But Speedy's price bugged a lot of eyes because of the colt's well-documented history of breaking stride. Last year he had six breaks in 16 starts. This year he has had four. Beissinger kept saying, "He's just too anxious to win."
He broke in a qualifying race in May, but Beissinger says the start was poor and it wasn't Speedy's fault; he broke at the Meadowlands, but Beissinger says he tried to get him in gear too fast and it wasn't Speedy's fault; he broke at Roosevelt, but Beissinger says the track was poor in the turns and it wasn't Speedy's fault; he broke at the Meadows last month, but Beissinger says the starting gate dipped back a bit and it wasn't Speedy's fault. By Hambo time, however, even Beissinger was about fed up. "Frankly, I'm getting tired of making excuses," he said.
All this gave rise to backstretch gossip that as fast as Somolli was, his competitive heart was small. Other horses were going quicker this year, including his chief rivals, Brisco Hanover and Florida Pro, both of whom had trips in 1:56 compared with Speedy's best of 1:57[4/5]. In five meetings with Florida Pro, Speedy lost four times; when Speedy set his world record at age two, Brisco came back the same afternoon and bettered it.
Against this backdrop of skepticism, Speedy and Beissinger went to work at Du Quoin. "I want him to win to eliminate all these doubts about him," said Ann Beissinger. Bob Mumma says that when he was taking a shower the morning of the race, the soap broke and he told his wife, "I hope that's the only break I'm connected with today." But a more substantive omen was Speedy's drawing the No. 1 post position in the field of eight. Critics immediately said that considering the trouble the colt often has at the gate, the inside wouldn't help him. But it did. For Speedy, the 4-to-5 betting choice, wired the first heat in world-record time. Nonetheless, past blunders were clearly on Beissinger's mind when he said after the heat, "He didn't feel like he wanted to make a mistake today."
Like most everything for Speedy, it wasn't easy. He was challenged most of the way after a leisurely 30-second first quarter. And coming home, Brisco had plenty of trot, except that driver Jim Miller, who was to have a frustrating day, was boxed in. For a moment, though, he thought he had enough daylight to squeeze between Beissinger on the rail and Florida Pro, driven by George Sholty, on the outside. Brisco got through but the sulky didn't, failing to clear Beissinger's bike by about an inch and a half. Miller then veered out into Sholty. The judges immediately moved Florida Pro, who had finished third, up to second and Brisco down to third. Miller didn't complain. "If I had made it," he said, "I would have been a hero."
After resting the colts 78 minutes, everyone went back to try again in the second heat. At the Hambo, the first horse to win two heats wins the event, a scheme that can require as many as four races, the last being a race-off if no horse wins two heats. Effective in 1981, there will be a maximum of three heats, with a different format prevailing. In the second heat, several in the field who didn't figure to win or even come close—including 99-to-1 Brilliant Yankee driven by Ben Webster—went out fast. Speedy got the lead at the three-quarter mark, but in the stretch Florida Pro was too tough and won in a photo, equaling Speedy's new world record of 1:55. Once again, Brisco Hanover was pushing hard, and Miller conceded he might have pulled out from behind Florida Pro a trifle early. Chortled Sholty, " Florida Pro has always had a pretty good attitude about going forward."
As time for the third heat approached, the feeling around the paddock was that Speedy Somolli was through. The same feeling swept the betting windows, where fans made Florida Pro first choice, Brisco second and Speedy third. Once again, Brilliant Yankee was an early leader, mixing it up with and confusing the big boys. But by the stretch, everything was sorted out and there was Brisco alongside Speedy on the lead. Beissinger says Jim Miller never got Brisco past him; Miller says he did. The patrol film supported Beissinger. Regardless, they were at each other's throats. Then, 20 feet from the finish—just as it appeared that a dead-tired but dead-game Brisco might come on to win—he broke stride. "You would have expected that Speedy would have been the one to do something like that," said one horseman. For his three miles of hot work on a dusty road, Speedy earned $120,640. Florida Pro was second, Brisco third.
For Beissinger it was an exhilarating day. "I kept telling myself," he said, "that I shouldn't feel any pressure. But I did." That figures. For money is getting big and Leavitt is one of the key men in horse inflation because of his willingness to pay big bucks in sales and syndications. Big results are thus expected.
The result of the Hambo was a big one for Speedy Somolli and he earned every dollar of it. But for Howard Beissinger, the win meant that for once, as he relaxed with well-wishers and a few friends in his mobile home, parked less than 100 yards from Speedy's stall, he didn't have to make any excuses.