Harvey Peltier is a roly-poly, twinkly-eyed operator out of Thibodaux, La., which, in case you've bypassed it, is some 50 miles west of New Orleans. "I'm 66 years young," says Harvey with a broad grin, "and I guess I'm sort of a jack-of-all-trades. I mean I go to my office every day. I have a lot of things going for me." When Harvey Peltier wants to elaborate on what he has—or has had—going for him, he can bring out quite a varied portfolio. Once the partner and campaign manager of Huey Long and a state legislator from 1924 to 1940, Harvey is a lawyer, a banker, a dabbler in sugar, oil and quarter horses and the sort of confident guy who says, "I may have less money than some people, but I have more nerve than most."
This past winter, no doubt feeling that his nerve required some new expression, Harvey Peltier got together with a 37-year-old trainer, Johnny Meaux, who has learned more than a little about the horse business over 13 years, seven of them under the late Tennessee Wright. The pair of them moseyed on over to the Florida Breeders' sales at Hialeah and sat down to do a little business. "My trainer," says Peltier, "knows what to look for in a horse, and I know how to read a pedigree." They agreed that a bay colt by Nashua out of the Princequillo mare Jandy was the most likely prospect. He was knocked down to them for $67,500, and they had acquired five newly turned 2-year-olds for $161,900. "By buying five," observed Harvey, "we figured we might get one good one."
Last Saturday at Chicago's Arlington Park, with all the Peltiers on hand who could possibly escape from Thibodaux (and with 200 pounds of Louisiana shrimp flown up to make them all feel relatively at home), the $67,500 Nashua colt, now named Diplomat Way, made last winter's nervy move look completely logical. As Bill Shoemaker turned in one of his very top rides, Diplomat Way won the fifth running of the Arlington-Washington Futurity, that seven-furlong mid-western classic which prides itself on being the richest race in the world—at least the richest for Thoroughbreds. Certainly nothing can approach Arlington's gross pot of $367,700, from which Peltier, Meaux and Shoemaker neatly extracted a winning purse of $195,200 for the 1:22 3/5 that it took Diplomat Way to win by a desperate head over long shot Wilbur Clark.
It is too early to jump up and down and holler that Diplomat Way is another Nashua, or even that he should become the 2-year-old champion, for he was life-and-death to achieve this victory in a 15-horse field more notable for its speed than for its quality. Before last week's race, for example, the sturdy bay had won only two of eight starts. In his last one Shoemaker, aboard for the first time, got him home second in the Futurity Trial to Lightning Orphan, but Shoe came back with a smile. "He's green, but he'll do," said the champ.
In the Futurity Diplomat Way ran with much the same determination that his sire, Nashua, used to demonstrate when he felt in the mood. "We broke on the lead," said Shoe afterward, "and were either on it or right with it the rest of the way. He may not be a great one, but he must have something to him to put out like that." Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot to be said for the also-rans. Wilbur Clark, a 20-to-1 shot, ran the best race of a mediocre career, and it was good enough to beat the third horse, Lightning Orphan, by a hefty seven lengths. Favorable Turn, who had beaten the Hopeful winner, Bold Hour, by seven lengths in the Saratoga Special last month, showed nothing in finishing 12th, while Wheatley Stable's Top Bid ran a nice steady ninth.
Diplomat Way, whose bankroll of $219,525 now makes Peltier's winter expenditure look like a grand coup, may wind up as the best of his generation, but it could be that another Floridabred, Dr. Fager, is the colt to beat. The same afternoon at Atlantic City, N.J. he captured the World's Playground Stakes by twelve lengths. Still, the self-proclaimed "Cajun Bum," Harvey Peltier, sure has the politician's luck to match his politician's nerve.