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The Governor had a ball
Douglas S. Looney
October 03, 1977
William Wirtz' colt made short work of the Jug, taking two straight heats in record time, but for a while it didn't look as though he'd ever get to the starting gate
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October 03, 1977

The Governor Had A Ball

William Wirtz' colt made short work of the Jug, taking two straight heats in record time, but for a while it didn't look as though he'd ever get to the starting gate

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The gambler at the $50 window had risked $10,000 on Governor Skipper to make a $5,000 profit. Chancy. A show ticket paid 20� for each dollar, which would have earned the gambler $2,000. In the second heat, in which he was bet down even further, a winning ticket paid 30� on the dollar, a show ticket 10�. Bill Wirtz had a payday of his own—the Governor earned $75,750—and he had bet nothing. "Unless they're at least 20-to-1," he said, "why bet?"

Actually, if the horse players among the crowd of 39,949 had known what Governor Skipper had gone through, the odds on Thursday afternoon might have been somewhat different. On Monday night the Governor came down with colic. "It's nothing," said the Governor's groom, Scott Norris. "It's like when you drink a beer too fast." But when a horse gets colic, he wants to lie down and roll around, and he can injure himself severely. The thing to do is keep him on his feet. Dr. Ronald Higginbotham was with the Governor until 2:40 a.m. on Tuesday. The veterinarian figures the colt ate some green hay.

That crisis past, the colt showed up lame at the track Tuesday morning. Although the Governor's aides tried to deny it, the colt's left ankle was indeed bad. Late Tuesday, Higginbotham gave the colt a shot of cortisone. No X rays were taken of the area because, says the vet, "Nobody wants to know for sure what's in there before the race."

By Wednesday night, the eve of the race, things seemed generally in hand, and Scott Norris, the son of the colt's trainer, Bucky Norris, allowed himself a moment of optimism. "This horse has never made a mistake," he said. "It has all been human error."

Jug Day dawned. Norris crawled out of his sleeping bag in front of the Governor's stall and stared at the horse's jaw, which had a swelling on it the size of a golf ball. Higginbotham was summoned again and located a 1�-inch splinter lodged beside the first pre-molar on the lower right, where the bit goes. The guess is that the sliver was in the hay. Higginbotham removed the splinter and then, less than four hours before the race, returned to bathe the spot in ether to ease the Governor's discomfort. "If this colt wins," said Higginbotham, "he deserves a medal for bravery."

But for all the adversity, the Governor clearly got the best of it in the draw for starting positions when he got the two-hole. Inside him was Candid Camera, a colt never accused of speed, and who was subsequently scratched. On his outside was Super Clint, a horse just becoming competitive with the big boys, and beyond him, Nat Lobell, who had become a mystery. After a glorious year in which he had earned more than $330,000 to lead his class, he had not won in six weeks. Then there was Jade Prince, trained and driven by Jack Kopas. But Jade Prince has had knee trouble (fluid is drained regularly from it) and his last fully successful outing had been back in June when he won the Cane Pace at New York's Yonkers Raceway.

The sick call was extensive. Tendon ills finally got the better of Kawartha Eagle; respiratory problems brought down Racy Goods; muscle troubles felled Striking Image; B.G.'s Bunny was hurt in the Meadowlands Pace. And Big Towner, a colt with the speed to go with the Governor, was not eligible.

Which left, essentially, the colt in the No. 6 starting position, Crash, as the one to mount the challenge. Crash had won almost $200,000 this year, but his owners were not sanguine about his chances of getting past the smooth-gaited Governor, who loves the tight turns of half-mile tracks.

In the first heat, driver John Chapman simply rolled the Governor to the front and kept him there. But while the Governor was setting records, an impressive trip also was turned in by Crash, who was forced to race wide the entire way but who showed his grit was true by finishing second, 4� lengths back. With Billy Haughton driving, Crash just edged the 44-to-1 New Deal, who had tucked in behind the Governor for an easy journey.

Before the final heat, Crash had a little work done on a loose shoe. Everyone else needed attitude adjustments, for as John Kopas conceded, "I don't think any of us have a chance." The only question was whether any of the Governor's ailments—stomach, ankle or mouth—would crop up to disable him. But when the half-mile went in a leisurely :59[3/5], the jig was up and the Jug beyond reach for Crash and the rest. The Governor turned it on, winning for fun in 1:56[2/5], only a tick slower than in the first heat. Jambooger, another colt with a heretofore lightweight rep, was second. Crash third. In the paddock Chapman said, "I think we spooked everybody that first heat."

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