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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Nicknames In Harness Racing

Nicknames for participants in harness racing—human and equine—have played a role in the sport from the beginning. Many are straightforward and self-evident: The Redman, Scooter, Muscles, Catman etc.; but a lot of the better ones are more creative and mysterious.

Bill Haughton was dubbed “The Master,” for obvious reasons. He and Stanley Dancer were christened the “Gold Dust Twins” back in the 1950s when the pair ruled the two Metropolitan New York half-milers. Dancer arrived in 1947 and Haughton showed up the following year. The only options for the 15-20,000 fans who showed up each night were win-place-show betting and the Double. The pair revolutionized the sport with their aggressive style and win at all cost tactics.

For an understated guy, trainer-driver Joe O’Brien generated a lot of nicknames. He was “Gentleman Joe,” which became the title of the biography his friend Marie Hill published in 1975.  And he was “The Ice Man,” thanks to his tendency to sit chilly whenever possible. He was also “Jolten Joe” and “Jigglin Joe,” in deference to his penchant for dancing in the bike, as opposed to using the whip.

Announcer Frank Salive is “The Velvet Fog,” thanks to his super-smooth delivery. Best known for his WEG stint between 1991 and 2005, Salive has also called races at Pompano Park, Hanover, Clinton and Woodstock.

We all know Yannick Gingras as “The Green Hornet,” but Harold Story, who logged his first win back in 1947, and was a mainstay at Saratoga in subsequent decades, was also “The Green Hornet.” Story won 3,000 races and handled the great trotting mare, Scenic Regal. He was a “crafty” type in the Eddie Cobb tradition—feared and respected by any knowledgeable bettor.

Lew Williams, the sport’s greatest African-American driver, was “Super Lew.” He tore up Northfield in the 1970’s and was also very successful at Pompano and Windsor. He’s best known for making speed with FFA pacer Whata Baron at The Meadowlands. Williams battled substance abuse issues throughout his career, and died tragically in a tractor accident at age 42.

Ulf Thoresen, the first European to win the Hambletonian (Nuclear Kosmos), was both “The Wizard” and “Mr Goldfinger.” Fans loved him because he often won with outsiders. There’s a race in his honor each July at Jarlsberg.

Another fan favorite, who also brought home plenty of horses that had little chance on paper, was “Magic Man” Bill O’Donnell.

Ron Gurfein, who won the Hambletonian with Victory Dream, Continentalvictory and Self Possessed, all in rein to Mike Lachance, is “The Trotting Guru.” He has always been a sage when it comes to shoeing a trotter for success when the big money is up for grabs.

Thankful, the Hoot Mon mare who gave the world the beastly and dangerous, but very fast, Nevele Pride, carried the barn name “Little Evil.” Harry Pownall said Pride’s daddy, Stars Pride, would kick him right out of the bike if he touched him with a whip, so, in fairness, he may have also contributed to the champ’s charming demeanor.

Nick’s Fantasy, the only Maryland bred to win the Little Brown Jug, was somewhat lethargic by nature, so he was dubbed “Mr Dozy.” The Tyler’s mark gelding also went by the more respectful “Sir Nick.” He was born in a trailer racing to cross the Maryland line before the blessed event, so he’d be eligible to that state’s sire stakes program. John Campbell drove him for the first time in the Jug, where he set a world record for a sophomore gelding on a half. Nick’s owner, Don Sipe, who was very sick, heard him win the three-year-old classic on the radio, and passed  a few hours later.

For some reason Run The Table, the only millionaire by the Meadow Skipper stallion Landslide, was “Artie.” He was big and lazy, but John Campbell said he was at his best firing from the gate, which always required some encouragement. Run The Table, who was the first to beat Jate Lobell, was also part of the first father-son team of Adios winners.

And of course Sweet Lou is “The Great White Blaze” for obvious reasons. He set world records at two, three and five, and is the only pacer ever to win his division at age two and age five.

Strong Yankee (Muscles Yankee), who won the 2005 Yonkers Trot, Kentucky Futurity and Breeders Crown for Trond Smedshammer, was known as “Teddy,” probably due to his cuddly, pet-like nature. He beat Vivid Photo, Classic Photo and Ken Warkentin in the Futurity.

Staying Together, the 1993 Horse of the Year in the US and Canada, was known at the Kentucky Horse Park as “Stanley.”

Speedy Scot, still a top five trotter 56 years after his birth, was, for obvious reasons, “The Castleton Cannonball.”

Western Ace, George Teague’s chippy little Western Ideal gelding, who won the Wilson and Niatross , was “Little Man.”

Armbro Ranger, the featured attraction in Steady Star’s less than impressive portfolio, was “Little Nero.” The latter was one year older and they both took their divisions in 1975. Ranger was from Steady Star’s first crop; his grandpa Tar Heel’s line was fading fast at that point. Nero, who, as I recall, carried the barn name “Garbage” due to the oversized dark goggles, elaborate headgear and varied and sundry other crap he wore when he raced, was syndicated for a record $3.6 million by Alan Leavitt.

Sometimes great horses draw unflattering barn names. Triple Crown winner Super Bowl, who stood 16.1 hands, was good naturedly referred to as “Big Dummy” by his groom. And Beach Towel, who won 29 of 36 starts for $2.5 million and was Horse of the Year at three, was “Bozo.”

Big Towner, with his ancient bloodlines and unpleasant disposition, was labeled “Simpson’s Folly” when he entered the stud ranks at Hanover, but he proved to be anything but. It’s all in a name.
Joe FitzGerald

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