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Original Issue

55,500 clams for Bonefish

Prepping for the Hambletonian, Stanley Dancer and Bonefish won the Empire at Syracuse to provide his new granddaughter with a dowry

About a billion years from now some archaeologist-sportswriter on a fellowship from Pluto will be digging with his laser-beam shovel around New Egypt, N.J., and happen upon the ruins of a harness track. He will write a bestseller about the discovery and title it "The Chariots of the Dancers."

Stanley Dancer and his wife Rachel still like to call themselves "farming kids," a modest reference to the days when they did not have a trough to drink out of. Now their estate and training plant down among the farms of southern New Jersey has a few extras besides indoor plumbing, things like a heated swimming pool and a sauna in the guest house. Stanley Dancer, 48, has reined more winning sulkies than Charlton Heston, and his schedule would give Henry Kissinger's travel agent writer's cramp. He has created a new class of millionaire for his owners: the bridle rich.

Well, the rich get richer. Last week Dancer was at Syracuse, N.Y. for the $111,000 Empire State Trot. He had two horses—and two favorites—in the race on Saturday: Bonefish, a colt so good that Dancer is loath to let him get his shoes muddy on a racetrack, and highly regarded Surefire Hanover, driven by his 26-year-old son Ronnie. His entry finished one-two, with Bonefish taking the first-place money of $55,500.

The race was a prelude to The Hambletonian, the big trot to be held in the rustic town of Du Quoin, Ill., on Aug. 30. Seven of the eight horses entered at Syracuse were eligible for the Hambo, an event Dancer has appeared in 13 times and won twice.

Racing is so much a part of Dancer's life that he never has had time for tennis or golf, shuns movies, and revels in a relentless schedule. Last week he left a wake of public-address pages and telephone messages wherever he went, which at 11:30 p.m. Friday was to his barn to make sure a watchman was on the job. Next week, in Indianapolis, he plans to be on the track every morning at 3 a.m., training horses. He used to flit about the country in his private plane, but last winter he spent over four shivering hours in the air, struggling to extend the aircraft's jammed landing gear. Once he got it down, he left it that way and sold the plane.

Actually, Dancer had one other thing on his mind last week. His daughter Susan was in the hospital having her first child, which the horseman took as a good omen. He always raced well when his wife was in the delivery room starting gate. In fact, he learned of the birth of his son Stanley 16 years ago when Yonkers Raceway flashed the message on its tote board. This would be the Dancers' second grandchild. His first was the son of his daughter-in-law Brenda, and he gave little Ronnie the $1,200 he won on the day of his birth. "Hmmmm," mused Stanley Friday night. "Maybe Susan should hold off until tomorrow. She might do a lot better."

Dancer was in a waggish mood because of Bonefish. He thinks the horse might be his best trotter ever. He recently sold the colt to Castleton Farm for $1 million, the fifth time he had sold a horse for a million dollars or more. None of the five cost more than $27,000 as yearlings.

Early in the year Dancer kept Bonefish in the barn and raced his stablemate to a victory in the Yonkers Trot, one of Surefire's six stakes victories this season. Dancer did not want to race Bonefish on a half-mile track. He felt a course like the fast miler at Syracuse better suited his valuable property while prepping for the mile track at Du Quoin.

When Bonefish first raced on June 20 at Brandywine he got into a traffic jam and broke stride. Since then he had won four straight races, all but one in two minutes or better, and Dancer warmed him up for the Empire Trot by working him in 1:59.4 at the fairgrounds a week before the big race.

This was the inaugural for the Empire, an event its promoters hope will grow to a $175,000 purse within two years. It was born out of frustration. In 1970 and 1973 Dr. Harry Zweig, president of the Harness Horse Breeders of New York State, bid to have the Hambletonian moved to Syracuse, but he was rebuffed. The 1926 and 1928 Hambos were raced at Syracuse, and since New York has more harness horses racing than any state except Ohio, its breeders were eager to have it return. Though the bids failed, a new $2 million grandstand was erected and the Empire Trot was scheduled to help fill it.

The race figured to produce some sensational performances because the Syracuse track surface was fast—so fast that the timers were shaking their stopwatches and holding them up to their ears after some races. On the opening day of the meet, a 4-year-old pacer named Sly Attorney turned in a 1:54.4, and on Friday Silk Stockings, the 3-year-old filly sensation, paced a mile in 1:55.2. The only trouble is that the track is not all-weather and if it rained the race would be held, but without the ever-cautious Dancer, who was not about to risk Bonefish on a slippery surface.

Before the race a lot of people were talking as if Bonefish were just another horse in front of a cart. Billy Haughton, the driver of Glasgow, said he thought his horse could win, though Surefire Hanover had beaten him in five of seven meetings this season. And Joseph Cowden of Medina, Ohio, the owner of littleknown Excellent Tad, pulled up to the race secretary's office early in the week to discover that he had drawn the eighth pole position, just on the outside of Bone-fish in No. 7. Someone mentioned that Excellent Tad might do well to follow Bonefish and hope for second or third money. "Follow?" snorted Cowden. "Let him follow me!"

The eight-horse field included most of the season's top trotters, with the exception of Del Miller's Songflori. On race day Stanley Dancer learned that his daughter had given birth to a girl. Then he went racing for her dowry, and a bit more.

At the start, Bonefish made a bid for the lead and for a few moments Haughton and Glasgow tried to hold him off, but by the quarter pole Dancer had his horse in front. Glasgow was second with Ronnie Dancer and Surefire Hanover up the track in seventh. In the backstretch Surefire Hanover moved through traffic to edge in behind Bonefish by the three-quarters pole. That was the way they finished, Bonefish on top by 2¼ lengths in 1:58.1, Surefire Hanover next and Fashion Blaze another half-length behind. Glasgow finished seventh. Excellent Tad followed Bonefish all right, but not closely enough. He finished last. The Dancers had waltzed in again.