit; improvement continues. In its first 20 years of operation Detroit's Wolverine Raceway had one two-minute mile; this year the track was leveled and resurfaced, and now it is co-rated with The Red Mile as the fastest track in the country. The newly opened Meadowlands in New Jersey was fast to begin with, and faster still after $150,000 was spent to improve the surface.
O'Brien thinks breeding is the ultimate reason for the new speeds. But while breeding is getting more scientific, it is hard to understand how breeding could make such a dramatic difference in the course of a single year. One simple possibility is that by pure chance there happen to be a lot of awfully good trotters and pacers this year. Certainly artificial insemination has allowed more quality breeding, though the object increasingly seems to be speed to the detriment, some think, of endurance.
The drivers themselves figure in the speed outbreak, too. The game used to be to sit back, save your horse, get in position, then dash home from the top of the stretch. No more. Now the drivers tend to go close to all out all the way; the best ones make it. A one-minute half-mile used to draw raves. Now it takes at least a 55-second half. Peter Haughton says it was about a year ago that he started noticing this gambling, hell-bent driving style.
There was speed to burn at Lexington even when the oval was turned soft by rain for two important heat races—the Kentucky Futurity for trotters and the Tattersalls Stake Pace. The first heat of the Futurity was won by Soothsayer, a hard-luck colt driven by Delvin Miller, in 1:59[2/5] on a track Miller pronounced three seconds slow. Steve Lobell, the winner of the Yonkers Futurity and The Hambletonian and driven by Billy Haughton, was second by inches and thus still very much in contention for trotting's Triple Crown.
Next trip Quick Pay, driven by Peter Haughton, won in a photo in 1:59 over Steve Lobell. The third heat was almost a carbon with Quick Pay winning in 1:59[1/5], Steve Lobell second by a neck. Peter had won the $55,000 and knocked his old man out of the Triple Crown.
In the pace Keystone Ore once again demonstrated his considerable talent. Driven by Dancer, the winner of the recent Little Brown Jug left in a hurry and showed up back home in 1:55[2/5], a miraculous time given the conditions. Dream Maker, although dead last by 14 lengths, was timed in 1:58[1/5].
In the second heat Keystone Ore had another swift journey, winning in 1:56[3/5], and again the entire field was easily under two minutes.
The cold, rainy weather at Lexington precluded what would have been an orgy of record-breaking in time trials. The fine pacer Oil Burner was on hand, for example, poised for an assault on Steady Star's fastest-ever record, but never got to try. And Miller's 4-year-old Songflori hung around all week hoping to beat the alltime trotting mark.
Since theorizing about speed obviously wasn't making the horses any swifter, Jade Prince's trainer and driver. Jack Kopas, was letting nature take its course: "I feed him hay, the best oats, rest him up, and see how fast he will go."