But on the female side, things are not nearly as starry. Mostly, there was a lot of luck. In the 1950s, Berger was keeping a mare named Scoot. Scoot was owned by Berger's next-door neighbor, George Begole. Because of personal problems, Begole lost interest in the sport. It is Berger's recollection that he had not been paying his monthly bills for several years and that he ultimately told her to just take the horse and call things even. It is Begole's recollection that he had been paying all the bills and that he sold Scoot to Berger for $1,000. That, he says today, "was not such a very great deal, seeing as I paid $8,000 for her."
Whatever, Scoot soon foaled Niagara Dream, who seemed to have other things on her mind besides racing, judging by her best time of 2:07[2/5]. But she foaled Niatross, and best estimates put Niagara Dream's present worth at $200,000. "I pray a lot," says Berger.
Along the way, she gave a half interest in Niatross to Galbraith, who had been her trainer for 22 years, and last year—in the middle of the horse's undefeated 2-year-old season—the two of them sold a 50% interest to Guida for $2.5 million plus performance bonuses that may add up to $1.5 million. Guida then created a 20-share syndicate—each share is now worth approximately $500,000—that becomes operative when Niatross goes to stud, where his fee may be as high as $40,000. The plan is to book Niatross to about 140 mares, which should produce about 100 live foals, and that would produce $4 million. Freidberg, a friend of Galbraith's and Berger's, says he has been besieged by callers anxious to get breedings to Niatross at, seemingly, any price.
Yet in what should have been a year of enormous fun there is nothing but acrimony among those involved with Niatross. Almost everyone is mad, in varying degrees, at almost everyone else. And it's getting worse. For example, Berger now refers to Guida, the syndicator, as a "vicious man." In the winner's circle after the Messenger, Barbara Galbraith, Clint's wife, stopped Morton Finder, the co-manager of the syndicate, and whispered in his ear, "May you rot in hell."
The core of the controversy is where Niatross will stand as a stallion. Millions of dollars are at stake. Galbraith wants him at Rodney Farms, a modest operation he and his wife own in upstate New York. Guida wants to send the horse to a classier stud in Kentucky next year to start his career as a sire; Galbraith wants to race him. In truth, racing him would be best for the sport. Invariably, 4-year-olds go even better than they did at three, and so the Niatross mystique would grow, and fans all over the country would have a chance to share in the good times. Understandably, however, the investors would not be thrilled to see their gold mine race for perhaps $500,000 in total purses next year when his stud income would be far greater. Also, the horse might hurt himself.
Last week a New Jersey judge ruled that Niatross should be turned over to Guida by the end of the year. The Galbraith/Berger interests will appeal the decision. "If you tell the truth," says Galbraith, "you always win, don't you?" For her part, Elsie Berger sounds determined. "God gives us breath," she says. "From then on it's a fight from the cradle to the grave—and I will fight." On the other side, William B. Lawless, Guida's lawyer, mused the other day, "A horse divided against itself cannot stand at stud."
True, and it is not inconceivable that things could get so muddled that Niatross could end up not racing and not standing at stud next year. That, of course, would be folly, and there is hope within the industry that maybe—just maybe—Galbraith, Berger and Guida will sit down and work it all out.
Ah, but Niatross. All's fine in his world. He's disgustingly healthy (his resting pulse is 29; 35 to 40 is normal) and apparently destined soon for some California racing. Watching him in the paddock, another top trainer-driver, Bill Popfinger, said, "There's no doubt he's the closest thing to perfection we've ever had in the harness business." Indeed. The crown definitely fits.