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Original Issue

A dark horse was trottin' for Haughton

Goshen's venerable week started badly for Billy Haughton, but his luck changed with a gay blade

With a tug and a swirl of red cloth, the little statue was unveiled. The assembled spectators oohed and aahed, and Billy Haughton, one of harness racing's master trainers and drivers, told everyone how proud he was to become a member of the sport's Hall of Fame there in Goshen, N.Y. It was a proper little ceremony, but a couple of members of Haughton's family looked at the statue with some dismay.

"Oh, dear," said Haughton's blonde wife, Dorothy, "it doesn't look like him at all, does it?"

"It's the eyes," said 14-year-old Peter Haughton. "The eyes are sorta funny."

It was not the eyes, but the wide, smiling mouth that harness racing's patron saint, E. Roland Harriman, chose to comment on. "I'm sure," said Harriman mischievously, "that that's the smile he had on his face yesterday when his colt jumped off stride."

The race Mr. Harriman was kidding Haughton about was the final heat of the E. H. Harriman Challenge Cup for 2-year-old trotters, the feature event of Tuesday's Grand Circuit meeting at Goshen's ancient Historic Track. Leading strongly with the finish line only tantalizing yards away, Haughton's Keystone Brian inexplicably went off stride, allowing Stanley Dancer to send Nevele Rascal past for the victory.

That was the way Haughton's luck had been going at Goshen, the village where the dear hearts and gentle people have been racing harness horses with high purpose for more than 130 years. On Monday's opening card, no fewer than 11 horses carried Haughton's green-white-gold silks to the post—and none came back a winner.

But on Wednesday, along came Arthur Nardin, an extrovert from North Bay Village, Fla., to watch Haughton drive his Hambletonian nominee, Nardin's Gayblade, in the three heats of the Historic-Dickerson Cup for 3-year-old trotters. As Nardin was saying, he had brought what Haughton needed—luck.

"I'm the luckiest owner in racing." said Nardin, who is something of a gay blade himself. He told how he had purchased three horses for $5,400 and at the latest reckoning had gotten back better than $1.5 million on his investment. "You've got to be pretty lucky to do that," he said.

As any of the local experts would have been perfectly willing to tell him, however, Nardin's Gayblade did not have much chance to win the Dickerson Cup, even though most of the top Hambletonian prospects were missing from the grounds. (The current favorite, Dayan, was in Ohio to race at Scioto Downs.) At Goshen the favorite was Lindy's Pride, a smooth, steady colt being brought along patiently by Howard Beissinger for Lindy Farms, Inc. of Lindenhurst, N.Y. In only two starts this year Lindy's Pride had twice finished second to Dayan. "The mistake some fellers make is to ask too much too soon," said Beissinger. "I've brought him along slow and easy within himself."

The knowledgeable farmers and horsemen who make up most of a typical crowd at Historic Track bet Lindy's Pride down to 3 to 5 for the first heat of the Historic-Dickerson. Lindy trailed a colt named Voltaire Hanover through the first quarter mile. Then Beissinger quickly moved into the lead, which he never relinquished. On the final turn Haughton tried to make a race of it with Nardin's Gayblade but, as Haughton said, "My horse just hung."

In the second heat Lindy's Pride took the lead going into the first turn, with Haughton dropping Nardin's Gayblade in behind. Again Lindy's Pride had the lead going into the final turn. But then Beissinger's worst fear was realized—Lindy's Pride broke stride. Finding himself all alone on the lead, Haughton coasted under the wire. At last he had gotten a break—literally—and up in the box Arthur Nardin was smiling. "Things always break right for me," said Nardin unabashedly "Now we've got a chance at it."

The final heat was between only Lindy's Pride and Nardin's Gayblade. Back at the barn a quarter crack was discovered in Lindy's left front hoof—sufficient reason to scratch him from the final heat—but Beissinger had him patched together, then headed for Chicago to race other horses in his stable. Lindy's Pride was placed in the hands of Stanley Dancer.

"Hey, Stanley," yelled a fan, "if half the field breaks, you'll be all right."

Heading into the first turn of the final heat, Dancer maneuvered Lindy's Pride from the outside post position into the lead. The pace was so ridiculously slow through the first half mile—38.1 seconds for the quarter and 1:16.1 for the half—that some of the fans were laughing out loud. The pace picked up on the back-stretch, and Lindy's Pride held the lead into the final turn. "He broke," gasped the railbirds, and, sure enough, Lindy's Pride was off stride, bobbing his head up and down as Dancer fought to bring him under control. Haughton and Nardin's Gayblade were easy winners in the incredibly slow time of 2:20.3.

"I don't know what's wrong with him," Dancer said. "He jumped in the second heat, too, and he almost did in the first heat. I was looking forward to it, I had a nice hold on him, but there was nothing I could do about it."

As for Haughton, his luck had finally changed for the better, as Nardin said it would, but there was some smart thinking and sound trotting involved in his victory, too. "I figured that, if Lindy's Pride was in front, he would jump again," said Haughton. "That's the reason the pace was so slow; Stanley wanted to get behind me, but I wouldn't let him; my colt does better coming from behind anyway. Lindy's Pride was rough going into the turn and then he jumped, like I thought he would."

On the way back to the paddock, Haughton heard a young fan yell, "You got lucky, Billy." This time the smile was so big and so wide that the Hall of Fame statuette was a very good likeness, indeed.