Time Machine

Called Shot
Stanley Dancer predicts Nevele Pride will best Greyhound’s world record

story by Dean A. Hoffman

 

Although it’s perhaps apocryphal, Babe Ruth’s called shot is one of the most iconic moments in baseball history. But harness racing legend Stanley Dancer called a shot of his own 50 years ago.

In the 1932 World Series, Babe Ruth and the Yankees faced the Chicago Cubs. Babe Ruth was larger than the game in that era, a slugger who drove fans through the turnstiles as easily as he drove pitches out of the park.

The Yanks clobbered the Cubs in the first two games contested in Gotham, so when the series shifted to the Windy City, the boo-birds went overboard when the Babe stepped to the plate in the first inning. They tossed apples and oranges and anything else they could find at him. The Cubs players stood at the edge of the dugout to shout insults at the Bambino.

The Babe waddled to the batter’s box and pointed to the right field stands, then hit the first pitch from Charlie Root into the seats.

In the fifth inning with the score tied at 4-4, the Babe strutted to the plate again and took a called strike. He then lifted an index finger to signify the strike. He took another called strike and lifted two fingers as if to assist the umpire.

Then the Bambino turned his head to the left to speak to Cubs catcher Gabby Hartnett. “It only takes one to hit it,” he reportedly said.

Then the Babe yelled to pitcher Root.

“I’m going to knock the next one down your g-damned throat,” he said.

Instead, Ruth hit a towering shot over the center field fence, reportedly the longest ball ever hit at Wrigley. He gleefully danced around the bases while dodging garbage tossed by fans.

Lou Gehrig was in the on-deck circle when all this drama transpired and met Ruth at home plate after he traversed the bases.

“What do you think of that big money?” he was later quoted as saying. “Imagine a guy calling his shot and getting away with it.”

The Babe’s “called shot” is still shrouded in some mystery in baseball history, but there is no such doubt about Stanley Dancer’s called shot.

It took place 37 years later in Anderson, Ind., just 200 miles from Wrigley Field where the Babe made history. Dancer was the featured speaker at the annual banquet of the Indiana Trotting & Pacing Horse Association.

Dancer was then riding a wave of success in harness racing that few horsemen have ever matched. Despite his large and power-packed stable, he would always oblige when asked to be a guest at off-season banquets.

He looked out on the assembled guests that winter evening in the Hoosier State and made a prediction every bit as audacious as Ruth’s famous boast. Dancer offered both a pledge and a prediction which involved his reigning Horse of the Year, Nevele Pride.

He promised the 400 horsemen and -women in the audience that he would bring Nevele Pride to the Indiana State Fair in six months and break Greyhound’s world record for trotters that had stood for 31 years.

An assault on Greyhound’s record over the mile oval at that venue was particularly poignant since the Grey Ghost was based in Indianapolis most of his career. Dancer never lacked confidence in his own ability or his trotter’s ability, and he spoke that night with firm resolve.

“I don’t think he’ll have too much trouble getting it,” said Dancer. He praised the Indiana State Fair track where Nevele Pride took his 1:56.3 mark as a sophomore.

“As far as the time goes,” he added, “well, I’d guess that with perfect conditions, we’ll go in 1:54.3. So, there’s my prediction. Let’s see how close we can come.”

From the time he began training Nevele Pride, Dancer knew he had something special. The colt never disappointed him. He broke the world record twice for freshman trotting colts and was voted Horse of the Year in 1967. He broke the world record for sophomores the following season and repeated as Horse of the Year.

No one ever questioned Nevele Pride’s greatness, but horsemen were inherently too skeptical to be so confident. Too many things could go wrong. What if the horse got sick or sore? What if the weather came up bad? Surely many in the audience thought that Dancer might wind up with egg on his face.

Nevele Pride started his third season of racing just as he’d campaigned for two previous campaigns: he regularly beat up on lesser trotters. But then he was upset by the French amazon Une de Mai in the 10-furlong International Trot in August.

Nevele Pride had been beaten at times when he skipped offstride, but it was rare indeed for a horse to simply trot faster. Was the champion tailing off after too many hot suppers? Did he need a respite instead of an onslaught against a world record that had deviled other great trotters?

Dancer shipped him west, bypassing the Challenge Cup at Roosevelt, the companion event to the International Trot.

There have been claims Dancer ducked the Challenge Cup at Roosevelt the following week due to Nevele Pride’s unexpected defeat. That is simply false. He made a commitment to the harness racing devotees in Indiana six months earlier and he wanted to follow through with that commitment.

A similar pledge that Dancer made to both Scioto Downs and Hazel Park to race Albatross at those tracks in the 10 days prior to the 1971 Little Brown Jug cost his prize pacer that coveted honor. Dancer had promised both tracks that Albatross would race, and the stress of those efforts took a heavy toll, as
Albatross was lacking his wicked overdrive gear on Jug Day.

The day slated for Nevele Pride’s assault on Greyhound’s record came up sunny and bright in Indianapolis.

He was prompted by two Thoroughbreds in his time trial and got to the quarter in 27.3, extraordinarily swift for that era. But Dancer kept his foot on the gas pedal and reached the half-mile marker in 55.4.

Surely no trotter could sustain this tempo.

But Nevele Pride marched on to the third panel in 1:25.1 and then valiantly gutted out the final quarter under heavy whipping to light up the timer with a 1:54.4.

Nevele Pride had done it. He had bested Greyhound’s long-standing speed standard for trotters. Harness racing had waited 31 years for this moment.

And Dancer had done it. He’d made good on his pledge to break the world record, missing the final clocking by a single tick.

Amazing.

The appreciative Hoosier crowd gave the champion trotter and his driver a rousing welcome as they returned for a suitable ceremony. They had witnessed history and Dancer fulfilling his pledge.

After the time trial, Dancer boarded a plane and flew back to the East Coast, but there were no flights available for Nevele Pride. And he had an engagement at Saratoga Raceway in six days.

What he did in Saratoga Springs was comparatively far more impressive than his world record at Indianapolis. He also accomplished this after a truck ride of almost 800 miles to reach the upstate New York track.

He was entered in a race against a non-competitive field. There was no question that Nevele Pride could pummel his rivals, but his real rival was the relentless ticking of the stopwatch. He was racing to beat the world record of 1:58.3 for trotters on a twice-around.

Unlike the previous weekend in Indianapolis, the weather was not conducive to records. It was gray and overcast, but Dancer sent his champion to the gate against six competitors.

Nevele Pride exploded right from the start and basically trotted a time trial without prompters. He widened his lead with every stride, and ignored the rains which poured down from the gray skies.

Four quarters around 29.2 or 29.3 would have made him the new world champion, but that was not what happened.

Nevele Pride covered the opening panel in 28.2 with his pursuers 10 lengths behind, and completed the first lap in 57.1 with a 15-length margin. No trotters were in sight when he passed the three-quarter pole in 1:26.3.

Dancer began urging his champion then to fight off predictable fatigue, and when the horse hit the wire, the timer flashed 1:56.4.

The knowledgeable crowd was stunned.

It was not only the fastest mile ever by a trotter on a twice-around, but it also was faster than any pacer had gone in a race on a half-mile track. At that time, Bret Hanover’s 1:57 was the fastest ever on a half-mile.

To put his achievement in today’s perspective, it would be as if Nevele Pride trotted a mile on a half-mile track in 1:48. Currently, the fastest pacing race on a half-mile track is 1:48.1 and the fastest trotting mile is a 1:51.1 time trial.

Nevele Pride’s 1:54.4 mark set at Indianapolis stood for 13 years until Arndon broke it with a 1:54 time trial while hooked to the modified sulky. HB

Dean A. Hoffman is a former executive editor of Hoof Beats. To comment on this story, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

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