Willie's had his share of injuries, too, bowing three times in his left foreleg and once in his right, but he always came back. Farrington says, "People ask me, 'When are you going to retire that horse?' I tell them he's doing what he wants to do. If you were stuck out on a farm, wouldn't you like to jump in a truck and go to town once a week?"
Willie is definitely the traveling type. He visited 21 cities and 20 racetracks on his book tour, accompanied by Joe Campbell, his lanky, amiable groom. The tour started in March 1981 and lasted until early September. Willie made appearances at Macy's in New York, various shopping malls and the National Bookseller Convention in Atlanta; he was even a guest on TV talk shows, although he did little talking.
As for the autographs Willie provided, Campbell says, "I'd lift his foot, put it on the ink pad and then onto the book. But Willie would autograph just so many books. We'd do maybe a dozen, then he'd get tired. When Willie gets aggravated, he can be really mean." Willie wasn't the only one who got aggravated. When the horse stubbornly refused to lift his hoof one more time in Saratoga, a few of his fans got hostile. Says Campbell, "They felt because they went to the expense of buying the book that Willie should autograph it." Campbell finally solved the problem by taking one of Willie's shoes and hand-stamping the books himself.
At Hollywood Park on Oct. 21, 1981, disaster struck. Campbell had just finished jogging Willie when he noticed that he didn't seem right. Soon it was obvious that he was in great pain. The veterinarian diagnosed a twisted intestine and Willie immediately had surgery. "Only 50 percent of horses with a twisted gut survive," says Campbell. Rambling Willie was one of the lucky 50%, and he not only survived, he thrived. On Dec. 26, 1982 the seemingly indestructible Willie became the modern era's winningest racehorse when he scored his 120th victory at Maywood Park, Ill.
The feats go on. Last Wednesday night Willie stood in his stall at the Meadow-lands while Campbell got him ready for the sixth race, The Rambling Willie Tribute Invitational, a mile pace with a purse of $20,000. Willie has gray around his muzzle, his legs look as if somebody had dropped a few doorknobs down them, and he has a chronic sinus condition. Campbell applied Traileze to the horse's nose for the sinus problem, rubbed Grandpa's Salve, a concoction created by Vivian Farrington's father, on his aged legs, hitched up the sulky—and Willie was ready for his 301st race.
Naturally, he won, finishing a neck in front of 9-year-old Alpha Lobell in 1:58 for his 78th two-minute mile—another record—and his 127th career victory. In the winner's circle, Willie was given a cake decorated with a horse and sulky and a driver in the Farrington colors. He licked it tentatively.
Harness-racing rules allow a horse to race through his 14th year, but Vivian said after Willie's win in the Willie, "We're getting ready to retire him. It's getting hard to find a race for him, and we won't put him in claiming races. We don't want to cheapen him." When Rambling Willie does hang up his harness, he'll be shipped to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, which is a kind of living museum for great geldings of all breeds. Forego is there.
But the movie. What about the movie, Vivian? "When the producer came to the racetrack to talk to us about it," she says, "I said my prayers. I thought, if God wants me to make this movie, I'll dream about a horse when I go to bed tonight." That night Vivian dreamed about a field full of horses.