Prancing around his paddock on Wild Ridge Farm near Chattanooga,
Steady Star glistens with the haute-couture sheen of a fashion
model on a Paris runway. At 30, the legendary pacer appears fit
enough to race, though his weight has shifted mostly to his
midriff, like that of a prizefighter out of training. Actually,
Steady Star looks better than most boxers. His mane may have a
few gray hairs, but his coat remains a rich blood bay; his eyes
are bright and alert; his gait is impeccable.
As a 4-year-old in 1971 Steady Star electrified the
harness-racing world with a stunning 1:52 time trial at The Red
Mile in Lexington, Ky. This world record stood for nine years,
until it was nicked by Niatross.
"After all this time Steady Star doesn't look a day over eight,"
says the horse's longtime owner, Chester Ault, who, in his
houndstooth-check jacket and tattersall trousers, doesn't look a
day over 82. "He has hardly aged since I've had him." Ault has
had Steady Star for 29 years. They hang out at Ault's farm like
old pensioners in a park.
Their relationship goes back to the 1968 Tattersalls yearlings
sale in Lexington. Steady Star was the sleek great-grandson of a
prominent Tennessee racehorse named Billy Direct, Ault, the
son-in-law of a prominent Tennessee horseman. "That colt had
perfect features and conformation," recalls Ault. "I was
prepared to bid as high as $5,000." Fortunately, that's where
the bidding stopped.
Steady Star was a free-legged pacer, who raced without the
hopples customary on practically all lateral-gaited racers. "He
never needed hopples," Ault says. "Pacing was in his genes."
Billy Direct had been the last free-legged world champion.
Steady Star hit his stride in the spring of '69 at little
Audubon Raceway in Henderson, Ky., taking his maiden race
against seven older horses. He won an extra $500 for setting a
track record. That night Ault was offered $50,000 for Steady
Star. No sale. When the horse broke another track record his
next time out, the offer was upped to $75,000. No sale. By the
end of Steady Star's first season, prospective buyers were
dangling $150,000. Still no sale. "I knew he was destined for
greatness," Ault says. That destiny was partly fulfilled in
1970, when Steady became the fastest 3-year-old pacer ever with
a 1:54 time trial.
While railbirds debated Steady Star's potential, Ault debated
whether to retire and syndicate the horse. By the time Steady
set shoe on The Red Mile track for a final go at Bret Hanover's
1:533/5 world record, Ault had decided. "I wanted him to go out
on top," he says. "And I wanted to own him. For me, that was
worth a million dollars."
It was Oct. 1, 1971. With the peerless Joe O'Brien in the sulky,
Steady Star reached the first quarter at Red Mile in an
unremarkable :282/5. As they headed into a stiff wind on the
backstretch, O'Brien crouched down in the bike and loosened the
lines. Steady Star made the half in a remarkable :543/5 and
passed the next pole in 1:23--nearly two seconds faster than
Hanover's pace. At the tunnel O'Brien slightly unhunched himself
and urged Steady Star on. Fourteen seconds later, the pacer
crossed the wire. He hadn't just eclipsed the old mark, he had
A few months later, with $131,847 in earnings, Steady Star
launched a second career as a stallion. He joined his amorous
grandsire, Tar Heel, at Hanover Shoe Farms, in Pennsylvania,
where he stood for nearly two decades and earned more than $18.5
million. Of the 825 foals that Steady Star sired, the most
prized were mares. A daughter named Shannon Fancy won the $1
million Sweetheart at the Meadowlands in New Jersey in 1983; a
granddaughter, Follow My Star, pocketed--so to speak--more than
Today the former world champ snorts and whinnies beneath the
boughs of beech trees in the shadow of Lookout Mountain. A
shingle with his name hangs over the front porch of his small,
white-framed stable. "A lot of faster horses have come along in
the last 25 years," says Ault. "And a lot have won more races
and more money. But none can match the joy he has given me."
Which is why Ault visits the paddock every week to watch Steady
as he goes.
COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY Ault, 82, who paid $5,000 for the colt in 1968, says he has received a million dollars of thrills in return. [Chester Ault kissing horse Steady Star]