"Just three," Lynch said.
"O.K.," said Frey. "I don't think three races will bruise his ego that much."
For Frey, it was a big gamble. He already had turned down $10,000 for the dog. Still, he knew Downing wasn't lacking in aggressiveness.
"He's got to be first in whatever he does: first to eat, first to be put to bed, first one let out," Frey says. "If another dog even comes up alongside of him, he'll shove him, trying to put him down. But he's not a mean dog. He's a beautiful extrovert, just a big docile lovable puppy around the kennel. Herb Beasiey, who trains him, says he can't get rid of him. He follows Herb everywhere, even into his apartment. Herb lies down, the dog lies down right beside him."
So with some trepidation, Frey and Beasiey sent Downing to the post in the first of three elimination races. Those would be followed by three quarterfinals and three semifinals. After each round, the greyhounds would advance—or be eliminated—on a point scale.
In his first elimination Downing won by a half length. He romped in his next three races, and was being acclaimed a superdog.
"Hold on," said Beasiey, a cautious man, even though he has been married nine times. "He's a good dog but I don't know if he's a great dog. A great dog can come from behind. He can pass on either side. Downing never has had to do any of those things. He's always led from start to finish. I'm not going to get too high on him until I can see what he does when he has to come from behind. He had a great father, Big Whizzer, who had a lot of early speed but couldn't win from behind. We hope Downing didn't inherit that characteristic."
In his fifth Classic start, disaster struck. Bumped badly coming out of the box, Downing was hit hard again on the first turn. Just loping, he finished a poor sixth. "Now I guess we'll see what the dog's made of," said Frey. Beasiey nodded in agreement.
Downing ran his last quarterfinal on Feb. 19. It was like old times; his break wasn't the best, but in four strides he was going full bore and by the first turn he was in the lead. He held on to win in 30.35, just .03 of a second off the track record. Downing then breezed through the three semifinals. "The only thing that might beat that dog now is a cheetah," said Lynch, "and we aren't going to let any of those cats on the track."
"The guy I'm happy for is Tommy Lynch," said Frey. "Ever since I entered the dog he's been sweating that something might happen. He's been more worried than I've been."