The most talked-about horse in these crisp early days of the harness racing season is Su Mac Lad, a lowborn 7-year-old gelding from Illinois who was sold for $750 as a 2-year-old. The medium-sized but long-bodied, smooth-gaited bay trotter has now won $292,549 all told, and should be odds-on to collect another $25,000 in this Thursday's National Championship Trot at Yonkers Raceway.
Despite his pedigree, which is as undistinguished as that of the Kentucky Derby future-book favorite, Carry Back, Su Mac Lad is a wonder of consistency, stamina and gameness. While becoming the leading money winner among aged trotters last year, for example, he raced with a quarter crack in his left front hoof. Su Mac Lad has his little foibles. He amuses himself endlessly by tinkling a small bronze bell attached to the crossties in his stall. Like Dagwood Bumstead, he is a night feeder. He is fond of carrots. His owner I. W. Berkemeyer of New Jersey, who is in the business of renting hearses to undertakers and picked him up for $35,000 two seasons ago, is partial to shad roe.
After putting away a plate of roe last week, Berkemeyer watched Su Mac Lad win his finest victory, defeating the ballyhooed French mare, Masina, who likes artichokes, and six other notable trotters from all over. This was the $50,000, 1½-mile United Nations Trot on the half-mile Yonkers track. What with the mad multiplication of American "international races," it is possible that a bigger one will come along later in the year, but not likely. Masina, the statuesque (16.2 hands) chestnut 5-year-old who, in January, took Europe's foremost trot, the $60,000 Prix d'Amerique at Vincennes, is clearly the No. 1 foreign attraction. Owner Henri Levesque returns her to the Continent for the year after a consolation race this Thursday.
Masina hogged the headlines during a dreary row between Yonkers and Roosevelt Raceways over which had the right first to race her in America. Yonkers won but, sad to say, Masina then goofed. With U.N. dignitaries looking on, she got away slowly in the U.N. Trot, as Tornese, a horse beloved in Italy, sprinted for the lead and Su Mac Lad, starting from the outside post position, tucked in on the rail in fourth place. Driver Stanley Dancer, a shrewd raceway reinsman, took Su Mac Lad far outside at the half-mile to overtake Tornese, slowed the quick early pace and, after doing the mile in 2:08.4, whipped the gelding home a half length ahead of the Canadian-owned stayer Tie Silk, in 3:10.4.
Behind them, Masina crudely booted her own chances and those of Tornese. Approaching the mile, she had made an impressive rush from sixth place to challenge Su Mac Lad but, unused to tight, half-mile track turns, seemed on the point of breaking gait in the following bend. Moving into the backstretch, she "stopped," bore in and locked sulky wheels with Tornese, and that was that. Tornese pulled himself together to finish third, but Masina was dead last.
For Su Mac Lad it was the fourth straight major win of the new season; for Mrs. Paul Davis, his breeder out in Henderson, Ill., it was food for much thought. She couldn't care less if critics scoffed at Illinois breeding. What really concerned Mrs. Davis was what to do with a 3-year-old sorrel half brother to Su Mac Lad. Heartsick over parting with Su Mac Lad because there wasn't room for him down on the farm, Mrs. Davis, a not unsentimental woman, is clinging to the sorrel.
"He's my baby," she says. "He has only been halter-broken so far, but I know instinctively that he is a born trotter, like Su Mac Lad. If I ever let him go, it will have to be to someone who will take good care of him."