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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Where Did Mack Lobell Come From Anyway?

The death of the great Mack Lobell at age 32 reinforces the top line demise of the mercurial and very fast branch of the Victory Song line running through Noble Victory and his son Noble Gesture. Another branch running through ABC Freight, Garland Lobell and his very relevant trio Andover Hall, Angus Hall and Conway Hall, is still very much alive, but short an obvious extender, unless Donato comes across with a son to match his high flying daughters.

Mack’s great great grandsire Victory Song was a world champion son of Volomite. He was refined and almost feminine in appearance, as was his son Noble Victory. Victory Song was the first horse to be voted Horse of the Year by the writers. He was very fast, taking a mark of 1:57.3, but unsound.

Victory Song had the fertility issues that have plagued his descendants, including Mack Lobell. In 13 years at stud he produced 473 registered foals, which included quite a few pacers. He was a nervous type and also passed that along; Stanley Dancer once said that a lot of the Victory Songs were “a little fruity.” He died at age 19 in 1962, not long after the birth of his extender, Noble Victory.

The latter was an all-time great as a freshman. His mama, Emily’s Pride, won the Hambletonian and the Kentucky Futurity. She was voted Horse of the Year in 1958. Noble Victory won 18 of his 19 starts at two and equaled the 2:00 colt record shared by Titan Hanover and Scott Frost. Going them one better, he was the first colt to trot in 2:00 at night.

Noble Victory was a star at two and productive at three and four. For example, he was the first to win the American-National at Sportsman’s Park three times, and set track records in doing so at ages two, three and four. He won three times at a mile and a quarter as a four-year-old, equaling Speedy Scot’s track record at Roosevelt Raceway.

Noble Victory, who passed in 1987 at age 25, sired 895 offspring in 17 full years and three diminished years at stud. Doug Nash, who managed his feisty grandson, Balance Image, said the two qualities the modern breeder looked for in a trotter—early speed and endurance—were readily available from the Noble Victory line. He attributed the latter to their substantial skeletal and muscular structure. These are attributes Balanced Image himself possessed in spades, but it’s interesting that Noble Victory, who could be mistaken for a mare, somehow passed that along to his heirs.

Stanley Dancer said Noble Victory was the greatest trotter that ever lived. And Alan Leavitt seemed to agree, syndicating him for a record one million dollars. (Nevele Pride came along three years later and changed Dancer’s opinion.) He was never a high volume, top dollar stallion like Super Bowl or Speedy Crown, but he averaged 50 a year and made his mark on the breed.

Noble Gesture, from the first crop of Noble Victory, was fast and flaky. The sire of Balanced Image and Mystic Park took Dancer’s “a little fruity” characterization of his grandsire Victory Song’s offspring to a new level. He was a problem eater, shipper and sleeper. Chasing his tail, watching television and kicking the walls of his stall were his favorite activities.

He won 8 of his 10 starts at two and trotted the second fastest mile ever by a freshman. His behavioral issues caught up with him at three and four when he won only 7 of 25 starts. Noble Gesture, who died from a heart attack at age 14, sired nine crops consisting of 282 registered foals.

He sired the night and day duo, Balanced Image and Mystic Park. The former did not possess the flash of his daddy and grandpa on the track, but he was a high volume sire specializing in long lasting types that won races and money. Not many of his headstrong sons avoided being cut. He sired 21 crops and while his personality left plenty to be desired, he experienced none of the fertility issues that plagued his ancestors. Balanced Image sired 1828 registered foals. Unfortunately, none serves as an extender.

Mystic Park, the sire of Mack Lobell, on the other hand, was brilliant on the track and a nightmare to breed. He won 13 of 16 starts at three, including the Yonkers Trot, Dexter Cup and ATC. He crushed the best of the FFA set in the latter. He was a big favorite to win the Hambletonian but broke in his elimination.

Alan Leavitt syndicated Mystic Park for a record $5.2 million in 1982. The previous high was $4.5 million for Incredible Nevele. After being retired he caught Potomac Fever and lost almost a year to recovering from that. The fertility issues that plagued his sire and grandsire also came calling, and he only produced 141 registered foals—50 of them with standard records—in six years at stud in North America. Mystic Park was exported to Sweden where his fertility issues continued and he passed in September, 1992 at age 13.

Mack, who was born April 28, 1984, was from Mystic Park’s first crop. Delvin Miller, who had competed in 26 Hambletonians when he passed at age 83 in 1996, once made a list of the ten best trotters he’d seen: Mack was number one. He certainly possessed the speed and smooth gait, bereft of wasted motion, that Victory Song bequeathed to him from afar, but he also got the ADD grade lack of focus that came along with it. John Campbell said Mack, who he considered to be the best horse he ever sat behind, had a quirky nature and a wandering mind that often reared its head at inopportune moments on the track.

Mack did not need a big track to get it done. He set a world record in the Standardbred at Delaware, Ohio at two, and the following year he equaled the world record in the Yonkers Trot. Of course, a big track was also fine. Mack trotted the fastest mile ever in a race when he won the Review at Springfield in 1:52.1. He was the first to win the Breeders Crown three times and he won the Elitlopp twice. At one point he held world records on all three size tracks, and he retired as the fastest on 5/8 and mile tracks.

Despite their many issues, Victory Song sired Noble Victory, and he in turn gave us ABC Freight and Noble Gesture, and the former produced Garland Lobell, while it was Balanced Image and Mystic Park from the latter. But the string ran out with Mack. Broodmare credits aside, the crops were small—only 84 registered foals, 18 with standard records, in NA—and there was no son, here or abroad, who could impersonate an extender.

Nevele Pride, who retired as the world record holder on all three size tracks, is in the conversation with Mack when it comes to the best ever in North America, but unless 17-year-old Kadabra gets on the ball, he will also disappear from the top line. It happened to Albatross, Good Time, Bye Bye Byrd, Florican and others. The difference is that they all had a good run before the curtain came down. Poor Mack went to war with an empty gun.

Joe FitzGerald



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