Ralph Fayle, a moving company executive, was crouched in the ship-in barn at Laurel Raceway yesterday, wrapping purple bandages around the legs of Victory Rainbow, a 9-year-old trotter he bought lame a couple of years ago.
A few minutes earlier, Victory Rainbow had won the day's first qualifying race by five lengths to become eligible to race for purses at night. But he received no money for that qualifying victory, and not having a stable spot, it costs Fayle at least $50 to transport the horse back and forth from his New Bedford, Pa., farm.
But Fayle, 52, spoke with boyish enthusiasum. You might have thought he had won the Hambletonian, harness racing's equivalent of the Kentucky Derby. "Finishing on top, that's the name of the game," said Fayle. "No, there's nothing in business that beats it for a thrill."
So there was Ralph Fayle, president of Nationwide Van Lines, rubbing linement on a horse's legs as his wife, Joan, and trainer-driver, Don Garett, packed equipment and readied two horses for the trip back to the farm.
Joan Fayle would drive with Garrett to the farm and then drive the truck back to their Upper Marlboro home because the truck needed repairs. Fayle headed for Laurel to his Hyattsville office.
To Fayle, a slightly built man, harness racing is an escape, a hobby. He purchased his first horse nine years ago, received his provisional driver's license from the U.S. Trotting Association last year and has won two of the seven parimutuel races in which he has driven. Yesterday was one of those escape days for Fayle.
"I do this for fun: I get a great kick out of it," he said. "Oh, I'm totally relaxed, absolutely and totally relaxed. To me, this is a tremendous form of relaxation, although it is genuinely hard work. But it's not the mental strain that you get in an office."
By horsemen's standards, Fayle is a neophyte, although he now owns a 103-acre farm and 16 horses, only three of which are currently racing.
Fayle was smitten by the standardbred when he was a boy growing up in Maine. Six years ago, he set a goal: retire from the moving business by age 55 and get into the Horse-breeding business. The objective is within reach, he said.
The concept took root long ago, at the end of a 60-mile drive from East Millinocket, Maine, to the Bangor Fair. "All the other kids were in the midway," Fayle recalled, "and here I was with my father in the grandstand watching the races."
Racing, both standardbred and thoroughbred, has become more of a public sport, recently, gaining good exposure this season through the nonestablishment management of Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, a $17,500 yearling purchase owned not by Jockey Club bluebloods but by a Washington state lumberman.
Fayle, however, does not deceive himself with a Seattle Slew dream or its 1977 standardbred equivalent, Big Towner, a 3-year-old pacing colt owned by three local men.
He does own a good 2-year-old, Allagash Boy, which has raced in 2:04 this year in stakes events.
"Everybody has the dream of a sub-two-minute horse: that's everybody's ultimate goal in this business," he said. "But a Seattle Slew situation is a once-in-a-lifetime situation. When you go to these sales and look for a horse, you're buying comformation and breeding, or, put in the horseman's vernacular, blood and conformation."
What disturbs Fayle most about harness racing is its public image, sometimes rating just below the classic con in "The Sting." For the only time in an hour Fayle shows the slightest hint of irritation.
"The general public should know more about these horses," he said. "They should have seminars like you have in thoroughbred racing. This industry is a good one, but it could be better."