Niagara Gazette — Little did I know that I was in for the shock of my life. No sooner had I arrived at the window (an elderly woman beat me by two lengths) than the grandstand was rocking with laughter. What in the world could be so funny? What did I miss?
Bells ringing all over the place. Red lights flashing. A guy running behind me shouted, “My God! I’ve never lost a race this way!”
My dad and I would soon realize we were losers too. Still leading in the stretch and some 200 yards from the finish line, Puss ‘n Boots — maybe it was the scorching heat or the roar from the stands that scared him — left the turf track by leaping over the hedge to his left, spilling the jockey on his butt, and then sliding through a flower bed into one of the three infield lakes.
No one seemed to share the pain. The smirking clerk at the cashier’s window announced, “Sorry, folks, no payoff on Puss ‘n Boots.”
Back at the railing, my dad updated me. Frank Merrill, the trainer who looked like he had just walked out of Brooks Brothers, and Reggie Anderson, the stable foreman seized a rowboat behind the tote board and led the rescue mission into the lake. A young groom, who didn’t care what the 14,106 fans thought, dropped his pants and started swimming toward Puss ‘n Boots. (Later, I met 21,000 people who also were there that same day.)
The late Bob Summers, a Niagara Gazette reporter before he joined the Buffalo News staff, told how at one point Merrill yelled, “Reggie, get out of here before you drown.!” Reggie shot back: “Boss, Roxie (Gian, a co-owner) is up in the clubhouse. If we don’t get this colt, there’s no use getting out of the water!” Though he was a good swimmer and runner, Puss ‘n Boots was eventually rescued.
The same day when Puss ‘n Boots captured all the attention, I went into the Gazette sports department to begin my late shift. Sports Editor Mike Quinlan asked me how I did at the track.
“I was doing okay until my horse found that infield lake,” I said.Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.