by Dean Hoffman
Mack breaks speed limit in Saratoga
In the late 1960s, Nevele Pride was a trotting tour de force. He set speed records as a 2-year-old and 3-year-old and as a 4-year-old he shattered the iconic 1:55-1/4 mark set by Greyhound that had withstood 31 years of challenges.
Perhaps the most astonishing performance of Nevele Pride’s career was a victory over Saratoga’s half-mile track in 1:56.4 in 1969. That was faster than any pacer had ever raced on a twice-around track.
To put that 1:56.4 record in contemporary terms, it would be as if a trotter won a race in1:48 today over a half-mile track. (The fastest trotting race on a half-mile track in history is instead Maven’s 1:51.4.)
As sulky styles were refined in the 1970s and the breed improved in the following decades, Nevele Pride’s records fell to the onslaught of modern Standardbred speed. The last record standing was Nevele Pride’s 1:56.4 over a half-mile track.
That’s why the night of August 5, 1988 had special drama because the Breeders Crown was slated for Saratoga Raceway where Nevele Pride had set that record 19 years earlier. And Mack Lobell had come to Saratoga wearing his trotting shoes.
Only five other trotters dared drop in against Mack and one of them, Whip It Wood, was scratched.
Mack Lobell had the outside post five with Natural Image, Schmitar, Go Get Lost, and Friendly Face to his inside. Mack was made a 1-5 choice by the bettors.
Schmitar used his quick step at the start to assume command, but his glory was short-lived. John Campbell and Mack Lobell wanted the front, too, and Schmitar was no match for Mack’s flying feet as the field went around the first turn.
Mack was in front down the backstretch the first time and the timer clicked :27.2 at the quarter. Campbell knew he had to give Mack a breather and let him coast through a :29.4 second panel.
The time at the half was :57.1—exactly what Nevele Pride had clocked 19 years earlier.
Now the challenge was crystallized: would that burst of speed out of the gate come back to haunt Mack Lobell in the second half? Could he still get the record?
The third quarter was :29.3. A final quarter in 30 seconds tied Nevele Pride’s world record.
But Campbell and Mack were not content to merely tie the record. Campbell began to use his sulky skills to squeeze that last measure of devotion from Mack. It helped that Mack could hear the valiant Friendly Face behind him.
Mack found the reserve speed and sprinted to the wire. The timer clicked 1:56.
Mack Lobell was now the fast trotter in history on every size track and he claimed his third consecutive Breeder Crown.
Everyone agreed that there was nothing quite like Mack Lobell at his best—and he was certainly at his best on his night in Saratoga.