The only absolute is…

by Alan Leavitt

There is only one absolute in harness racing, and it is this: There are no absolutes.

Although it is frequently the case that a mare’s best performance on the racetrack will be either her first or second foal, the fastest standardbred of all time, Bulldog Hanover, with his record of 1:45.4, is the 14th foal of B.J.’s Squall. It’s also true that many sires get their fastest and richest progeny from their two first crops, but Bulldog Hanover is from Shadow Play’s 12th crop.

As an example of the early success of a mare’s production, today’s leading trotting sire, based on his first two crops, is Walner. He’s the second foal of his dam, Random Destiny. But more importantly, he was a great 2-year-old, winning all but one time he looked at a starting gate, and that a close second.

Walner had just two starts at 3 before his racing career was cut short due to injury, which meant nothing to this kid. Along with the greatest thoroughbred breeder of all time, Federico Tesio, I regard 2-year-old brilliance as the major determinant of a stallion’s sire potential.

I say that even though the greatest sire I ever was blessed with was Speedy Crown, and he never started in a race at 2.

Previously, when I called Speedy the greatest trotting sire of all time, it didn’t make it past my editor. I say it again, based on the fact that Speedy Crown is the only standardbred sire whose single season progeny exceeded that of every thoroughbred stallion in a given year.

Speedy Crown won the Hambletonian himself, and he sired three Hambletonian winners. I was involved with one of them, Speedy Somolli, whom I had syndicated halfway through his 2-year-old year. S² was a little horse, and he would make breaks out of nowhere, which cost him a 2-year-old world’s record.

Howard Beissinger spent the winter before this 3-year-old season braving him up in a Kant-See-Back bridle. He stayed flat rigged that way, but it took away just a little of his high speed.

I spent the longest afternoon of my life in the grandstand at DuQuoin the day of Somolli’s Hambletonian. He won the first heat, and then lost the second. It took a minute to sink in that if Florida Pro won the third heat for George Sholty, as he had won the second heat, that would be it for us and the Hambletonian.

After waiting several years, they finally called the horses for the third heat. The other six horses were pretty quiet in the post parade, but not Speedy Somolli. He was already in high gear, with his ears pinned back, and wearing a blind bridle for the first time all year.

Benny Webster, may his name be forever blessed, was driving another colt by Speedy Crown, and he took the field to the quarter in 30 seconds. That was all the help Howard needed, and he cut it the rest of the way to the winner’s circle.

You only get a day like that once, if you’re lucky. And that one day is enough to last your for the rest of your life.

What brought on this attack of nostalgia was reading about the filly Special Way, whose dam is named Special Hill. That rang a bell because I once owned a mare with the same name.

My Special Hill was a foal of 1969. She was by B. F. Coaltown, and out of Scotch Hill, by Hoot Mon. She was a good producer for us, she had three hundred thousand dollar winners in a day when there were no slot machines to beef up the purses.

The current version of Special Hill is off to a great start with her daughter Special Way. As a 2-year-old this season, Special Way has already won $397,125, with a record of 1:52. Her sire is Walner.

And she happens to be the second foal of her dam. Now, one caution: When you’re looking at pedigrees, don’t ever make the mistake of thinking that anything you happen to find is a coincidence.

The first rule in the Detective’s Manual is that there is no such thing as coincidence. And that is an absolute.