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Arthur J. Brown is founder and chairman of the board of the New York based ABC Freight Forwarding Corp. He estimates he has owned between 800 and 1,000 harness horses. For hundreds of them, he has incorporated the word "Freight" into their names: Top Freight, Pay Freight, Night Freight, Trim Freight—almost everything except Damaged Freight, the very thought of which dismays him. Brown has been in racing since 1947, waiting and waiting for his superhorse, the one worthy of the ultimate corporate salute: ABC Freight.
Three years ago Brown bought a mare in foal named A.C.'s Princess for $8,000, and her offspring turned out to be so gorgeous, so exquisite, so everything, that Brown bestowed upon him the coveted name.
But early on, it was discovered that because of one of those inexplicable administrative goofs, nomination payments had not been made to keep ABC Freight eligible for most of the biggest and best races for 2- and 3-year-olds, including the Hambletonian. And nothing could be done to rectify the mistake. The woman who made the error, Jeanette Van Manen, felt certain she would lose her office job at ABC Freight. "If I were Mr. Brown, I would have fired me," she says. "He had cause." Says Brown, "It makes me a little sick. But I can take things in stride pretty good."
So can Freight, who simply went out last year and won the only two stakes races he was eligible for (during the season, he won 11 of 14 starts), then was shipped to California where he time-trialed in 1:57.1, more than a second faster than any 2-year-old trotter in history. Based on his 1976 efforts, the U.S. Trotting Association estimated in its experimental ratings that Freight could race a mile this year in 1:55, which would eclipse the world record of 1:55.3 set by his old man, Noble Victory, in 1966.
ABC Freight is so impressive that discussions this spring have been on two levels: Freight and The Others. Last Friday night at The Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., Freight made his first start of the season. The bettors quickly made him the 6-to-5 favorite in the field of 16. Mostly, talk centered on whether Freight would go through the season undefeated: the consensus was that his chances were good. At the trackside restaurant, overlooking the sports complex that rose out of a swamp, Arthur J. Brown, family and friends had the victory champagne delivered before the race. "This horse is poetry in motion," rhapsodized Clint Galbraith, Freight's driver-trainer.
The starting gate went by and Freight trotted home 10th, beaten by a shade more than 23 lengths. The winner in 1:59[1/5] was Green Speed, a horse registering his own Hambletonian credentials. Speed has a sometimes nasty disposition: his owner, Beverly Lloyds of New York, insists, "He bites everyone but me."
Yet, while Green Speed was getting the big bucks (his share of the purse was $50,000) and showing the big promise, horse people were talking once again about how terrific ABC Freight is—as if yellow jackets had invaded the picnic but everybody was determined not to notice. Driver Joe O'Brien, who finished ninth with Touchdown Hanover, and who drove Freight in the record-breaking California time trial, said, "ABC Freight is a wonderful colt. I like him a lot." Driver Buddy Gilmour said, "He's the best horse I ever sat behind." And Driver Jimmy Larente said, "He's a perfect colt." Apparently, with better than five months of big-time racing left this season, it is a trifle early to change the name to Lost Freight.
Besides, Freight had a whole clutch of excuses for his poor performance. First, he drew the No. 12 starting position, which meant that he had to leave in the second tier and figure a way to get through the traffic. Second, he hadn't had a "tightening" race before this one, The Beacon Course, which became most attractive to horsemen when the original $40,000 purse was jacked to $100,000. Third, and most crucial, Freight had a fever for three weeks, shaking it only 10 days before the race. As Galbraith confessed, "Fighting it off took a real toll on him." Consideration had been given to scratching him but Galbraith had said no. "You've got to head for the gate sometime," he said.
Galbraith was under heavy pressure, partly because Morton Finder, a friend and adviser of Brown's and the president of a New York breeding farm, was against Freight's risking an unbeaten season, given his condition. "If it were up to me, I wouldn't start him," Finder said. It is his belief that for stud purposes, a brief 3-year-old career is all that is necessary—"just enough to reassure people." Friday night did nothing to reassure anybody, except the opposition.
Suddenly, several of them sensed easier days ahead, especially after news came early the next morning that Freight had a fourth excuse—an inflamed throat that no doubt had contributed to his lethargic performance. A long rest could be in the offing.