Then Syracuse made an impressive pitch that included a million bucks for the 1981 Hambo. It promised big promotion, off-track betting, a lottery on the race and a crowd of perhaps 100,000. When the Hambletonian was first raced in 1926, it was at Syracuse. Thus, New York says it's merely asking the Hambo to come home.
On Oct. 5 the Hambletonian Society will vote on which offer to accept. "We will do what is best for harness racing," says Max Hempt, president of the Society. Says Hayes, "I don't understand how, if they eliminate Du Quoin, it's a net gain for the sport."
With all the conversation about the sale of the place and the megabucks of the future, this year's Hambo was nearly lost in the shuffle. Which in a way was fortunate because the 12 3-year-old trotters entered constituted by far the weakest field in recent years. The favorite, to the virtual exclusion of all others, was Chiola Hanover, who had won 11 of 13 starts this year against almost all of the same opponents. The colt's trainer, Bill Vaughn, couldn't think of one thing wrong with Chiola, whose season's earnings of almost $400,000 going into the Hambo were nearly twice that of the next richest horse, Crown's Cristy.
So it was appropriate that Legend Hanover was ignored. Although he was named 1978's 2-year-old Trotter of the Year, '79 has been a disaster. He went 11 races without a win and had only four victories in 19 tries. Further, the colt's regular driver, Joe O'Brien, was ruled ineligible to take the reins in the Hambo by the Illinois Racing Commission. The commission cited a rule stipulating that a trainer who has a horse in a race—O'Brien trains Armbro Unlimited—cannot drive another horse he doesn't train in that race.
An emergency call was thus put in to veteran driver George Sholty—the very man who was bitterly disappointed in last year's Hambo when his Florida Pro failed to win; the very man who this year trained and drove the pacer Sonsam, the most expensive 2-year-old standardbred in history ($6.3 million), who was injured on Aug. 4 and forced into early retirement. The crowd of 16,000 at Du Quoin responded by sending Legend Hanover off at 11 to 1 in the first heat.
Predictably, Chiola went right to the top after the first quarter. Just as predictably, Legend, trapped in poor racing position, was lost in the crowd. But coming down the stretch, Sholty had the words of Ray Tripp, Legend's trainer, firmly in his mind: "When you go for home, roll him. He'll take a drive." Sholty tried to take Legend wide of Chiola, but the tiring favorite was bearing out. Suddenly, there was a hole on the inside, and Sholty ducked under to fill it and win by half a length in a brilliant piece of driving. The time was a so-so 1:57.
A little more than an hour later, the field was back at it—to triumph in the Hambo a trotter must win two heats—and once again, Legend was just a face in the crowd until the stretch run. Then once more the canny Sholty came on to win the heat—and the Hambletonian—by a head, in 1:56[1/5]. Nobody was complaining. Not even Chiola's people, who had seen their colt lose two races by a total of less than a length.
Legend Hanover, purchased for $87,000, is owned by Dr. Raymond Gait, a Chicago internist and cancer researcher. Gait has been involved in harness racing for 13 years, and three years ago he started using a portion of his horses' earnings to help finance his cancer research. To date, the standardbreds have contributed more than $300,000.
Hey, doc, why not get government research grants, like everyone else?
"Have you ever tried to get one? Too much red tape."