This is the same thing as winning the Stanley Cup," chortled William Wirtz, president of the Chicago Black Hawks. "It feels just as exciting." Not that Wirtz is much of an authority on what it feels like to win the Stanley Cup, no one with the Black Hawks having experienced the sensation since 1961. But Wirtz could be forgiven for failing to keep his exuberance on ice last Saturday afternoon at The Meadows racetrack near Pittsburgh.
His 3-year-old pacer, Governor Skipper, had just won the prized Adios, putting the colt in the front row of his class. And like any man who has known his share of defeats (the Wirtz family also owns the Chicago Bulls basketball team), the triumph was oh-so-much tastier. Besides, there's something about the human makeup that makes a person delirious when a horse—to which wallet and ego are strapped—wins. "You maybe get a horse like this once in a lifetime," Wirtz said. He owns the colt, a homebred, with his father and brother.
In the first heat, Governor Skipper paced the mile in the world-record time of 1:54[4/5] for 3-year-olds on a?-mile track. That is 1[1/5] seconds better than the record set at The Meadows last year by Keystone Ore and Armbro Ranger, and [1/5] off the all-age standard set by mighty Albatross in 1972 as a 4-year-old.
In the final, Skipper was headed by Nat Lobell some 50 yards from the finish, then showed the want-to to come back and win, as Wirtz described it, "by a good hair." Or closer. For as Skipper's driver, John Chapman, came under the finish wire in 1:56[3/5], he hollered at John Kopas, driving Lobell, "You beat me." Replied Kopas, "I think so, too." The photo showed otherwise.
Skipper had been among the very good ones all year, and he twice was clocked in 1:55[4/5]. Before the Adios, he had earned $132,893 this season and almost $250,000 in two years. Still, he seemed to be making a career of poor racing luck and had too many seconds and thirds that would have, could have or should have been firsts.
When Skipper was posted the winner, the colt's trainer, Buck Norris, broke into tears. Which was approximately what he did several years ago when he first saw Skipper, a tall, gangly animal that stood sort of funny. "Yeah, well, you might say crooked," offers Norris. After Norris recovered from his depression, "I told myself the important thing was not how he stands but how he picks his feet up. He picks his feet up perfectly."
And on Saturday put them down just as nicely, which was glorious stuff for Wirtz the owner and for Wirtz the promoter. As any sports big shot worth his private box knows, the important thing is to win, but if you can't, then dazzle the folks with silliness—with exploding scoreboards and Bat Days. It was in this spirit that Wirtz disclosed not long ago that for every $10,000 Skipper won, he would buy the colt a goat because he "certainly has a way with them." It's folklore around barns that horses like goats. But as money winnings climbed, Skipper collected nearly as many goats as Jehoshaphat. So Wirtz announced that he would get Skipper one only for every $25,000 he won. Wirtz promoted the idea, he says, because "people like stories about goats."
Everybody did like the story. But there were problems at New York's Roosevelt Raceway, Skipper's home, where it was discovered that the horse doesn't like his goats, particularly the females. But Wirtz plans to keep buying the animals, in hopes that Skipper's attitude will change. There are now about 18 in the herd. Each costs 75� a day to feed.
Given Skipper's performance in the Adios, the goats are in no danger of starving. In his qualifying division, the colt was the second choice of the bettors at 2-to-1, behind Kawartha Eagle, driven by Stanley Dancer. Eagle had once been thought to be the class of the 3-year-olds, but he suffered bowed tendons while training in Florida, which delayed his development this season.
Leaving from the six hole, Dancer hustled an unruly Eagle to the front and generally kept him there until the stretch, when Skipper paced past easily, followed by Super Clint, a 49-to-1 shot driven by young Kopas. Eagle was third and Jonquil Hanover, driven by George Sholty, was fourth. For Sholty, it was the beginning of a trying day, for he was roughed up during the race by Kopas. Race officials posted an inquiry and ruled that Kopas had interfered. They reordered the finish: Skipper, Eagle, Jonquil and Clint. "I didn't complain," said Sholty, "and I wouldn't have filed an objection. But John did get a little excited and ran underneath me."