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Horse Racing: Two for the Money

3 minute read


Horse racing’s an opium dream beyond all dreams ever spun, Where every sad bloke in the mob should have won every race that was run. —Grantland Rice

To hear the experts tell it, every horse in the field had a chance—except maybe Big Pete. Big Pete was a sprinter, a good one to be sure, but at the 1¾-mile distance of the Preakness, he figured to wind up, as horsemen say, “absolutely”—meaning somewhere up the track. But The Scoundrel, Quadrangle and Roman Brother had won five races and $188,000 this year among them. And then there was Hill Rise, beaten by a neck in the Kentucky Derby, gaining with every stride. Should’ve won, the experts said, and a steal, even at 4-5.

What about Northern Dancer, E. P. Taylor’s Canadian-bred colt that won the Derby? Lucky, they said. Too small, they said. On the day of the race, the New York Journal-American published its handicappers’ selections, and only one out of twelve picked the Dancer to win. The Morning Telegraph was only slightly more encouraging: one out of eight. A well-known trainer went so far as to predict that Northern Dancer “won’t even be on the board when the race is over.”

Trainer Horatio Luro and Jockey Bill Hartack had other ideas. At the break, Hartack gently urged Northern Dancer into third place—two lengths behind Big Pete and Quadrangle, a neck ahead of Hill Rise. “Hill Rise was the horse I had to beat,” he said. “The track was very tiring, and I wasn’t worried about the horses out front—1 knew that they would come back to me.” For nearly a mile, Northern Dancer and Hill Rise ran practically side by side. Then, on the final turn,

Jockey Willie Shoemaker made his bid on Hill Rise. At the same instant, Hartack flicked the Dancer’s reins. “That was it,” said Hartack. “It was a battle for position—and I won the battle.” Hill Rise faded abruptly. Northern Dancer drew out to win by 21 lengths. The lucky little horse had done it again, $124,200 worth—running his lifetime bankroll to $519,000. Just one more victory, in next month’s mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes, and he would become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948. Northern Dancer went back to his hay bale. And Bill Hartack went straight to the shower. “The Belmont,” he said, “is just another horse race.”

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