Greyhound - Harness Racing Champ
The Grey Ghost of the Red Mile
By Cheryl Lutring ( Horse History article copyrighted by Saddle & Bridle Magazine)
Greyhound was born in 1932 in New York state, and was sold as a gelded yearling for a mere $900 to trainer Sep Palin who was purchasing for E.J. Baker. Mr. Baker owned Greyhound for the whole of his life.
A Standardbred trotter, his initial training and early races gave no indication of his true potential. He was gawky and big, already standing just under 16.2hh as a two-year-old. Though demonstrating no particular speed or talent, his steady long striding trot was sufficient for him to be kept in training. Greyhound proved the adage that looks can be deceiving. Before his first full season was over he had trotted the fastest time ever achieved by a two-year old gelding a mile in 2:043/4. That race meeting at Syracuse was to set the standard for the rest of his competitive life.
In a rigorous third year he proved himself equal to the pressures, winning his races even the prestigious Hambletonian with speed to spare. After that major victory, he was expressed to Springfield, Ill., where the humidity was crushing and the barometer languished day after day at 110 . The idea was simply to show the Hambletonian champion to the crowds, but bowing to enthusiastic pressure, Mr. Baker raced him. Springfield was a fast track and Greyhound trotted the first heat in 2:05, the second heat in 2:00 exactly. He tackled the race in his usual style slow to start, long rangy strides, and then a sizzling burst to the finish. It is said that his driver was heard to say to the driver of the horse in front get that d... colt out of the way or I ll go over top of him. The expletive answer cannot be put in writing!
He was hastily shipped back to New York state because a mere ten days later he had another contest with horses that had been resting in his absence. Again he won, trotting the final heat only slightly slower than before at 2:011/2. His schedule had been punishing the Hambletonian, followed by the train journey to the scorching Midwest, another race, the train journey home, then another three-heat race, all in under three weeks. But he was a horse of deep girth and great stamina which he proved a week later by triumphing again at Indianapolis.
As his iron grey coat lightened so his speed increased and by the time he was white he was unsurpassed and unsurpassable.
His style was individual a slow starter, his great frame took time to pump the long legs up to their speed, he would leave the starting wire like a galleon in full sail, hit the midway marker with his enormous stride at near his best, then power on majestically to the final wire, always giving the impression of having plenty to spare. He liked to hold his head relatively high, preferred an open bridle (no blinkers) and was always driven by his trainer, Sep Palin, whose reputation was nearly as great. Greyhound s fame was national and his name was well known to horsemen across all disciplines, the general public and silver screen celebrities. Among his most avid fans was the actor, James Cagney.
Having broken and reset just about every record in the harness racing record, including the existing champion at 11/2 miles set by Peter Manning at 3:121/2 (a record he smashed by ten whole seconds!), Greyhound was ready to challenge another great performance Peter Manning s record mile of 1.563/4. On September 29, 1937 at the famous Red Mile at Lexington, the stage was set. But to Greyhound it was just another day s business. The great grey gladiator of the red oval, flagged his tail and launched himself achieving 1:56 a whole heap better than Peter Manning s best. He was undisputed champion of the world.
That night Baker received a telegram from the ex-champion s trainer: A wonderful performance by horse, trainer and owner and my heartiest congratulations to all three of you. Tell Greyhound, for me, that the crown he will now wear, he has earned honestly through his untiring effort, gameness, speed and wonderful courage and more power to all three of you from a great admirer of this great performer.
Greyhound was awarded the coveted title of Horse of the Year 1937, the year when the hot-tip favorites were more traditional Thoroughbred racehorses, this time no less than War Admiral and Seabiscuit!! The secretary of The Jockey Club confirmed the choice with the words that none was so great a horse as Greyhound. It is to him that the title belongs. He is, emphatically, the one great Horse of the Year.
A year later in September, Greyhound was tested against the clock. It was a bitter cold day with strong winds, and waiting for better conditions that did not arrive Sep Palin was obliged to take the big horse out on to the track in failing light. Greyhound came out of the gloaming like a grey ghost and stunned the shivering audience by achieving the mile, against all the odds, in a record busting 1:551/4.
After six hard campaigning years, even though he was still sound and not reducing speed, Baker deemed that the great horse had worked enough and earned enough $40,000 from racing alone and deserved an easy and long retirement. He was given one last hoorah at the Lexington circuit in 1940, where to achieve something different he was raced under saddle. The well known equestrienne, Francis Johnson (nee Dodge, later Mrs. Van Lennep, owner of the legendary Saddlebred Wing Commander and ultimately Castleton Farm) was invited to take up the ride. She accepted although she had never previously attempted such a thing and indeed had never even met Greyhound before. United just that day for that one performance, Greyhound and Frances scorched up the mile reducing the existing saddle record from 2:051/4 to 2:013/4. Another world record to add to the 13 he had already established, and a remarkable and fitting close to a sensational career.
Greyhound went from Lexington to Mr. Baker s property Maple Park in Illinois. He still enjoyed public acclaim and was occasionally brought out for exhibitions, and also could be viewed by visitors through a plate glass window as he relaxed in his 15 by 30 stall. He enjoyed his life of pampered luxury and remained in good health right to the end, passing peacefully to the great red mile in the sky on February 4, 1965 at the grand age of 33. The Grey Ghost was buried at the Baker Farm horse cemetery
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