Day At The Track

Haunting the halls of harness racing

12:44 AM 12 Feb 2008 NZDT
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Greyhound Greyhound
Greyhound - at Flanery Stables
Photo Courtesy Of Frank Marrion
Greyhound - in action
Photo Courtesy Of Frank Marrion

'Grey Ghost' Greyhound still haunts halls of harness history…was like some splendid sailing ship with all sails set (In this series Frank Marrion's focus is on some of the great racehorses from days gone by)

Greyhound is a name that is almost beyond Legend.

For if champions are measured by the records they set and the length of time they remained one, Greyhound was the greatest of them all.

During seven glorious seasons of all kinds of competition, Greyhound set 25 world records of one kind or another, often bettering his own record, and many of them remained intact over three decades later.

If there was a time when he could be said to be at the “peak of his powers” it was an 11 day period in the summer of 1938 when he trotted under 1.56 on three occasions, when the previous world record had been 1.56 3/4 by Peter Manning in 1922, and his fastest of 1.55 1/4 would stand the test of time for 31 years, when three time Horse of the Year, Nevele Pride, was able to reduce it to 1.54.8 at Indianapolis.

In between, it is estimated that at least 100,000 trotters had found Greyhound’s mark beyond them.

Greyhound’s records came over all distances, from a quarter mile to two miles. They came under all kinds of conditions, over half to mile tracks, in harness, in double harness and under saddle.

While many of his most memorable exploits were purely in races against the clock, in 82 “heats” he was a winner 71 times with five seconds, two thirds and three fourths, his only unplaced performance being as a 2-year-old.

In fact, in his entire career he only lost four “races” and three of those were as an inexperienced juvenile.

When all things are considered, Greyhound could quite rightfully lay claim to being the greatest equine racehorse ever.

A lot has changed since Greyhound’s racing days.

In an effort to attract more spectators, there has been the arrival of huge, luxurious, urban harness tracks, the introduction of night racing and the mobile starting gate, off-track betting, and most races run as “dashes” over one mile, rather than heat racing over distances from six furlongs to two miles.

Other innovations have been adopted in order to make it easier for competing horses to produce even greater speed, such as special fast track surfaces and configerations involving banking, improved light weight equipment involving the sulky, and more scientific breeding, conditioning and training methods, not to mention the more rapid, less fatiguing means of transportation from one track to another.

There is thus no telling what even more fabulous accomplishments Greyhound might have achieved with the luxury of these advantages, but such as it was, there is no cause or need for regret in his career or life, which was long and happy.

Many have attempted to describe Greyhound with superlatives down through the decades, but famous historian John Hervey, who observed him in his twilight years after witnessing all previous champions, perhaps most succinctly summed him up as an individual and as a sight to behold on the track when he penned the following...”In action he was very high-headed, sweeping along with a stride that at times exceeded 21 feet, which was carried with a strength and courage which knew no weakness.

The onward rush of Greyhound was not, like that of Cresceus, cyclonic in its fury; nor the birdlike flight of Lou Dillon, nor the smooth and gliding ease of Uhlan, nor the intense and concentrated energy of Peter Manning.

He seemed to gather and poise himself when he set sail like some splendid ship with all her canvas spread, moving majestically onward, the rhythm on his progress sustained from wire to wire in so stately a way that it left the spectator with an impression of something invincible.”

To trace the origins of Greyhound we can in the first instance look to William Monroe Wright, ironically the breeder of Peter Manning, Greyhound’s predecessor as world champion trotter, having in 1921 displaced Uhlan for the crown before a year later reducing the record to 1.56 3/4.

Wright had bred Peter Manning at his farm near Chicago, but a few years later transferred his breeding operations to Kentucky, where he established a new and greater Calumet Farm and stocked it with the largest collection of trotting stallions and broodmares of the day.

A self-made man who had won a place among America’s greatest industrialists, Wright was a keen student of breeding and upon retiring he resolved to devote himself wholly to the breeding and racing of the trotter, and that upon the grandest scale.

He was a keen admirer of Guy Axworthy and in 1924 sent to him one of his choicest young matrons, the pacing mare Abbacy 2.04 1/4, she being by The Abbe from Regal McKinney, who was a McKinney sister to Roya McKinney (dam of Scotland 1.59 1/4) and Queenly McKinney (dam of Guy McKinney 1.58 3/4), and from the No.1 family of Jessie Pepper.

Abbacy was to prove herself a prolific producer and to Guy Axworthy’s cover she foaled a chestnut colt that was named Guy Abbey, a Futurity winner at three and who split Spencer and Scotland in the 1928 Hambletonian when very lame.

When forced out of training, Wright was so partial to Guy Abbey that he gave him a place on the stallion staff at Calumet Farm; although few mares were bred to him, especially outside ones, as he was young and unproven.

Among those that did however was Elizabeth, owned by Henry H. Knight of Almahurst Farm in Lexington.

Elizabeth was also young and unproven and while having never been seen in public, she was a beautiful grey individual of almost Arabian type, and a sister to one of Wright’s stallions in Peter The Brewer 4, 2.02 1/2, one of Peter The Great’s best racing sons.

Their dam was the pacing mare Zombrewer 2.04 1/4, who was by McKinney’s best son Zombro 2.11 and whose grandam, Molly J, was a thoroughbred mare by Waller.

Elizabeth, from Peter The Great’s last crop of foals, in 1932 produced a shapely grey colt that was so lithe and speedy in his outline that Knight at once named him Greyhound.

At that date however the country was suffering under the burden of the economic depression and there was no call for young stallions, so Greyhound was gelded and along with Knight’s entire yearling draft was sent to an autumn sale in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he was knocked down to the $900 bid of Colonel E.J. Baker of Illinois.

The $900 was paltry even for the times, when trotting was still concentrated on the County Fairs for modest prizemoney before the advent of “pari-mutuel” betting, and the fact that the sale was unremarkable was underlined when Knight soon gifted Elizabeth to W.N. Reynolds.

Baker had for many years been one of the foremost patrons of the Grand Circuit and raced many fine performers, and immediately turned Greyhound over to his trainer Sep Palin.

Palin, a “horseman” in every sense of the word and an expert with trotters, and Greyhound would become totally inseparable until his farewell performance, where in a novel promotion, it was decided that Greyhound would attack the world’s record under saddle with Frances Dodge Johnson, the noted equestrienne.

Initially, Greyhound seemed rather awkward, with a disjointed way of going. He was also very lazy and sometimes recalcitrant, leaving his new owner with little optimism, even sceptical.

At the time it was also considered desirable to have length in the barrel and Greyhound was a full hand taller at 16.1 than he was long, while he was also much higher at the wither than he was at his sloping hind quarters.

But Greyhound was to prove a preview of the modern day trotter, being less rangy with deep chest and long slender limbs, and as time passed he matured and strengthened, enabling him to carry his long, graceful and powerful strides with devastating precision.

Opposed to gadgetry, Palin fitted Greyhound with the bare minimum - light 6oz shoes with any boots being merely a precaution. While he was a close “passing” trotter, even at top speed, which was known to reach 35mph, he was never known to strike himself.

He also wore an open bridle and while his head was checked rather high, this was a natural posture rather than an artificially enforced position.

Despite a winning debut in the first heat of a $300 County Fair event at Columbus in Ohio on June 8, where he recorded 2.17 on the half-mile track, Greyhound’s career got off to a slow and inauspicious start.

He finished third in the second heat to the filly Miss Evergreen at Columbus and then a 4-2 finish in a Grand Circuit race at Toledo in Ohio saw him second equal in review to 2.09 straight heats winner Belvedere, a filly by Peter The Brewer.

A fortnight later at Toledo, after finishing second to Belvedere he recorded the only unplaced start of his career when seventh in the second heat as Silver King, a grey colt by Mr McElwyn, went on to beat Belvedere in the race-off.

Greyhound had been learning fast however and in 12 more races that season he was only once more beaten, finishing fourth in a first heat at Syracuse before winning the second heat and the race-off with Volomite colt Prince John.

A race at Salem in New Hampshire was followed by straight heat Stakes events at Goshen in New York, Springfield in Illinois, Syracuse in New York and Lexington in Kentucky.

The Syracuse race, the Horseman Futurity, was the most notable as he took the second heat in 2.04 3/4, a record for a 2-year-old gelding.

Greyhound had raced 18 times in all over four months for 12 wins and five placings, but if that seemed a lot for a big overgrown and immature youngster, it didn’t show the next year as he totally dominated the 3-year-old class of 1935 with 18 wins from 20 starts.

His only defeats came in his third “start” when he was beaten into fourth by Lawrence Hanover, Tilly Tonka and The Viscount in a first heat in Ontario before winning the second and the race-off with Lawrence Hanover, while that horse beat him towards the end of the season in a second heat at Syracuse before he downed him in a 2.01 1/2 race-off.

Thus, while he dropped two heats, he was actually unbeaten in eight races in review, a couple of which required him to win three straight heats.

The highlights were a resounding success in the $33,321 Hambletonian at Goshen in 2.02 1/4-2.02 3/4 and a second heat at Springfield in 2.00, the first by a 3-year-old and where “daylight” was both second and third.

The rest as they say is history - Greyhound would only lose one more “race” in his career, which was the first of his 4-year-old season at Goshen, and from that point only one more heat as quite simply he ran out of competition, except for the clock.

In the Historic FFA at Goshen, he finished 2-1-2 as Angel Child finished 1-3-3 and Tara 3-2-1 before the latter, a Volomite mare, won out in the end.

Angel Child 2.00 1/2 and Tara 2.00 were two very speedy mares of the day and the short straights and almost continuous turns of the historic half-mile Goshen track placed Greyhound at a distinct disadvantage.

In the first heat, Angel Child had sped home in 28 1/4, easily the fastest quarter ever seen over a twice-around up to that time.

A few weeks later, Greyhound raced over Goshen’s mile track and defeated Tara in each of three heats in a world record 2.01, 2.00 1/4 and 2.00.

One week later he was at Springfield in Illinois and faced only by Angel Child, won the second heat in 1.57 1/4, eclipsing the 1.59 world’s race record.

It was by now a foregone conclusion that Peter Manning’s dethronement was imminent, and this was underlined when he stepped out for the first time as a 5-year-old at Goshen and reduced his 2.02 half-mile record to 1.59 3/4.

A Goshen mile track record of 1.58 1/4 and a couple of race wins later and Greyhound was at Indianapolis to have a crack at Peter Manning’s mile and a half record of 3.12 1/2, which he reduced by precisely 10 seconds.

This was only in preparation however for his first attempt of the season to better his own mark of 1.57 1/4 at Lexington, which he did in equalling Peter Manning’s world record of 1.56 3/4.

One week later, he had the record to himself at 1.56 after fractions of 29 1/4, 57 1/2 and 1.27 1/2, last quarter in 28 1/2.

Greyhound had reach his goal, but not his final one.

In 1938, he returned to the races to prepare for another assault on the record books later that year.

First up at Randall, he was timed over the final quarter of the second heat in 26 3/4, quite unprecedented speed under those circumstances.

His first attempt at the clock was over a slow Indianapolis track on August 30, where he recorded a commendable 1.56 3/4, and then it was on to Lexington for the supreme effort.

First turning for the word there on September 23, he equalled his previous year’s time of 1.56, but six days later, in conditions by no means favourable, with lowering dark clouds and a stiff wind to face up the long home straight at The Red Mile, he achieved his ultimate triumph.

Going to the quarter in 29 1/4, half in 58 1/2 and three quarters in 1.26 he was home in 1.55 1/4, last half in 56 3/4.

Just as had been the case throughout his long career, Palin never struck Greyhound with the whip.

Five days later, in a farewell effort, Palin tried a different tactic by going quicker to the half in 28 1/2 and 56 3/4, but again getting to the three quarters in 1.26, he finished in 1.55 1/2.

Four and a half years after his previous defeat on the track at Goshen, Peter Volo entire Peter Astra got the better of him when decidedly lucky at Syracuse in the first heat before he rebounded to take the second and third heats.

In between, there were 38 unbeaten heats in 17 races, and 21 time trials or Exhibitions, with the latter being pretty much his only option to earn money.

For example, after his all conquering season of 1938, where after five straight heat wins in FFAs at Randall in Ohio, Agawam in Massachusetts twice, Goshen and Springfield, where remarkably the splendid mare Rosalind was 2-2 on each occasion, he went on in consecutive weeks to trot 1.56 3/4, 1.56, 1.55 1/4 and 1.55 1/2 when just one 2.00 mile by a trotter was still very rare, the next year he had no races at all because nobody was prepared to take him on.

In 1939, he did things like trot in tandem to pole with Rosalind and time trial over two miles.

After initially taking state records for Maine (1.57 1/2) at Old Orchard and Wisconsin (1.58) at Milwaukee in Exhibitions, Greyhound then went to the New York State Fair at Syracuse for what was to prove a thrilling surprise.

Hitched to a two-wheel “vehicle” with Rosalind, the Queen of Trotting, for the first time in an attempt on the “team to pole” record which had been held by Uhlan and Lewis Forrest at 2.03 1/4 for 27 years, they were home in 1.59 with a last half in 57 1/2.

This was hailed as strictly phenomenal and it was breathtaking stuff for the large crowd - a majestic sight to behold for all and sundry as the two champions trotted home in perfect harmony.

If that was exhilirating though, only five days later Greyhound and Rosalind were at Indianapolis for a second attempt and lowered the record to 1.58 1/4, last half in 57 3/4.

Greyhound then remained in Indiana for a fortnight for an attempt on Peter Manning’s two mile record of 4.10 1/4, which he reduced to 4.06 with each mile in exactly 2.03, but that concluded his work for the year as bad weather prevented a trip to Lexington.

1940 was always going to be Greyhound’s last season of competition, Colonel Baker having early in the piece determined and announced that there was little left to prove and that he had well and truly earned his retirement, but he was to close out his career with what many consider his most wondrous performance.

After seven FFAs at various tracks which included Pawtucket on Rhode Island, where he was given little more than a workout in each, it was decided that once again something new and novel would be attempted.

The choice fell upon the world’s saddle record of 2.05 1/4 held by Hollyrood Boris and his rider Miss Helen James, and the place would be the scene of many of Greyhound’s most memorable moments, The Red Mile.

To add still further to the attractiveness of the occasion, Mrs James B. (Frances Dodge) Johnson of Detroit, so well known at many of the great horse shows as a polished equestrienne, was asked to ride him and accepted the invitation, though she had never before attempted anything of the kind, and was only now making anything but a spectator’s acquaintance with the champion.

Their joint exhibition was therefore doubly thrilling, as his fair rider took him to the quarter in 30 3/4, half in 60 3/4 and three quarters in 1.31 3/4 and home in 30 to complete the mile in a perfectly rated 2.01 3/4.

A more fitting finale could not have been imagined and with it he passed from the stage “staggering under the weight of his laurels,” taking with him 15 different world’s records at all distances from a quarter of a mile to two miles, in single and double harness, under saddle and over both major and minor tracks.

The last three years of Greyhound’s assault on the record book, which he almost single handedly rewrote, are indelibly inscribed in American trotting history and psyche.

From that eventful day, Greyhound lived out his retirement in luxurious ease, initially at Baker’s estate of Baker Acres at Northbrook in Illinois, but mostly in a specially modified barn at Flannery Farms, both just outside of Chicago.

At intervals he was shipped to various trotting festivals as far afield as California, in order to gratify the public desire to view him and tender him their homage.

In this role, for which he was fitted by “Doc” Flanery, the manager of Baker’s private stables for many years, he was as great a success as upon the racetracks in his salad days and was received in a manner befitting his renown.

From the rakish flying machine of record breaking form he transformed into a gladitorial steed, in appearance recalling those of the hippodromes of ancient Rome.

He carried himself with a truly Roman majesty, and when brushed down the stretch at a dizzy rate of speed, still easily at his command in advancing years, he presented a spectacle that aroused spontaneous enthusiasm and applause.

GREYHOUND’S WORLD RECORDS OF NOTE WHEN RETIRED...

TIME TRIALS

Trotting mile on a mile track.........................1.55 1/4

Team to pole (Greyhound/Rosalind).............1.58 1/4

Under saddle…..............................................2.01 3/4

Trotting mile and a half.................................3.02 1/2

Trotting two miles..........................................4.06

IN RACES

Trotting mile on a half mile track..................1.59 3/4

Two year old gelding.....................................2.04 3/4

Three year old gelding...................................2.00

Four year old.................................................1.57 1/4

Fastest second heat........................................1 57 1/4

Fastest two heats............................................2.02 - 1.57 1/4

Fastest three heats.........................................2.01 - 2.00 1/4 - 2.00

GREYHOUND’S RACING RECORD...

Year Starts 1st 2nd 3rd 4th Unpl Best time

1934 18 12 2 1 2 1 2.04 3/4

1935 20 18 0 1 1 0 2.00

1936 17 15 2 0 0 0 1.57 1/4

1937 2 2 0 0 0 0 1.56*

1938 10 10 0 0 0 0 1.55 1/4*

1939 0 0 0 0 0 0 1.57 1/2**

1940 15 14 1 0 0 0 1.59 1/4

82 71 5 2 3 1

*Denotes time trials.

**Denotes Exhibition Trot.

FOOTNOTE: From the age of four, there were also 21 official Time Trials or Exhibition miles.

A HOME FIT FOR A KING...

During his long retirement Greyhound lived in surroundings fit for a King before finally passing away aged 33 on February 2, 1965.

A few years after his retirement he was moved to a specially modified barn at Flannery Farms about 50 miles outside of Chicago, “Doc” Flanery having been the manager of owner Colonel Baker’s stables during his racing days.

Greyhound’s palatial “stall” was an air conditioned room of polished oak, 25ft by 14ft, which opened out to a tastefully decorated visitors room, where the trophy cabinet included the beautifully big Hambletonian urn of highly ornamated silver.

It was also in this room where Greyhound asked visitors to sign his Guest Book and in the end he had names from over 30 countries, including places such as Turkey, Iran, Samoa, Guam, India, Tanganyika, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

“Many of them couldn’t speak English at all,” recalled Doc Flanery.

“I remember one boy from Holland who told us he had come to America to see the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon, and Greyhound.”

At the other end of the stall was a long picture window hedged with red geraniums and trailing ivy to a neat front lawn and a low white fence, and finally to the orchards, where he had a favourite tree to scratch his back on each morning.

Greyhound received constant attention over more than 20 years from the Flannery’s along with Dooley and Mrs Leona Putnam from the day he retired, while in his latter years vet John Foley visited three times a week.

Apart from one bad spell three months before he died, when unable to stand for a few hours, and some scary days soon after he retired when he developed an abcess on the jugular vein in his neck, Greyhound never had a sick or injured day in his life.

Of the latter incident, Dooley Putnam recalled...”I kept hot packs on it for 72 hours without let-up. The only time he would eat was when my arm was around his neck. I guess it was then that we became real close friends.”

“He loved people and attention,” Putnam continued. “He got so much of it that with advancing time, he acted like a spoiled child. He had little or no use for the older horses on the farm - just ignored them - but his friendship and concern for the young colts and fillies was pronounced...even humourous on occasions. He fussed over them like an aging school master.

“And we are the only people in the world who lived in the rear of the house while a horse lived in the front.”

Colonel Baker had “provided” for Greyhound in his will and when he died he was also buried at Baker’s nearby farm, Red Gate, alongside Volo Song and Winnepeg.

For most though the “Grey Ghost of Goshen” never sleeps - his “stroke” of genius forever hammers down the halls of harness history.

COMPARATIVE MEASUREMENTS OF THREE CHAMPIONS...

Uhlan -- Peter Manning -- Greyhound

Height at withers.........................................15.2 1/4 -- 15.3 1/8 -- 16.1 1/4

Height at rump............................................15.1 3/4 -- 15.2 1/2 -- 15.3 5/8

Extreme length of body...............................15.3 -- 15.2 -- 15.1 1/4

Length of head............................................25 1/4 -- 26 -- 23 1/2

Length of neck............................................32 3/4 -- 31 -- 31

Girth at heart...............................................69 3/4 -- 69 -- 70 1/2

Girth at waist...............................................69 1/2 -- 70 -- 66 3/8

Length of foreleg, body to ground................34 -- 37 -- 34 3/8

Length of front cannon, knee to ankle...........9 -- 12 -- 11

Around forearm at swell...............................20 1/2 -- 21 1/2 -- 17 3/4

Around front cannon midway........................8 -- 7 7/8 -- 7 1/2

Length from point of knee to ground.............18 -- 19 -- 19 1/2

Length in hind leg, point of stifle to ground.....40 -- 40 -- 42 3/4

Length from point of hock to ground.............22 -- 24 -- 23 1/2

Length from point of hip to point of hock.......40 -- 40 -- 37 7/8

Width of hips, point to point..........................22 -- 24 -- 18

Width of breast, point to point of shoulders...16 1/2 -- 14 3/4 -- 13 3/4

DDITIONAL STATS ON GREYHOUND...

Circumference of muzzle...............................19 7/8

Width between eyes.....................................8 7/8

Length of ear................................................5 1/2

Around jowls................................................37

Around throat latch.......................................28 3/4

Length of neck..............................................31

Width of buttocks..........................................17 5/8

Around stifle..................................................22 3/8

Around gaskin...............................................17

Around hock.................................................16 3/8

Width between forelegs.................................3 3/8

Length of hind leg, body to ground.................42 3/4

Length of back..............................................23 3/4

Length of shoulder.........................................22 3/4

Length of front pastern...................................4

Length of hind pastern....................................4 1/8

Width of front foot.........................................4 3/4

Width of hind foot..........................................4 3/4

Frank Marrion

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