Three days before the Hambletonian, blacksmith Dan Suppe was told to put new shoes on Green Speed. Suppe did the job and made a note to bill the colt's trainer and driver, Billy Haughton, for $58. Last Saturday afternoon, 15 minutes before Speed was to start in the first heat of harness racing's premier event in steamy Du Quoin, Ill., Haughton looked closely at the shoes and decided they didn't fit.
"It's hard to race if your shoes are too big," Haughton said reasonably. So he walked Speed over to Suppe's shop and instructed, "Take about a quarter inch off both front shoes. I'm afraid he'll kick himself." Suppe ground the shoes down as requested and nailed them back on. Then he made a note to bill Haughton another $15.
Within an hour and a half Green Speed had paid for his new shoes, plus their adjustment, and had $141,992.50 left over, enough for Adidas all around in the Haughton racing establishment.
Green Speed had made short work of the contest, winning the requisite two heats in succession, laughing all the way. In each outing his time was 1:55[3/5] for the mile, a Hambletonian record, bettering the mark of 1:56[2/5] held jointly by Steve Lobell, the 1976 winner, and 1972 winner Super Bowl.
Further, Speed's astonishing performance tied the world all-age trotting race record established in 1966 by Noble Victory as a 4-year-old. It was Haughton's third Hambo win in four years—he had won practically every other classic race in the books before he took his first Hambletonian with Christopher T in 1974—and only the third time in the race's 52-year history that any driver had back-to-back wins. It also was the first time a New York-bred colt had won the event.
Beyond that, it was a triumph that contained something with which every human being needing instant inspiration might identify. Ever feel unloved? Or suffer from corns, bruised heels, sore muscles or painful mouth sores? Or been unable to get the hang of something despite having spent long hours of practice at it? Or been afflicted with a disposition that can turn surly with little provocation? Green Speed has overcome all the above.
Green Speed first got that unwanted feeling two years ago when his owner, Lloyd Lloyds, decided to get rid of him. Speed was shipped to a Pennsylvania sale, with Lloyds brushing aside suggestions the yearling might be worth keeping. At the last moment Haughton looked at Speed and prevailed upon the New York dress manufacturer to change his mind. "It didn't matter," says Lloyds. "It wasn't as if I needed the money." But even then Haughton didn't exactly see halos over Green Speed. He had grave reservations about the potential of New York-bred trotters, and much to his regret—now that the colt has won the Yonkers Trot and the Hambletonian—he didn't think it worthwhile to put up the $460 payments that would have made him eligible for the third race in trotting's Triple Crown, next month's Kentucky Futurity. The rules of harness racing prohibit supplementary entries at any price. So no Triple Crown winner. "I thought he was good," says Haughton, "but not this good."
As a 2-year-old Green Speed got mouth sores, which were cured by using a rubber bit. Corns and bruised heels this year were eliminated by outfitting him with mushroom horseshoes, which move a horse's weight from the edges of his feet to the center. Groom Jean Camirand applies iodine to the colt's hocks daily to ease inflammation, a well-meant bit of attention which does Speed's disposition no good. But breaking stride has always been Speed's worst fault. "He just seems to trip himself," says Haughton, which is why he was concerned about the shoe fit. But when Speed doesn't break into a gallop, he almost always wins, including 11 of 15 starts before the Hambo.
Two weeks before the $284,131 race, Green Speed was the early co-favorite with Andy Grant's Speed In Action. But then Speed In Action developed a fever and had to be withdrawn. By post time it appeared that only about five horses truly belonged—Speed; Cold Comfort, his slightly slower but generally more dependable stablemate; talented but green Jurgy Hanover; well-conditioned Texas; and surprising Sugarbowl Hanover. Kenwood Hampton and Scandal Sheet probably could show up at the gate without blushing. Reprise was classy enough but beset with tendon troubles.
And Jodevin, the $900 yearling with crooked legs that nobody wanted, was there for sentimental reasons. Most recently, Jodevin had been sick and lame. But his owner, Richland, Iowa farmer Kermit Hinshaw, could not forget the colt's brilliant 1976 season in which he won 19 of 20 starts, losing only to Speed In Action. He was voted 2-year-old trotter of the year by the harness writers, and at the beginning of this season was ranked No. 2 in the Experimental Ratings. A flock of Iowans were on hand to urge him on. All the others among the 16 entries could be categorized as ego trips for owners.
En route to the track, Haughton admitted he was troubled by the size of the field. "With 16 of us out there," he said, "somebody has got to move because we can't all get seats." The implication was obvious: early in the first heat Haughton would move. And he did. Leaving from the unfavorable nine post position, the sport's alltime leading money winner ($25 million in purses since 1949) scrambled to the top shortly before the half-mile pole. Then Green Speed, full of himself and trotting better than he had all year, shifted into his record-setting high gear, beating Texas, driven by Bill Herman, by a length.
The message was loud and clear. Unless Speed broke stride in the second heat, the day would be his. The crowd of 15,000 got the message. In the first heat, the fans had installed Green Speed and Cold Comfort, an entry, as the 4-to-5 favorite. For the second heat the pair was bet down to 1 to 9.
There was, however, an element to the drama of which the crowd was unaware. The night before the race Haughton had made up his mind that if Green Speed couldn't win in two straight heats, he was going to scratch him. Billy is still haunted by last year's Hambo in which his Steve Lobell needed four heats to win in hot weather, then collapsed and almost died. "I keep thinking that Green Speed has won more than $340,000 this year," said Haughton, "and I'm not going to tear him up."
But the colt quickly took Haughton off the hook. Blinders in place so he couldn't see the other horses and sponges stuffed in his ears so he couldn't hear them, Speed rolled out and took command of the second heat shortly after the quarter pole. At the top of the final turn Haughton was challenged briefly by Cold Comfort, driven by his son Peter, but Green Speed had too much left.
Once again Texas was his only serious competition, and once again Texas could do no better than second. Herman was philosophic. "When you're second," he said, "it's nice to think that it took world-record time to beat you." It was also nice that second was worth $71,032.75. Third place in both heats went to a horse thought to belong in the ego-trip-for-owners group—Native Starlight, driven by Jimmy Dennis. With only six career starts the inexperienced Reprise was a gritty fourth overall in the intricate two-heat placing procedure. Cold Comfort, after a horrendous first heat in which the colt refused to trot, was placed fifth, and Jodevin wound up 14th.
Before the race, a weighty intramural discussion about the very future of the Hambletonian had kept things lively around Du Quoin. Jack Krumpe, executive director at the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., had written to the Hambletonian Society asking that consideration be given to moving the race there in 1980. Krumpe said he anticipated a $500,000 purse and that with a population of 19 million within 65 miles of the Meadowlands, the starry new track is "singularly unique to host your great race." Bill Hayes, president of the Du Quoin State Fair, was underwhelmed at the prospect of losing the race in which he (and, before him, his father) had invested a fortune since the classic event came to southern Illinois in 1957 from Goshen, N.Y. The Hambletonian Society stewed about the proposition for two months and on the day before the race decided not to entertain any bids for moving the race. Not for now, anyway.
While celebrating Speed's victory, Beverly Lloyds, the colt's owner of record, told how her husband first tried to sell him to her for $50,000, then for $30,000. Finally he made her a birthday present of Green Speed, and the horse was paraded up to a party on Long Island. Mrs. Lloyds was properly impressed. It was six months before her husband confessed that the horse at the party was not Green Speed but another, Green Speed being in training in Florida.
There was no doubt, however, that the real Green Speed, with career winnings of almost $600,000 in two years, was at the Hambo. And while the Cinderella story might have been Jodevin, it was clear the shoes fit Green Speed.
Beyond the wire in the second heat, Haughton peered at Texas, the only colt to give him trouble.