by Dean Hoffman
Bullet Hanover was certainly well named. “Superman,” the popular TV series of the late 1950s said that the superhero of the show was “faster than a speeding bullet.”
Maybe so, but it’s doubtful that even Superman was faster than Bullet Hanover.
Bullet had demonstrated that as a 2-year-old when he won the Fox Stake, then the most desirable prize for freshman pacers. All the great colts of that era chased the Fox at the Indiana State Fair and the fastest mile ever by a juvenile was when Torpid won in 1:58 for his trainer-driver John F. Simpson.
In 1959 Simpson brought Bullet Hanover to Indianapolis for the Fox Stake and had the distinct misfortune to draw a starting position in the second tier. No one questioned Bullet’s ability, but would it be enough to overcome the handicap of a lousy position and the traffic jams sure to occur?
Simpson took Bullet Hanover away cautiously and then gunned him toward the front when he saw daylight. Bullet responded with a breathtaking rush and carried him to the wire in 1:57, well ahead of his pursuers and well below the old record time. He won the second heat easily.
So Bullet was a marked horse when he returned to the races as a sophomore in 1960. In his training trips over a half-mile track, Bullet Hanover, who had an unusually high gait for a pacer, struggled. The ever-canny Simpson by-passed the rich Messenger and Cane Pace because they were contested on the tight twice-around tracks at Roosevelt and Yonkers. Those events went to the filly Countess Adios.
In the first heat of the Little Brown Jug, Simpson’s worst fears were realized when he sent Bullet Hanover into the first turn at Delaware and the bay colt skipped offstride, ruining his chances. The first heat was taken by the pony-sized colt Muncy Hanover in a world record 1:58.3.
After Bullet’s break, Simpson knew he had no shot of rebounding to win the first heat. He was already thinking ahead to the second heat. He deliberately positioned Bullet Hanover to finish ninth in the first heat, knowing that his colt would thus start in the second tier directly behind heat winner Muncy Hanover.
The strategy worked as Simpson eased Bullet away at the start of the next heat and around the first turn. They easily won the second heat and tied the world record of 1:58.3.
In the third heat, Bullet was much the best and took the final heat over Betting Time and Muncy Hanover.
Bullet’s speed, combined with Simpson’s savvy horsemanship, were too much for their rivals in the 1960 Jug.
This year’s 69th Annual Little Brown Jug is brought to you by Fazoli’s