Ron Otto might be 94, but he can still pick a winner.
And when Del Shannon finally scored for his long suffering owners at Cambridge on Thursday night, Otto was with them, celebrating in the winner’s circle.
Otto was promised a night at the trots by his helpers at the Oakdale rest home in Cambridge if he got himself mobile again.
And when he managed the walk down to the dining room by himself, the outing was on.
“The two girls who got me walking took me to the trots and we had a great night,” Otto said. “I even tipped them into a winner.”
Watching Del Shannon trotting in his preliminary, Otto said he was taken by the beautiful way he was put together and his long stride. The money went on.
Otto has no previous connection to harness racing but his family was involved in thoroughbreds.
“My father raced a good horse called Summer Blaze and my brother’s boy Richard was a trainer.
“I bred a few myself and one went to Aussie and won twelve sprints.”
Otto said he was treated like royalty all night by the Cambridge committee and jumped, well not quite jumped, at the chance to join the photo ceremony in his wheelchair, when members of the Runaway Syndicate greeted their often perplexing charge.
It’s not that Del Shannon, or Yogi as he is affectionately known, lacks ability. Being by world champion sire Muscle Hill out of Nicky’s nine-race winner Hot Chocolate Tart, he was bound to have something under the bonnet.
But with it came a mischievous streak. Nicky once had to spend a day repairing fences after he went on runaway spree charging from one paddock to another.
Then Yogi kept going lame for no apparent reason and it was only through scintigraphy that Nicky discovered he’d fractured a shoulder.
Locked up in a box for four months then another two more months in a tiny yard, Yogi missed his entire two-year-old season.
When Yogi finally got to the races he showed immediate ability, winning at his second start before being put aside to strengthen in late January.
But when he came back into work the loveable horse who always wanted a pat had gone missing. “He was awful, he couldn’t trot, and he was always sulking. If you walked past him he’d go to the back of his box.
“We did a vet check and they couldn’t find anything wrong. I didn’t know what else to do so I gave him two to three weeks in the paddock.
“He came back a different horse, happy and back to being the old Yogi.”
Yogi’s owners were thrilled when he trialled on September 17 and trotted like a stag to win untested.
It seemed like he’d lost a leg when, in his next workout just a week later, he galloped all over the place, sending his owners’ hearts sinking again - until Nicky reported he’d lost a shoe after 50 metres.
On Thursday night, told not to expect too much in his first race for nine months, Yogi’s owners thought his three deep marker run might see him run into the minor money.
But, as Nicky said, just a week after racking up her 500th training win, “when things are going your way, they’re going your way.”
Like the parting of the Red Sea, “everything opened up round the bend and then I was thinking: How much will he win by?”
“He won easily, which didn’t really surprise me as he was the best horse in the field.
“He’s a lovely horse with really good manners - not much stresses him out - and he’ll continue to improve.
“He’s a cool horse. He’s got a bit of speed and he can stay. I don’t think he’s a topliner but he’ll be a really handy horse and the owners will have a lot of fun with him.”
Thursday was the first time the Runaway Syndicate had been on course to cheer home their hero - his maiden win came when Covid restrictions prevented owners from attending.
So the fresh-up win was a great thrill for Pete and Di McDermott, Noel and Jan Burnside, Rex and Jan Hooton, Christine and Graeme Gillanders, Roger Carroll, Judy Bowen, Steve and Karen Hollander, Kelvin and Cherry Neville, Jo Turan and Nes Turan, along with co-owners and breeders Lyn Chilcott and Grant and Di Beckett. - Barry Lichter