• Nevele Pride

    In the case of Nevele Pride, it is not only the horse that is legendary, but also his temperament. For every great race-related story, there is an even greater story about his temper. But whereas he might very well have been one of the meanest and most aggressive horses, he was also a fierce competitor who rarely lost and broke almost all the records.

    The story starts with Thankful’s Major, which was Nevele Pride's first name. He was bred by Edward C Quin at his Sunshine Farms near Blue Bell, Pennylvania. He also bred Thankful, a mare with a terrible temper, who herself earned $31.104 and set a record of T1:16.7/2:03.2. In what has become a well-known purchase, Stanley Dancer bought Thankful's Major for $20,000 as a yearling, an amount equivalent to around $140-150.000 in todays dollar. A fair amount, but Stanley Dancer was no stranger to expensive youngsters, having bought the first six-figure yearling back in 1958 (Dancer Hanover for $105,000). Despite common belief, Stanley Dancer did not have a owner lined up at that time. Later Dancer said that "I bought him with no owners in mind. I liked him, though, and figured I could get some owner to take him." It did not take long for Dancer to find the vicious yearling some owners in the Nevele Acres Stable owned by Jules Slutsky and his brother Ben, though they insisted on renaming the colt Nevele Pride. The name "nevele" is of course 11 spelled backwards, and traces its name back to a waterfall on the Slutsky property named by 11 school teachers who formed the Nevele Fall School House.

    In a Sun Sentinel article published August 4, 1988 ("Pride Endures Time Passes, But Trotter's Record Lives On"), Slutsky reveals a surprising fact. There were thoughts of laying Nevele Pride up as a 2-year-old. "He had some shin problems and we thought about it," Slutsky said. "But after he began racing him, that's when we all went to town." And went to town they did. In his first race he broke and finished only fourth, but he finished the year 26-2-0 in 29 starts, set a new world record when trotting 1:13.8/1:58.4 in the second heat of the Castleton Farm Stake at DuQuoin, became the winningest 2 year old trotter so far and was voted 1967 Horse of the Year - as the first 2 year old ever.

    As Nevele Pride's repuation grew, so did the public's awareness of his rather nasty disposition. But surprisingly enough, Andy Murphy, his third groom, did not feel he was that bad. "He's not mean," Murphy said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. "When he knows he's going to race - and he knows - he stays up, getting, well, maybe just a little mean. But if you think he looks mean now, just wait until after the race. He looks like he wants to kill somebody. Which he does. But that only lasts for 10 or 15 minutes and then he settles right down." Stanley Dancer chipped in that "that's the only time he's hard to drive, going into the winner's circle. You had better get that sulky unhooked in a hurry before he starts kicking. Then you have to keep an eye on him to see he doesn't bite or kick the people around him. He's a terror in that winner's circle." Murphy was Nevele Pride's third groom - the horse worked his way through the first two in less than six months. "I shuddered the day Stanley called me in and said I was next," Murphy said. "I knew what he had done to the others. But I decided right off that I wasn't going to fight with him. And I haven't. You fight with him, he just fights you back. Of course, every day I give him a good cursing or two. And I got real mad the day he grabbed my $90 wristwatch and crushed it with his teeth. But we get along. I never take my eye off him for a second. You do that, he's got you. And when I raise my voice he knows I'm on the verge of getting a shillelagh and he settles down. Most of the times he grabs you he lets right go. He's just teasing." But few other considered the antics of the black colt as just teasing. As a 2 year old, while coming in after a workout Nevele Pride clamped his teeth into Murphy's right thumb and lifted him from the ground. Murphy weighs 170 pounds. "He just held me up there, dangling and cursing. There was another groom with me. He took one look and run off. He told me later that he didn't know what to do, so he left." Murphy shook his head. "When he got ready Pride let me down. He hadn't even broken the skin, except in one little place. But that thumb was swollen for two weeks. Hurt like hell, too."

    At 3, he won 21 of 24 races, including the Triple Crown and lowered the world record for 3 year olds on a 5/8 mile (1000m) track. He was also the last harness horse to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the Hambletonian article. His wins were generally easy and it was usually a race against the clock and not against any opponents and especially the win in the first heat of the Kentucky Futurity was impressive as he left the field far back. The speculation was already growing, could Nevele Pride be the one? Could he be the one to come along and finally beat Greyhound's magical 1:55 1/4 world record? Stanley Dancer declared midwinter 1969 that the record would be broken that year and predicted a 1:54.3 time. As always, Dancer had a pretty good idea what he was talking about.

    Before going for the ultimate record at 4, Nevele Pride would take a time-out from "domestic affairs" to beat, or so the expections went, the best European trotter in the International Trot at the Roosevelt. Sent off as the heavy favorite from post 7, French superstar Une de Mai quickly moved up and parked herself on the outside, attacking Nevele Pride four times and keeping the speed high. Although it might seem like a crazy tactic, Jean-Rene Gougeon had his reasons: "I wasn't going to take her back and go into third, because then Stanley Dancer would have been able to take back — and I didn't want him to do that. I wanted to keep the pressure on him, so I decided to stay up with Dancer on the outside." When Une de Mai attacked Nevele Pride one last time Nevele Pride got tired for once in his life. "He was tired," said Dancer, "and he didn't want to go. I knew I was in trouble, but I thought the mare on the outside was in trouble, too." But despite this "accident", Nevele Pride would set the record straight only 8 days later.

    On Sunday, August 31, at Indianapolis, in a time trial, Nevele Pride and Dancer broke Greyhound's record in a time trial through fractions of :27 3/5, :55 4/5 and 1:25 1/5 to set a new world record of 1:54.4. Finally, Greyhound's then 31-year old world record was beaten! But he would not get any rest as he was off to Saratoga - by car - almost immediately. "What's amazing to me is that we couldn't get a plane out of Indianapolis," Dancer said, "so we had to van him from Indiana to Saratoga. The trip probably took around 20 hours. We got there two days before the race, so he never really had time to rest and recover from the world record in Indiana." After breaking Greyhound's record it was hard to see him topping it, but his Saratoga performance is by many considered an even great achievement. Things certainly were not served to him at a platter that day in Saratoga. On the day of the race a heavy morning deluge left the track under several inches of mud amd there was concern whether the Speedy Rodney, a non-betting event, would even be run. But the track dried up nicely and the race was run. Nevele Pride immediately went to the lead and pulled away with every stride, in the end winning it by 28 lengths in 1:12.6/1:56.4. Not only did Nevele Pride break Speedy Rodney's world record for a trotter of 1:13.7/1:58.3 set in 1966, but his mile was faster than any standardbred had raced over a half-mile track regardless of gait. Even more impressive, Nevele Pride's mile was one fifth faster than the pacing mark set by Bret Hanover in 1965. Only SIX days after beating Greyhound's seemingly immortal record he had put on an even great performance!

    Such a fantastic racehorse was of course worth a huge amount and Dancer had John Wood, an ex-jockey in his 70s serving as the colt's night watchman. His duty consisted of lying on a cot in front of Nevele Pride's stall door and stay there until dawn. The pair got along surprisingly well, but Wood also knew how to bribe the war horse and frequently gave him chewing tobacco. The horse will eat just about anything handed him, including fingers, and especially enjoys sandwiches, doughnuts and beer. "I even seen him eat a filter cigarette once," swears Murphy. "He ate all the tobacco, then he spit out the filter."

    When Nevele Pride retired at the end of his 4 year old season he did so with a 57-4-3 record from 67 races and $873.238 in total earnings. (He is sometimes credited as the winningest trotter at the time of his retirement but this ignores European trotters as French ironmare Roquepine had higher earnings at that time.) He went to stud at Stoner Creek Stud after Norman Woolworth put together a syndicate that purchased the rights for the record sum of $3 million. With a manager from the thoroughbred industry, where limiting the number of foals is common (based on the idea that fewer foals makes each much more valuable and would thus drive the price up), he only covered 50 mares per year. With Speedy Crown and Super Bowl just starting their stud careers, this would turn out to be a decision which also limited the number of good foals from Nevele Pride (compared to what it could have been had he served 150 mares per year). Whereas Nevele Pride was fertile he wasn't too interested in the ladies. Getting him to breed a single mare could at times take hours. He probably wanted to focus all his energy on terrorizing his surroundings...

    The warning sign "Warning! Nevele Pride will bite" is probably the biggest understatement in the world of trotters. According to Tom Stewart Jr, farm manager at Stoner Creek Stud, there was nobody like Nevele Pride. "He'd kill someone if he had the chance," Stewart said. "And he's the only horse I've ever known who would do it on purpose." Pictures of Nevele Pride and the iron pole used to control him are infamous. Ben Whaley hoped the iron pole would keep Nevele Pride away from him, but one day at the horse came after him and bent that pole. Dean Hoffman recalls a time at Stoner Creek when Nevele Pride knocked his handler down and got loose and began to chase people on the farm like a dog chases a car. One person stayed safe by running into a stall and closing the door. On another occasion, Nevele Pride knocked the fence down and went after Meadow Skipper, the champion pacer stallion also at Stoner Creek, but they managed to keep him apart.

    But for Nevele Pride's terrible temper, not all the ruckus around him could be blamed on his temperament. Dean Hoffman, in his October 1987 Hoof Beats article "Harness Racing’s Living Legend", tells of an interesting incident involving Stanley Dancer and Delvin Miller after Nevele Pride, naturally a huge favorite, broke and lost the 1969 American-National to Snow Speed. "Delvin had raced Viscount Hanover in there and we were coming off the track and had to walk through the crowd to get to the paddock at Sportsman's. A few guys said something to me about getting beat with Nevele Pride and I expected that, but two of them took swings at me. Fortunately, Delvin saw it coming and shoved me out of the way, then, he cold-cocked both of them. Luckily, the police weren't too far away or Delvin could've really been hurt." Two people down on the ground and Nevele Pride was not at fault...

    Nevele Pride died at the age of 28 in 1993.