Out in the pleasantly rolling Orange County countryside, the prize crops of lettuce and celery—on which the area's black-dirt farmers depend for their livelihood—were shriveling under a relentless, blazing sun. The infield grass of Goshen's Good Time Track was as brown in spots as the surrounding hillsides, despite the best efforts of groundskeeper Victor Golemboski to bring it to this day—of all days—in close-cropped, green perfection. Sole consolation for sad-eyed, 69-year-old Golemboski as he surveyed his domain were the close-packed beds of rainbow-colored giant zinnias and phlox, bordering the track for 300 yards and brightening it all along the home stretch. Through two near-killing frosts, a month-long dry spell and against swarms of Japanese beetles, the keeper had nursed these flowers. "After today," he said, "the sun and those Jap beetles can have 'em."
SCOTT FROST A SHOW-OFF
Looking out at Victor Golemboski's zinnias from under the pumpkin-orange and royal blue striped awning covering the stands, 16,000 people sweltered in the dead calm and damp heat. And a few dozen yards from the sharp first turn of the track, in the stable area where the heat was most oppressive of all, Scott Frost was clattering around in his stall, obviously enjoying himself. This great 3-year-old trotter, focus of all speculation about the race, is one of the biggest four-footed show-offs in harness history, and today he had all the visitors he could ask for. As the curious trooped by in a steady stream, he kicked at the straw, rolled his eyes, put out his head to be petted, snorted and bared his teeth—performing with the same gusto that characterizes his appearances on the track. At his feet, a small, honey-colored cocker spaniel—Little Dog to the stable crew—yipped his warning at any who came too close to the horse. Little Dog has been the colt's constant companion ever since he joined the Camp Stables in California eight months ago.
A few feet away, three men were standing with a reporter. They were Don Beall, the groom, who sleeps in the doorway of Scott Frost's stall every night; Milt Leid, all-round mother hen for the stable and Joe O'Brien, trainer-driver. All three are small men, all three were worried. Leid was talking: "The pressure on Joe is terrific. This is just about the classiest field they've ever had for a Hambletonian. Any other year, any one of those horses might figure to win, but this year, everybody's positive it's got to be Scott Frost. When you're driving with a chance to win, you can enjoy yourself a little...but not this way. Another thing is that track out there. It's cuppy [soft], which is okay for some trotters that just skip along the surface like ballet dancers, but not Scotty. He's got the longest stride you ever saw—we had to get him a special sulky, higher, wider and longer, so he wouldn't kick it. And when he reaches out, digs in and pushes back, that soft clay just flies out from under him."
One other thing worried this trio, though they tried to shut their own minds to it and keep it secret from sportswriters looking for stories. That was the suspicion that their horse had reached and passed one of his periodic peaks—physically and psychologically—about a week ago. It had simply been impossible, through a full, early season of racing, to point Scott Frost for this one race.
O'Brien, however, was ready. Joe O'Brien wears the perpetual look of the schoolboy whose teacher has just caught him in some bit of mischief—the lowered head, the furrowed brow, the half-smile at some private joke. And today it was as hard to pry a word out of O'Brien as it would be from that trapped schoolboy. As he left the paddock later, bouncing along behind his frisky colt, his last word was that he was "hopeful."
Among those watching him head for the track was pert, vivacious Mrs. Betty O'Brien, excited and bubbly as her husband was quiet and tense. "Oh, Joe's in fine shape," she said to the reporter. "Yes, he had a good sleep last night. Mr. Camp gave him two sleeping pills, but he fell asleep before he could take them. He'll doze right off behind the wheel of our car if I'm not careful. When we drive across country from one track to another, I read to him to keep him awake. He likes mystery stories best. The only trouble is he gets so interested in my reading, he doesn't watch the gas gauge. On our last trip out from California, we ran out of gas twice while I was reading to him..." Then she ran off to the grandstand to watch the first heat of the 30th Hambletonian.
In the next hour and 10 minutes—racing two mile heats with an hour's rest between—Scott Frost showed those who'd never seen him before why he is the best 3-year-old trotter alive. In each heat, he ran a different race. Breaking fast in the first, he led practically all the way, turning on his blazing brush speed when challenged. In the second, he was beaten to the first turn and O'Brien tucked him into the rail in second place. Hemmed in there, he was fourth by several lengths at the half-mile post. By the three-quarter, he'd brushed into the lead, was never again headed as he trotted the second fastest time in Hambletonian history, 2:00 3/5.
(As one rival driver put it later, "Scotty was off form today, and the track was wrong for him. Under those conditions, a good horse does as well as he can. But a great horse will still win.")
RED ROSES FOR A WINNER
O'Brien drove Scott Frost to the front of the judges' stand, where they draped the blanket of roses around the colt's neck, and a swarm of photographers and rail jumpers surrounded him for a half hour. Watching his chance, Milt Leid grabbed the roses, slipped through the crowd before souvenir-seekers tore them to shreds. Back at the stables, he hung the blanket carefully on a low rope near the winner's stall, and began receiving congratulations from a stream of other trainers, grooms, drivers and plain harness fans.
Little Dog had been waiting patiently for his friend to return to the stall. He sniffed at the roses, liked what he smelled and took a tentative bite of the nearest blossom. Perhaps in the day's excitement they'd forgotten to feed Little Dog; maybe he just liked roses. Anyway, while Leid was shaking hands and saying thank you, and before Scott Frost was brought to his stall in triumph, Little Dog had made his dinner on eight red Hambletonian roses.