Speedy Somolli, a colt that has had more excuses made for him than any animal since the Cowardly Lion, won the Hambletonian last Saturday in Du Quoin, Ill. He not only won two of three heats in textbook style on a perfect summer day but also trotted the first of them in a world-record 1:55.
It's not that Speedy had been all that unspeedy this year. Before the Hambo, he had won six of his 12 starts and earned more than $211,000, tops among 3-year-old trotters. The thing is, so very much was expected of him. Some horsemen were figuring Speedy to so dominate his class this year that he would come to Du Quoin with perhaps 12 wins in 15 starts and maybe earnings of $400,000 or so, and generally display a talent for trotting on water.
This unbridled enthusiasm began a year ago this month when Ann Beissinger of Hamilton, Ohio, half owner of Speedy, heard that people might be willing to pay huge amounts of money to buy the colt. Subsequently, when Speedy went 1:57[2/5], a world record for 2-year-olds, $1 million was the talking figure. Ann's husband, veteran trainer and driver Howard Beissinger, was impressed, and the couple talked it over.
"Sounds pretty good," said Howard.
"Naw, I think I'll hold out for $2 million," said Ann.
"I'd be ashamed to ask anybody that much."
Whereupon Alan Leavitt, owner of Lana Lobell Farms, offered $2 million, most ever for any 2-year-old of any breed. Ann's partner in Speedy, Kim Mumma of Harrisburg, Pa., was reluctant to sell the first racehorse she had owned but succumbed to Ann's logic. "Look, we can each be a million-dollar baby," she said. As the deal evolved, Howard Beissinger and Bob Mumma each wanted 10% of Speedy, which they purchased from the women. Leavitt, who didn't care how much he owned as long as he had controlling interest, took 51%. The remaining 29% was purchased by Bill Rosenberg, chairman of the board of Dunkin Donuts, Inc., who when offered the chance to buy part of Speedy could hardly wait to spend the required $585,000. Rosenberg has been involved in many horse deals (he owns $400,000 worth of Green Speed, who last year set the world record Speedy eclipsed) and recalls the time that Delvin Miller failed to win with a favored Rosenberg horse. A gloomy Miller telephoned, but Rosenberg abruptly dismissed the apologies, saying, "No problem, Delvin. We'll just make the holes in the donuts bigger."
So the sheer amount of money involved focused attention on Speedy's 3-year-old campaign. But in view of the colt's success Saturday, he likely was a bargain at $2 million because the win has upped his stud value enormously. That's next year. This year, he's not done racing. With victories in the Yonkers Trot and the Hambletonian, he now points for the Oct. 6 Kentucky Futurity at Lexington's Red Mile, where a victory would make him the first horse to win trotting's Triple Crown since Super Bowl in 1972.
Do the Beissingers or Mummas then regret selling most of Speedy? "Not at all," says Kim Mumma. "After all, when you're talking about any more than $2 million for a horse, isn't that simply greed?" Besides, this isn't the first Hambo winner Beissinger has sold. He had Speedy Crown, Speedy Somolli's sire, judged him "average" and sold him for $20,000. He continued to train him, however, and Speedy Crown went on to win the Hambletonian in 1971. A third Beissinger-trained colt, Lindy's Pride, triumphed in 1969.