For some reason, people persist in calling Billy Haughton "Howton" or "Hoeton," when it's really "Hawton," as in Charles Laughton. When he first broke into harness racing he used to correct them, but he doesn't bother any more. Aside from that, you'd think everything was perfect for Billy Haughton.
At 35, up from stableboy by his own talent and effort, he bestrides his field like a colossus—a wiry, clear-eyed prime-of-life colossus. For the past six years, he has won more races than anyone in trotting (total: 936); for the past seven years, he has won more money (total: $3,677,831). He has one lovely home on the lake front in Maitland, Florida, another set in the rolling woods of Brookville, Long Island. Most athletes attract pretty brides, but even in this class, Billy's blonde, fair-skinned Dorothy is something special. He has three chubby, handsome sons, 6, 4 and 2 years old. He has won every major prize the sport offers, some of them two or three times—the Little Brown Jug, the Messenger, the Fox, the Geers, the Gotham, the Good Time. You name it, he's won it. All but one. Trotting's Golden Fleece—The Hambletonian—the prize of prizes, has always eluded him.
This year, Billy should win the Hambletonian. The colt's name is Hickory Pride. Or Circo. They're both his, and last week at Laurel (Md.) Raceway, he saw them finish 1-2, in the order named, for the second week in a row, in races against the best of the 3-year-olds available at the moment. Hickory Pride went his second mile in 2:03 2/5; no trotter his age has ever achieved such speed so early in the season. Many of the sport's most respected horsemen, incidentally, do not believe in pushing colts so hard at this stage in the campaign; in fact, of Haughton's three principal Hambletonian competitors two have yet to start their trotters at all and the third has raced but once. Billy takes another view:
"I think horses get bored with just training. If they're sound, I believe in racing them. Hickory Pride's like a lot of horses; he doesn't like to train and he won't extend himself, so you can't sharpen him up that way. Besides, horses go bad on the training track as well as on the race track. I'll take my chances."
If Hickory Pride wins the Hambletonian, victory in the classic will be on its way to becoming a family affair. He is out of the same dam as Hickory Smoke, who won two years ago, which makes them half brothers. He is by the same sire as Emily's Pride, who won last year, and though there is no term in horsemen's language for this relationship the blood tie, of course, is strong indeed. Since last season, when he wasn't nearly the trotter Circo was, Hickory has grown into a burly, powerful animal, heavy-muscled in shoulder and hind-quarter and solidly smooth in gait. Though hardly delicate, Circo is somewhat lighter boned. He was in the money 16 times in 20 starts last year, but he will have to show more than such consistency to beat his stablemate this season.
Of the competitors noted above, Joe O'Brien is having difficulty keeping his Brogue Hanover sound enough for his first start. Ralph Baldwin, as usual, is in no hurry to race his Hambletonian horse; this one is Diller Hanover, fastest (2:03 1/5) of the 2-year-olds last season. Johnny Simpson has the one filly apparently in a class with these colts—Thalia Hanover—who showed speed and courage in her very few races last year but cannot be judged on her only start thus far this year in which she finished sixth. All three of these gentlemen are experts in prepping horses for one or two particular races. We shall see what progress they are making during the first week in July at Goshen's Historic Track, next stop on the road to the Hambletonian, when all five of these outstanding trotters will be on display.
JUG PICTURE IS CONFUSED
Among the pacers preparing for the Little Brown Jug, there is presently vast confusion. Practically all of the good ones have now been beaten at least once, and convincingly, by a colt whose no-account record last season and brilliant performances thus far this season are a perfect example of the happy unpredictability of young, developing horses. He is Adios Oregon, he has now won seven races in a row and, unfortunately, he is not eligible for the Jug. It is possible to argue that, for this reason, his trainer, young Tom Crank, has him much sharper at this point than the Jug eligibles. Nevertheless, at Laurel last Saturday night, he spotted a strong field the handicap of starting from a second-tier post position and then came around them, four-wide in the stretch turn, and won going away. He has great brush speed, obviously a stout heart and just skims the track surface in the low, Adios-style gait that involves little if any wasted effort. Mr. Oregon will get his only other crack at the top 3-year-olds in the Messenger Stake at Roosevelt Raceway August 21.
One of the strongest in that field at Laurel on Saturday was Joe O'Brien's Meadow Al, who was the victim of a freak accident of considerable coincidental significance. Last year Joe brought his Jug horse, Shadow Wave, to this same meeting at Laurel and, literally, saw the roof fall in on him. A high wind tore the roof off Shadow Wave's stall and it collapsed all around him. Fortunately, he was not hurt, but he was badly frightened, and it was some time before O'Brien could bring him around to normal. Shadow Wave, of course, went on to win the Jug.
Last week at Laurel, Meadow Al was circling the track on a training jog when, just as he was passing it, one of the arms on the starting gate collapsed with a loud crash and scared him out of his wits. Now harness horses have to face the gate every time they come out to race whereas their stall roofs do not accompany them out on the track. Meadow Al, presently, has no use for starting gates at all. Saturday night, he refused to move up to it, went into a break and finished dead last, up the track. This is the kind of thing that gives horse trainers gray hairs, and Joe O'Brien has them.
(A few years ago, a fine trotter named Lu Peck, undefeated at the time, was training for a race at the Du Quoin track. The annual Du Quoin Fair was also in progress, and Sharkey, the performing sea lion, was cavorting around the infield. Just as Lu Peck passed by Sharkey cut loose with the loudest bark of her career, and Lu jumped sky-high. Thereafter, every time she passed that point on the track she jumped again. That, too, is what makes horse racing.)
Anyway, Joe O'Brien will be bringing all his patience and skill to bear on Meadow Al's problem in the next few weeks—hoping that the colt will come out of it as well as Shadow Wave did. On his looks and record Meadow Al is the colt to beat in the Jug. He is a rugged, if slightly small, son of Adios, with the same highly efficient gait. He loathes training; Joe has to sweat to get him below 2:10 in a workout, but competition stimulates him, as it does all class horses, and last season he went a mile in 2:00 3/5.
The likeliest horse to beat him is Del Miller's Adios Day, with the identical fast record as a 2-year-old. These two fought through a series of stirring heats last season, with Meadow Al apparently the better at the very end. This year's Jug may be a two-horse race.
PARADING his stock before a morning workout at Roosevelt Raceway, Haughton rides at the head of the largest public stable in trotting. He has 86 horses racing this season, employs more than 50 grooms and five assistants to handle them.