It is not stretching the truth much, and certainly the truth will forgive the small abuse, to say a man won his game's biggest prize today because he decided 10 years ago to find a cure for cancer.
Dr. Raymond Galt of Chicago owns Legend Hanover, the 3-year-old trotter who won the Hambletonian Stake today. In straight heats, Legend Hanover won the $300,000 race by twice getting his nose to the finish line inches ahead of favored Chiola Hanover. Butch Lobell was third both times.
Fifteen years ago, Dr. Galt, an internist, began cortisone and chemotherapy treatments of a woman filled with cancer. "She had it everywhere-- chest, lymph glands, bone marrow, everywhere," Galt said. "After five years of treatment, she died. But in the post-mortem, we discovered she had no trace of the cancer left. So I know-- I know!-- there is an answer."
Galt started searching for the answer.
You don't find the cure to cancer without spending lots of money.
"If you think winning races is hard," the doctor said, "you should try to dig up money for research."
So he dug it up in the best way he knew.
He raced harness horses, as his father had before him, and gave half his winnings to his cancer research clinics.
Of today's $150,000 winner's purse, $75,000 will go to Galt's cancer work. It raises to $375,000 the money his horses have kicked in to his three clinics.
"I'm becoming an old man," said Galt, 65, "and I've learned a lot of things. So I wanted to see if I can do something. I've had two people I completely cured. That whets your appetite and you think no matter how dumb you are, maybe you can find the secret if you keep working."
What better story could you ask from the horse race that is pure Americana? The owner of the winner uses the loot to fight cancer. Here at the Du Quoin State Fair, with smell of corn dogs (a Midwest delicacy, a hot dog dipped in corn batter) and the kaleidoscopic colors of the midway, here where the only hotel in town is a walk-up with no phones (for thrills, a boarder went from room to room switching the plastic room numbers)-- here in the middle of blessed nowhere, cancer takes a licking from a doctor's trotting horse.
We could make it a better story, maybe, if the trotter's driver was a third-string substitute. Let's make him a little guy, maybe 5-foot-3, who used to be-- what?-- let's say he was the captain of an Indiana high school basketball team 30 years ago.
George Sholty is all of that. For 27 years now, he has ridden around behind trotters and pacers. Five times he had driven in the Hambletonian, never winning but coming painfully close last year. His colt, Florida Pro, did a record mile of 1:55 only to be boxed in on a decisive third heat.
However unkind the fates were that day, they made it up to the little Hoosier this time.
He drove the winner, Legend Hanover, as a substitute for the regular driver, Joe O'Brien, a two-time Hambletonian winner and harness racing Hall of Famer.
A midweek ruling by the Illinois racing bosses kicked O'Brien out of Legend Hanover's sulky because he was the trainer of another horse in the race, Armbro Unlimited. By the rules, O'Brien, who drove Legend Hanover on a contract basis, had to drive Armbro Unlimited or sit it out.
So Dr. Galt and O'Brien looked for a substitute driver.
"The man I wanted didn't want to drive Legend," Galt said. "I won't embarrass him by telling you his name."
With O'Brien ruled out and with the first substitute choosing to watch the race on TV, the call went to George Sholty at his farm in Ohio.
He sat behind Legend Hanover for the first time this morning.
How would Sholty characterize the turn of events?
"Pleasant," he said.
Coming down the stretch in front of an estimated 16,000 spectators on a 90-degree day, Sholty won this Hambletonian with a bold move in the first heat. As the favorite, Chiola Hanover, drifted away from the rail and to the center of the track, Sholty steered Legend Hanover to the inside.
"The hole was there and I didn't wait," Sholty said. "I was just hoping I could catch Chiola."
Sholty took Legend from the rail to the center of the track in the second heat, again passing Chiola Hanover late.
"I feel great, terrific," Sholty said later.
Joe O'Brien felt terrible.
He twice has driven Legend Hanover in the same race with Armbro Unlimited. But those races were in New Jersey and Indiana, where the driver-trainer conflict rule does not hold sway.He knew of the Illinois rule but hoped he could avoid its consequences by naming his assistant trainer as Armbro's trainer.
Illinois didn't buy it. O'Brien thought to scratch Armbro but the colt's owner wouldn't stand for that. So he was locked in to drive a colt that had no chance while giving up Legend Hanover, a contender, to another driver.
"The Illinois Racing Commission stinks," O'Brien said.
O'Brien likely would have been paid $7,500 if he had won with Legend Hanover. He earned nothing finishing 11th with Armbro Unlimited.
That was the least of it. "If you win the Hamiltonian," O'Brien said, "people remember things like that."
An hour after the race, Dr. Galt and his trainer, Ray Tripp, said George Sholty would drive Legend Hanover from now on. They wanted a driver they could count on as available at all times.
O'Brien, 62, last won the Hambletonian 19 years ago.