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Enhancing Dancer's image


Rich people, it has been noted, are different from the rest of us; they have more money. Also, it works out that the rich do get richer and the poor get you know what.

What happened at the Little Brown Jug last week served, among other things, to remind us of these verities. The Jug is the most important event of the year for 3-year-old pacers, and by the time the dust had settled over Delaware, Ohio and the nearly 40,000 fans had stumbled off through the ground cover of empty beer cans and losing pari-mutuel tickets, it was clear that money, and class, do tell.

For the victor was Keystone Ore, who was valued last fall at roughly $260,000 and who, if he maintains his winning ways, will be syndicated for around $2 million in the hopes that he will father a lot of youngsters just like himself. No bargain-basement horse this. And Ore's driver, trainer and part owner is, fittingly, that canny millionaire Stanley Dancer, who favors flashy cuff links, a diamond horseshoe tie clasp and the quickest route to the finish. Dancer—who has now won the Jug four times—and his wife each own 12½% of the colt.

So the Dancers got richer (by about $20,000 for less than four minutes on the track), which keeps them different from us; and the poor folks who had the audacity not to bet on Dancer and Ore got you know what.

Indeed, Ore and Dancer deserve one another. This year, Ore has had 23 races, won 16 and finished second six times. In his other start, he came in seventh after an equipment strap broke. For being the class of his class, Ore has mined some $366,000 since February, and there are several more rich races ahead this fall. For his part, Dancer has won about $900,000 in purses this year—his share just as driver is 10%. In a career that goes back to 1946, he has won more than $18 million. If Ore and Dancer can make music together one more time at The Messenger on Oct. 30, Ore will win pacing's Triple Crown (the other jewels being the Jug and August's Cane Pace) and Dancer will have had his fourth Triple Crown winner.

Dancer gets lyrical when he talks of Ore, who won $56,905 of the $153,799 Jug purse. "He has the best all-round disposition of any horse I've ever had," he says. "Sometimes horses that are so nice don't have the guts to be great, but he does." Ah, yes, the perfect true fairy tale—wealthy man has splendid, well-behaved horse; both are gentlemen and both work hard and together they make it to the top. Or maybe not.

There is a body of thought that Ore may not be the best 3-year-old pacer in the land. The other contender is Oil Burner, who as recently as a few months ago was thought not to have even enough speed to get out of his own way.

At which point last June, Oil Burner's owners, after buying him for $27,000 in 1974, unloaded him for $47,500. These are not fancy dollars for a Grand Circuit horse, and the owners wiped their brows in relief at getting rid of their turkey. And then Burner didn't get good, he got terrific. Since June he has won $291,707, and beaten some of the classiest 3-year-olds around, though he has never faced Ore. A not impartial source, Burner's driver Ben Webster says of his colt, "He's by far the best this year. It's one of those freak things." Who was the main undiscerning owner who dumped Burner? Stanley Dancer, of course. Or more precisely, his wife Rachel and her partner, Mrs. Hilda Silverstein of New Hope, Pa. But Stanley does their bidding. Says Rachel: "We're not unhappy. I made some money, the new people made some money and I wish them luck."

Because Oil Burner was not distinguishing himself (he earned only $4,700 in 1975), Dancer did not keep up the payments to make him eligible for the Cane, the Jug and The Messenger. But he and Ore may yet meet, perhaps in a race at Freehold. N.J., Oct. 16, or perhaps in California the next month.

Whatever, the aristocratic Keystone Ore proved himself at the Jug against tough enough company—most notably Armbro Ranger, who was voted best 2-year-old pacer in 1975 and who had whipped Ore in the prestigious Adios in August (and before that had been beaten by Oil Burner). As things go these days, Ranger was a cheapie. Veteran trainer and driver Joe O'Brien picked him up for $20,000. In 1975 Ranger turned heads by winning more than $100,000 and 14 of 21 starts.

Come last spring, hopes were high for him—until a freakish accident in his first outing seemed certain to have blighted his big year. Ranger not only survived, but went on to win more than $154,000 this season.

Ranger and O'Brien, like Ore and Dancer, deserve each other. Ranger is rugged; so is O'Brien. Joe, the master of short answers to all questions, broke his pelvis in an August spill but kept on driving. Still hurting, Joe? "No." Ranger in good shape? "Yes." Thanks, Joe.

So while Ore and Ranger—and the shadow of Oil Burner—dominated the Jug, the remaining entries were mostly regarded as "others."

Prominent among them was the colt that clearly had the best name, anyway—Windshield Wiper. His trainer and driver, Billy Haughton, confessed that "sometimes Wiper won't give it his all. But there's a theory that 60% of all horses don't want to win. He always has a chance." Haughton had another cheery thought: "Wiper is a superior mudder." Race day dawned dry.

Still, every time Haughton sits down behind a horse, bettors perk up. Especially at the Jug, which he has won five times, more than any other driver. He also has won the most money at the event, more than $250,000. Haughton won The Hambletonian a few weeks ago with Steve Lobell, and while a popular bumper sticker in harness racing reads I'M HOT TO TROT, there was a feeling that Windshield Wiper and Billy might have momentum and be hot to pace.

Because every race needs a long shot, the experts concluded it was Precious Fella. Said Del Cameron, Fella's owner-trainer-driver and twice a Jug winner himself, "He can't beat the kind of horses that are in this race all the time. But once in a while he can." He did so against Ore this year. Once. And with winnings of $128,294 for the season against sometimes fancy company, Precious looked like a distant maybe.

The 16-horse field was divided into two heats with the four best in each division meeting in a third race. If the third heat was won by either of the winners of the first two heats, he would be the Jug winner. If that didn't happen, the three winners of the three heats would meet for the title in a fourth race.

Shortly before 4 p.m. on Jug Day, everything was as it should be: The men had on their hats that said "John Deere," the women were waiting in long lines at the restrooms and the kids were perched atop the Winnebagos.

The first heat was supposed to be Armbro Ranger's. He left from the third post position and by the one-quarter mark was fourth. Hmmm. The leader, pacing better than he had any right to, was Precious Fella. By the head of the stretch things were sorting out, with Ranger second by inches. Ranger got to the wire first by a head in 1:56[4/5]-Precious Fella was second, but Cameron was afraid that he might have used him up. Third was a nobody named Warm Breeze; fourth was Mandate.

The second heat was supposed to be Keystone Ore's and Ore's problems started with his No. 8 post position, worst in the field. Dancer had said that he would hurry to the front, but it turned out he only could get up to fifth in the early going—and it was then that Stanley made the winning decision. He simply tucked his colt in along the rail and raced patiently. This, rather than using Ore up to get past a bunch of shaky horses which at the time were looking like giant killers—including one named Shadow Don Time who would have won had the race been only half a mile. In the second half mile, Shadow and his friends flopped and some of them may not have made it to the finish yet.

At the top of the stretch Ore was second to Windshield Wiper. Wiper had been back and forth between second and first, but now needed a good streak to withstand Ore. No go. It was Ore, not quite his usual brilliant self, by a neck in 1:57, then Wiper, surprising Raven Hanover and Cavalcade.

In the most cruciar action of the day, the judges drew to see whether Ranger or Ore would get the No. 1 post in the third heat. Ranger had won the draw in the Adios and that had made the difference; this time Ore was in luck. By post time Ore and Ranger were the huge favorites. Anyone betting on any other horse was demonstrating that money didn't matter to him.

Near the three-quarter pole, Ore was first, Ranger second. But Ranger fizzled. O'Brien later was to complain he couldn't get around Dancer and Cameron parked outside him, but that was only true in theory. The fact was Ranger, who had faltered momentarily in the first heat, flat ran out of oats. And when Ranger sagged, it messed up Haughton and Windshield Wiper, directly behind him and looking to be in good shape to make a pass in the stretch at both Ore and Ranger. "Just before that happened," said Haughton. "I was driving along counting my money. I was having the best trip of my life."

Nobody could get Ore, who was nearly two lengths ahead at the end in 1:57[2/5]-Precious Fella, clearly not used up, was second, and Warm Breeze, that nobody who had never before raced on a half-mile track and who didn't race at all as a 2-year-old because of vertebrae trouble, was third. Wiper was fourth, Ranger fifth.

No one, save a few happy beer-drinking dreamers slurping Stroh's in the back of their Chevy pickups, thought any colt but Ore should have won. Runner-up Cameron was happy. "It's no disgrace to be second," he said. Precious Fella got a bit more than $23,000. And Warm Breeze's driver, Dick Farrington, was so ecstatic he said he wouldn't sell his colt for $1 millon (which is easy to say when nobody is offering). Haughton was his usual old what-the-hell-it's-all-part-of-this-great-sport self. And O'Brien, for O'Brien, was downright effusive. "I just got beat," he said.

Dancer seemed to find no fault with his day's work. And for a man who has survived, among other things, a plane crash and a heart attack, the Jug was relatively uneventful. But although the rich indeed got richer, it seemed somehow just that things were also being evened up for Dancer. In The Hambletonian Stanley had Nevele Thunder, a shining trotter who was thought to be a strong candidate to win. First Thunder got an outside post position in a bulky field, then he broke his leg in the second heat.

Money does help smooth life's rough spots. But it's so much nicer if there's a bit of class to go with it. On the eve of the Jug, Dancer quietly passed by his stable area, pressed a $100 bill into the hand of an employee, and told him to take all half dozen grooms out for a steak dinner. Hello, class.