The Great Trotting Horse
Feb 2003 - "Mirrored from Michigan Harness"
The trotter of the century
A poll of the members of the Hall of Fame on the trotter of the century was another clear cut victory to he added to the long list of accomplishments by the "Gray Ghost," Greyhound.
To really appreciate this big trotter all a person
needed was a real good trotter to chase him in every week. If the view of
competing drivers was to be taken, then Greyhound had no head, as all that
Henry H. Knight had raced a small stable and raised a few foals. About the time that he moved from Columbus, Ohio, to Chicago, Illinois, he purchased a gray mare called Elizabeth from Walter Candler. This mare was a full sister to Peter the Brewer, 4, 202½ but while he was a big, strong, masculine animal, Elizabeth was more of a finer physique and approached the thoroughbreds in conformation. This mare from the last crop of Peter the Great showed the Arabian influence about the head and she passed this on to her son.
This mare's owner had a penchant for Guy Abbey, 3, 2:06¾ and at one time had purchased the stallion. It was only natural that Elizabeth was sent to this stallion in 1931. The result was a gangling gray colt.
The brood stock was kept at Lexington at the farm of his uncle "Dixie" Knight, better known for his thoroughbreds. In 1932 Dixie Knight was slain by robbers and the farm, which had been in the family for five generations, passed to Henry Knight. He immediately named this farm, on which he had been born, Almahurst in honor of his wife.
Sold In depression days In the first crop of foals to go to the sale from Almahurst was Greyhound and he sold for $900. This does not seem much in these days of high prices but it was the high price for the entire vendue at Indianapolis that year.
Evidently Henry Knight did not believe that he had a champion in Greyhound as he not only asked Mr. Baker to buy the colt but he also gave the dam, Elizabeth, to W. N. Reynolds.
The new owner was Colonel E. J. Baker of St. Charles, Illinois, and he put the colt in the stable of Sep Palin. The colt was a handful but John Paine worked carefully with him and after the youngster was gelded he came along to the point where he was turned over to the top trainer.
It was a winning performance in his first start as the gelding won the first heat in 2:17 at Columbus, Ohio, and then was beaten in the second. He lost at Toledo and was beaten at Toronto, Ontario.
Greyhound, steel gray at this time, then decided that it was time to stop fooling around and he started a skein of wins. He was only to be defeated in one race after that and he did lose two heats as a three year old but won the races.
It was the winner's circle at Rockingham, Good Time Park, Springfield, Ill., Syracuse, N. Y., and he wound up the season by winning The Lexington Trot, the oldest harness race in the world.
Greyhound in spite of his brilliant races still was not the winter book favorite for the Hambletonian. Lawrence Hanover had gone against time at Lexington and earned a "tin cup" record of 2:02, which equalled the world's record for three year old trotters.
His three-year-old season was a series of bitter battles. Lawrence Hanover did win a heat at Toronto and one at Syracuse. These were witnessed personally for when one takes care of a good trotter he always has hopes that something will turn up so that his colt beats the champion.
Will Hodson could sit still with a horse as long as
anyone. The first indication that he had a Hambletonian threat was at
Rockingham Park, the week before the big race. Palin dropped Greyhound in a
cheap race to give him the final edge. The final heat was not so fast but
Sep said that he had been sleeping with Lawrence Hanover, Tilly Tonka, Silver King and a few others all winter. Now a new one, Pedro Tipton, had crawled into bed with him.
It was a rather prophetic utterance as Greyhound won the first heat of the Hambletonian and a neck back was Hodson with Pedro Tipton in 2:02¼. This was a world's record for three-year-old trotting geldings. Greyhound erased the former record held by Reynolda, another one that had been bred by Henry Knight. This is the only Hambletonian won by a gelding. Geldings were first and second and both broke the record.
The second heat of the Hambletonian was probably the worst start in the history of the race. The horses were down in fair order several times only to be called back. Finally the colts were losing their tempers and jumping. The stunned crowd heard the word "Go" with the horses scattered all over the stretch. Only two of the nine starters were on gait, even Greyhound was pacing.
Parshall cut sharply for the pole with Lawrence Hanover
and he also made a break. This left Warwell Worthy far out on front when the
field finally settled to trotting. Will Caton kept going with the filly but
A groom by the name of "Pete" had Greyhound his first two seasons. That night after the big race, Pete came around the comer of the barn with a flower taken from the winner's wreath. He said that after that first heat, Pedro deserved it. Pete must have been given a great bonus as he quit rubbing horses and bought a farm. Jim Wingfield, the quiet gentleman from Georgia had charge of Greyhound from there on.
The display of speed in the Hambletonian was the thing that started to give people the idea that here was the potential for a new trotting champion. The following week, at Springfield, Ill., Greyhound won in 2:00 flat. He did not get to win the Kentucky Futurity as he injured himself at Indianapolis.
There had been several days of rain and the track was not fit to race on. There was a straight stretch of road near the northern edge of the Indianapolis fairgrounds and this was used to exercise the horses. Greyhound felt good after a day or two layup and he started to play and wound up over the shaft and injured himself.
He did win the Horseman Futurity a day or so later but was lame by the time Lexington rolled around and so was retired early for the year.
The inability of Greyhound to get away from the wire
fast was his undoing as a four-year-old. At historic Track Tom Berry got
away and went with Greyhound and then Angel Child came on in the stretch and
won the first heat Sep managed to get Greyhound away the second heat and
Greyhound won this in a close finish. After much scoring both Angel Child
and Tara were away in front and Tara won the third heat. As this was the
first race of the year and Greyhound was not up to going four
Tara went on to win and this caused a feud as Angel
Child was supposed to have been the winner. Tom Berry and Spec Erskine never
spoke to each other after that. The feud was settled a year before the death
of the latter. The wives managed to get the two to shake hands. Spec was
Angel Child later on was to help pace Greyhound the first part of his record breaking mile in 1:57½ at Springfield, Ill. This was the fastest race mile for any gait.
Lack of qualified competition caused exhibition miles against time. At Allentown, Pa., Greyhound lowered the trotting record for two lap tracks to 2:02. This was a fraction of a second better than the mark of the trotting king Peter Manning 1:56¾.
At the age of five, Greyhound started off with an
assault against the half-mile record at Historic Track. Due to the gelding's
inability to get away fast, Sep took the big fellow to the head of the
Again Greyhound was to become a first regardless of gait. His mile in 1:59¾ was the first time the charmed circle had been breached over a half mile oval. It was to be two years later, in 1939 that Billy Direct paced in 2:00 at Altamont, N.Y., in his first attempt against the 2:00 barrier on the smaller size course.
That fall, at Lexington, the first try for the trotting crown was made. On September 20,1937 Peter Manning's 1:56¾ was tied. Exactly one week later it was broken with a mile in 1:56. Fred Egan and Bill Fleming drove the prompters.
The following year another assault was made on the
trotting record at Lexington. On September 23,1938 Greyhound tied his mark
of 1:56. Six days later it was dusk when the gallant gray came out for his
supreme effort. This time he only had one prompter, driven by Roscoe Carlock.
In 1939 Greyhound's versatility was shown when he was hitched with Rosalind 1:56¾, the queen of the trotters, who still wears the diadem after thirty-three years. The trotting team record of 2:03½ had been held by Uhlan and Lewis Forest
Both horses were warmed up to sulky. When they were hitched to the pole cart the driver carried no whip. It is quite a task to drive a team at speed and see that neither horse makes a mistake.
The king and queen of trotters had regal manners and flashed under the wire at Syracuse, N. Y., in 1:59. The next week at Indianapolis they did still better and nudged the trotting team mark down to 1:58¼ where it remains today.
Still hunting for records, Sep and his gray steed took after the two-mile record of 4:10¼, which was held by Peter Manning. Two miles, each in 2:03 gave Greyhound the title at 4:06, which still stands today.
Although Greyhound was hitched double with a running mate, no try was made for the 1:54½ that had been recorded by Uhlan in 1913. The gray had shown Palin so much speed in the last quarter that it was decided to make another try to lower the existing record of 1:55¼ but this was not to be.
There was still one record luring Greyhound and this was the mile under saddle. In 1940 at Lexington, the late Mrs. Frances Van Lennep, of Castleton, was in the saddle when the mark was lowered to 2:01¾. After this, Greyhound retired.
His last years were lived in luxury. He had a barn with a clubhouse and a large picture window so he could look in and see who had come to visit. He even had a guest book.
Occasionally a personal appearance was made. He was now snow white and his hoofs were painted red and red ribbons were used to dress up his mane, etc. The old thrill was still there when a person watched that powerful, long stride when he paraded in front of the grandstand. This stride had been measured by John Hervey when the gelding was a three-year-old and at that time it measured twenty feet from the time one foot left the earth until it again touched. Later on someone claimed that the big fellow's stride got to be twenty-three feet, and that's quite a stride.
There are many personal rememberances of the Gray Ghost. One of the best was about Hambletonian time. One of the grooms had broken open a cigarette and gave the horse the tobacco. A woman by-stander must have been the vanguard of the anti-smokers of today. She was horrified that this was given to the horse and asked if they didn't think it would be much nicer to give him sugar.
Pete's reply was a classic as he said, "Heck no lady, he ain't a sissie." No truer words were ever spoken as Greyhound was masculine, even though he was a gelding.
This horse raced in prohibition times but Pete
generally knew where someone had beer. While the colts were being cooled out
Peter would give the signal and two colts and their grooms would wander off
the cooling out ring to a rendezvous. Two bottles of beer would be produced
Today International races are old hat but back in Greyhound's day it created quite a stir when Italian interest came over with the intention of an International match race between Muscletone, who had been exported from the United States and became the trotting sensation of Europe, and Greyhound. Here would be the best of two continents going head and head.
Palin and Baker were willing but they also were canny enough not to appear too anxious. Plans were made for the match and then came the argument over conditions. Each time the Italians wanted more—such little items like expenses both ways for their horse and entourage.
Rather than drag it out, like the Soviets at a peace conference, Palin waited until the Muscletone group were in attendance and then cut Greyhound loose a quarter in 26¾ seconds. That ended the discussions and the match race went out the window. After that Greyhound was again allowed to show his true speed.
Greyhound's closest rival in the voting was Nevele Pride 1:544/5, the horse that lifted Greyhound's trotting crown. It is hard to compare the two as Nevele Pride came during the days of lush purses. He could, and did win more in one year than the gray did during his career. Nevele Pride retired with earnings of $873,238 for three years of racing. Greyhound raced from 1934 through 1940 and retired with a bankroll of only $38,952.
Greyhound came during the depression era. The
Hambletonian that he won in 1935 only carried a purse of $33,321 the second
lowest purse in the history of this prestige race. The Hambletonian won by
Nevele Pride was for a purse of $116,190. Had Greyhound lived today, he
would have been a
There were twenty-four miles in 2:00 or better by the big gelding who was about 16-2 hands hands. He held a score of world's records and still holds some. It appears that the members of the Hall of Fame of the Trotter made a wise choice for their horse of the century. Greyhound still holds the record for 1½ miles at 3:02½. He would be mighty useful today in those International races over longer distances. In his prime he could still beat the foreign trotters of today.
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