by Dean Hoffman
The race was officially a mile long, but for it was really more of a hundred yard dash.
That’s because driver Bill O’Donnell had Valley Victory perfectly positioned throughout the race. O’Donnell wasn’t concerned with Valley Victory being the first horse at the quarter-mile, half-mile or three-quarter mile markers. He simply wanted Valley Victory to be first at the finish line.
Actually, Valley Victory’s 1998 season almost ended long before it began. Early in the year he suffered from colic and was rushed to the University of Florida Veterinary College. His trainer called owner Arlene Traub and said, “Be prepared that you might never see your horse again.”
Valley Victory fought through the colic surgery and recovered. He was sent to Hawkinsville, Georgia to resume light training, then shipped north to trainer Steve Elliott in New Jersey. It wasn’t long before Elliott realized that Valley Victory was something special. He had a few quirks, but he also had a high speed the likes of which is seldom seen in a young trotter. Valley Victory made his racing debut in late August.
Valley Victory first burst into the national spotlight winning in Grand Circuit competition at The Red Mile that fall. When he flashed a final quarter in :27.1 he caused hardened horsemen to sit up and take notice. Who was this colt?
By the time of the Breeders Crown eliminations, people knew who Valley Victory was as he won his elimination heat and came into the final as the 3-5 favorite. Could he repeat the Breeders Crown triumph of his sire Baltic Speed over the same Pompano track just five year earlier?
Keyser Lobell, that season’s Peter Haughton Memorial winner and second choice of bettors in the Breeders Crown, went right to the front at the start of the race. He was followed by Speed Sailing and Ziggy Hanonver. O’Donnell had Valley Victory poised in fourth. When Ziggy Hanover pulled out to engage Keyser Lobell before the final quarter, O’Donnell put Valley Victory on his back in a stalking position.
As the freshman trotters came around the final turn and into the stretch, it looked like anyone’s horse race. Then Bill O’Donnell turned Valley Victory loose. In the blink of an eye the race was over. Valley Victory went by the leaders like the proverbial freight train passing a tramp and won by five easy lengths. O’Donnell’s whip was tucked under his arm.
The time of 1:57.1 was a world record and Valley Victory’s Breeder Crown made such a vivid impression that he was voted champion 2-year-old colt of the 1988 season. He went on to become a sire of many Breeders Crown winners and had a significant influence on the breed.