Kopas said his colt swerved when Thorpe Messenger, driven by Delvin Miller, hit the rail and scared Super Clint. Miller said he hit the rail when Dancer forced him over there. And so forth. When things go wrong, there's always plenty of blame to go around.
In the second heat, the competition looked keener. The field included Jade Prince and Nat Lobell, colts that finished one-two in the Cane Pace earlier this summer and are trained and raced by the Canadian father-and-son team of Jack and John Kopas. (Super Clint is the third pacer in the Kopas bumper crop.) Then there was Crash, driven by Billy Haughton, who seemed ready to race after a spotty season, and Glen Garnsey's Striking Image. There were plenty of whispers: Jade's always iffy left knee had acted up during the last month and fluid had to be drained off; Nat Lobell had been out 21 times this year, perhaps too much; Striking Image had kicked, off a shoe and put a nail into his foot the day before the race.
Striking Image got to the top by the half-mile pole, overtaking Crash. But as they turned into the homestretch, Crash was back in front. Meanwhile, Nat Lobell had been gliding along in third, and now he brushed up on the outside and forged past his tired rivals, winning in 1:56. Crash finished second, and Jade Prince, who had done most of his racing in the fifth spot, was third, ahead of 82-to-1 shot Inner Circle. Striking Image was a worn-out sixth. Only the top four from each division qualified for the decisive heat.
Skipper drew the No. 1 post, which was a big advantage, and the fans made him the 4-to-5 favorite. Lobell was the second choice. Chapman and Skipper took charge at the start and the race charts show they led wire to wire. They didn't. For in the hard-driving finish, Lobell got his head in front. Seldom does a horse regain first place under these circumstances, the sting having been taken from him, but Skipper did. Both drivers hung around the winner's circle until the finish was flashed. Kopas saluted his rival and Skipper's winnings of about $42,000. Or 1.68 goats.
Jonquil Hanover had fallen at the finish after catching a shoe, hurling Sholty headlong down the track, but neither man nor beast suffered serious injury. The other losers were their usual controlled selves. Haughton said of Crash, "I think we got all we could." Jack Kopas said of Jade Prince, a disappointing sixth, "I have no excuses. We weren't good enough."
The sentimental choice had been Delvin Miller, the founder of The Meadows and creator of the Adios, named after Miller's exemplary pacing sire. Delvin has won everything, just about, except this race he created. But if he couldn't win the race, or even come close—Thorpe Messenger was last in his heat—he could make sure parties were nonstop during the Grand Circuit week that his wife, Mary Lib, calls Grand Circus week.
Yet, Governor Skipper was a popular victor. Trainer Norris, after 25 years in the business, had his first big winner and said, "Boy from I-o-way makes good." Rock Rapids is proud. Driver Chapman, another of the Canadians making it big in harness racing (more than $14 million in winnings, sixth on the alltime list), had his most noteworthy triumph since winning the Roosevelt International in 1974, and his first big success in the Adios. "When I don't get a kick out of winning, I'll quit," says Chapman, who, as a schoolboy, was offered a hockey scholarship in Toronto.
There was talk at The Meadows that Governor Skipper will be sold soon. Says Norris, " Mr. Wirtz gave $3 million for a lame hockey player [ Bobby Orr]. Now, do you think he has to sell Skipper?"
Whatever, come next month and the biggest pace of all, the Little Brown Jug, the smart money gives Skipper a lot more than a goats of a chance.