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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
As a horse race, the final leg of the $75,000 American Trotting Classic at Hollywood Park last week was a real thriller. But as theater it proved to have a bad script.
For one thing, the fadeout had no hero. The wrong horse, in a sense, got kissed. And the plot was still hanging from a cliff.
There were seven horses entered in this, supposedly the deciding heat of the rich race. But only two of them got top billing: Jamin, the beautiful French standardbred whose class had told even 6,000 miles from home; and Senator Frost, the $4,000 bargain who grew up into the U.S.'s most valuable piece of trotting horseflesh.
Jamin, with his elegant French trainer-driver Jean Riaud, le beau, had become a great favorite with the California fans. He had won the first leg of the staggered-heat classic on October 24 with ease when Senator Frost broke stride at a critical point in the mile run. He had finished second to the Senator in the second leg on October 31 when he failed to take advantage of the rail. For the third encounter on November 11, Jamin drew the rail, and Senator Frost the outside position, and harness fans settled back for the race of the year. As Riaud climbed into his sulky in the paddock, his officer's boots gleaming and a gold tassel atop his black cap, the crowd shouted encouragement in high school French and fractured English.
"Arise, France!" shouted one emotional partisan.
Frost's backers retorted, "Show him, Senator!"
But in the end France fell and the Senator yielded. Little noticed before the race was a 5-year-old dowager of the harness track, the mare Charming Barbara, who only happened to be the defending champion in this particular race, having won it in 1958. Her incumbency impressed the crowd not at all, and they sent her away at 17 to 1. The bettors were voting heavily for the Senator (who went off at 4 to 5) and sentimentally for Jamin (5 to 2).
Drawing the rail proved the undoing of Riaud, or, more correctly, Jamin. A true mile-and-a-quarter or mile-and-a-half horse, the �tranger was in an unenviable position. As a distance specialist, he had to either a) sprint and try to steal the mile race on the front end, or b) lay back and face the risk of Senator Frost crossing quickly over to the rail and on to a runaway win.
Riaud elected to take the track and try to trot away from the speed at the start. He succeeded in keeping Senator Frost off the rail—and out of the winner's circle. But he also succeeded in setting up the race for the lesser horses, and at the finish it was two of them—Trader Horn and Charming Barbara—who were fighting it out.
Jamin flew out of the start for a first quarter of 29 flat, the half in 57.3 and seven furlongs in 1:43.1 (the listed world record for this rarely raced distance, set in 1925, is 1:46�). It was like starting an evening with five double Martinis. Experts knew it couldn't last.