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The Fastest Horse That Never Was

Sometimes, family legends are best left alone

Author Andrew Jenner Illustration Peter Oumanski

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WOOSTER, OHIO – Not long ago, my 90-year-old grandfather leaned back in his chair and told me the story of Sadie Pointer, a racehorse owned by his great-grandfather William. She was, Grandpa solemnly announced, an astonishingly fast horse, the first ever to run a mile in under two minutes.

When Sadie Pointer died, as befits an animal of her stature, she was given a proper burial, in the woods on the family farm in rural Ohio. Grandpa recalls seeing the tombstone when he was a boy, trapping skunks in those same woods. He’d sell their skins for $2 in town, “a lot of money in those days.”

As much as I wanted to believe the story, I had doubts, which were deepened after some fruitless research. If my ancestor owned a record-setting horse, he kept it quiet.

Shortly afterward, while in Ohio on other business, I stopped by the old farm. The current owners drove me past their potato fields to the edge of the trees, where we proceeded on foot through a poison ivy thicket and across a muddy creek, pursued by mosquitoes.

And then there it was, in the gloom, just as Grandpa had described it: a lone tombstone. I hunched over, rubbing moss out of the stone’s inscription, gradually revealing the truth behind the legend.

Back home, I told Grandpa what I’d found: Sadie Pointer had not broken the two-minute barrier, but she had been sired by Star Pointer, the horse that had. As I spoke, I felt stupid and clumsy, as if I’d stomped on a delicate and treasured heirloom. But Grandpa was unfazed. He clucked about how wires get crossed, then told me another story.

Every time he saw William, he said fondly, the old man would reach into his pocket and give him a nickel—which was, of course, “a lot of money in those days.”

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