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You may remember the definition of mixed emotions that the television comedians made popular a few years ago: watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your new Cadillac. This is nonsense. If you really want to experience mixed emotions, buy yourself a horse, send him off to make his fame and fortune, suffer through his failures—and then pick up the paper some day to read that he has finally won a race and paid, say, $164.40 to win, $87.40 to place and $30.20 to show.
I know, because it happened to me. On New Year's Day a handsome but previously undistinguished chestnut gelding named Dr. Dubious—my bright hope and bitter disappointment all through 1959—turned over a new leaf and won the second race at Florida's Tropical Park, paying those very prices. As his owner I suppose I should have been deliriously happy, and I guess I really was. The only trouble—
Let's start at the beginning.
Dr. Dubious was my own personal prize selection at a Keeneland fall yearling sale—a young son of the great Australian distance horse Bern-borough, out of a mare named Jinxy, who was the winning daughter of the winning daughter of a stakes-winning great-grandmother. He had first-class bloodlines, perfect conformation, sturdy legs and that look of champions in his eye—and he went cheap, which happens to be a requisite for my modest little stable.
Dr. Dubious was named by my son, in honor of the old Smith and Dale vaudeville skit. In return I promised my son to bet $5 for him every time Dr. Dubious ran, the proceeds to go to his college fund.
I had several other supposed pensioners of Dr. Dubious. For my favorite aunt, who continues to make a keen study of the race results at the age of 80, I always bet $2 across every time one of my horses goes to the post. I always bet five on the nose for my wife. There is a widow next door who had my firm promise to let her know every time I thought one of my horses had any kind of chance at all. At the New York office building on which I depend for most of my living, my stable has a small but devoted group of followers—junior writers, secretaries and office boys—who express their faith by betting on every horse I send to the post.
Alas, 1959 was a sad year for Dr. Dubious, the rest of my horses, my fan club, my aunt, my wife, my son and me. I started the year with nine horses in training, all of which should, in theory, have won frequently but in practice won very rarely. They acquired ailments which baffled the best brains of veterinary science. They went lame. One of them—this is ridiculous but true—got pregnant.
When the 1959 season ended in Ohio, where my stable had gradually been drowning in red ink all summer and fall, I had just one horse left in training: Dr. Dubious. What suffering he represented!
Early in 1959, while a groom was walking him around the barn in one of the first stages of training, the Doc got rambunctious, reared and fell backward on his rump. This taught him a useful lesson but left him scarcely able to stand.
It was October before the trainer finally got him over the injury and ready for his debut. It was humiliating. Our prospective Kentucky Derby winner was beaten 18 lengths by a field of the slowest 2-year-olds in Ohio.