Ever since Commodore Vanderbilt raced his fellow millionaires up the old Harlem Road in New York City before the Civil War, harness horses have had their elements of glamour, and a colt who exemplifies this tradition is Romeo Hanover. A 3-year-old chestnut by Dancer Hanover out of Romola Hanover by Tar Heel, Romeo won pacing's Triple Crown last Saturday night at Roosevelt Raceway by taking the $169,885 Messenger Stakes in effortless fashion.
The Triple Crown consists of the Cane Futurity, which Romeo won at Yonkers last May, the Little Brown Jug, which he captured at Delaware, Ohio in September, and the Messenger; and each time he went off as an odds-on favorite and performed like one.
With his odds at 3 to 10 and nothing but win betting allowed, Romeo quickly made the Messenger no contest. Driver George Sholty sent him out in front from the second post position, and when True Duane, a late entry in the Messenger and the second favorite, tried to pass him, Romeo just moved steadily along inside the challenger. It was all too simple, as True Duane, parked out for so long, tired in the stretch and Romeo finished four and three-quarter lengths ahead of Good Time Boy.
The excitement of this Messenger was not only the race, but the stories early last week about Romeo—that he was recalcitrant, rank, sick and had refused to warm up properly. He had been sick several weeks before but had fully recovered. Asked for postrace comment via an amplified telephone from the paddock to the press box, Driver Sholty, instead of the customary pleasantries winners feed the press, said, "You guys shouldn't write what you don't know about. You should have been out to see him train Wednesday. A great horse didn't deserve the press he got this week. You made him sound like a clown." The racing writers, accustomed to being coddled rather than criticized, looked as chagrined as starlets after their first adverse reviews.
It is true that Romeo Hanover does not like to work out or warm up alone. He is generally a calm, well-mannered character and eats every oat offered him, but he does have a mind of his own. For instance, Sholty has to keep one of the assistant grooms out of Romeo's stall for fear the colt will kick him. Evidently, Romeo regards this particular young man as a Capulet.
This was Romeo's 18th consecutive win in 1966, and the $84,942.62 he contributed to his multiple owners—Milton Goldstein, Meyer Goldstein, George Karl, Seymour Schwartz, Hyman Weiner and Morton Finder, mainly from Brooklyn—brought his lifetime earnings to $473,931, a robust figure considering his $8,500 purchase price.
His 31-year-old trainer, Jerry Silverman, who has only slightly more racing experience than the neophyte owners and their Lucky Star Stable, sees a fantastic future for the colt. Romeo's owners have challenged Bret Hanover, a Triple Crown winner last year, to a match race, for which Roosevelt Raceway would put up a $50,000 purse. Bret, incidentally, suffered one of his rare defeats last Saturday, losing at Hollywood Park to his nemesis, Adios Vic, who has handed him four out of his only five losses. But such a match race is unlikely to come off, because the owners of Bret, who have syndicated him for $2 million and will retire him to stud after one more race, would have much to lose and nothing—well, only $50,000—to gain by a contest with Romeo.
If there is no race against Bret, Romeo will compete once at Roosevelt this month, and then be rested for the winter at Pompano Beach, Fla. in preparation for the big 4-year-old stakes and free-for-all events in 1967. His owners, meanwhile, will try to convince themselves that their Lucky Star is not a fantasy but the real thing.