by Dean Hoffman
In 1989, Mack Lobell was considered to the fastest trotter in the world. Oh, Mack had his quirks at times, but when he set his mind to trotting no horse could stay with him. He never tried his luck at the marathon races in France, but at a distance of a mile, Mack was the King of the World.
Hurricane Hugo blew up the eastern seaboard of America in the days before the race, taking dead aim at Virginia and Maryland. Freestate Raceway—and other tracks in Hugo’s path—cancelled racing on the scheduled Breeders Crown date in the greater interest of public safety.
Mack was racing for Swedish trainer John Magnusson and Finnish driving ace Veijo Heiskanen was handling the reins. Bettors made Mack the 1-5 favorite. John Campbell, who had driven Mack to so many records and triumphs in previous years, was in the sulky behind the 14-1 longshot Delray Lobell.
When the wings of the gate folded, Mack Lobell shot right to his accustomed position in the front of the pack. The others were expected to fall in obediently behind him. But Michigan’s Sam DeMull apparently didn’t get the memo. He brought his well-named gelding Red Rhone up to challenge Mack on the outside.
Challenge Mack Lobell? You don’t tug on Superman’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger and you don’t mess around with Mack.
Didn’t DeMull and Red Rhone know that?
No, they didn’t. Because with a quarter-mile remaining when Red Rhone was supposed to tire and go backwards, he instead went forward and began to edge past Mack Lobell and took the lead.
Amazing! Stupendous! Unbelievable! All those and more.
But savvy observers noticed that John “Mr. Second Over” Campbell had Delray Lobell positioned right behind Red Rhone in the perfect striking spot. In the stretch, Delray Lobell edged past Red Rhone to victory. Mack Lobell held for third place.
The irony of John Campbell driving a trotter to victory over Mack Lobell was not lost on the crowd.
In his post-race remarks, the ever-classy Campbell said that it was “bittersweet” defeating the horse he called the best he’d ever driven.
Mack’s connections made no excuses for his defeat, saying only that quarantine restrictions made life difficult for European invaders.