(This is the second part of a two part story. Click here to read the first part.)
1879 proved to be Sleepy Tom's best year. Early in the season he lowered the world record for pacers to 2:14 in Columbus OH, not far from Phillips's Xenia, and followed that up with a brilliant victory on July 24-25 in Chicago, where, after losing the first two heats and having darkness force the postponement of the rest of racing the first day, Sleepy Tom came back to win the next three heats and the race. And in the last heat he was timed in 2:12 ¼ -- beating his own mark by 1 ¾ seconds! It had been 24 years since any horse had lowered the pacing record so much.
But the race that draws our interest today was a contest in Toledo, between the races in Columbus and Chicago. In those days a horse had to win three one-mile heats in order to be declared overall winner of the race. Sleepy Tom and Phillips won the first two heats, but in the third event a challenger got in a little too tight on Tom and Phillips and made contact, breaking the right wheel of the sulky and dumping Phillips to the ground. The rest of the field whizzed on by.
Sleepy Tom quickly pulled himself up and stood absolutely stock still. He didn't know what to do next. You see – Sleepy Tom was blind.
During the race Stephen Phillips gave him calm encouragement, and by voice told him when to make the winning move. He talked to blind Tom the whole race, and Tom usually responded and won.
But now, with Phillips dumped from the bike, injured, and unable to give him direction, blind Sleepy Tom just stood and waited, hoping for the calm voice of his friend. Remember the two cruel men who overtrained Sleepy Tom at the start of his career? The strain to his system brought on a cold or other disease that gradually robbed Tom of his eyesight, so by the end of his two years of abusive training, he was totally blind, which led to his career in newspaper transportation.
The horse always had the speed and the heart of a champion. But standing there by himself in the Toledo stretch, Sleepy Tom was lost without his companion Phillips. They called the races for the day, and somehow Sleepy Tom was led back to his barn.
Racing resumed the next day. Phillips was still too injured to drive, so he gave another driver the vocal key to unlocking Sleepy Tom's enormous ability. The substitute won the first heat of the second day, giving Sleepy Tom three heats and the race.
Phillips bounced back, as we know – he drove Sleepy Tom to the 2:12 ¼ world record. They were quite a pair – the calm, patient horseman Stephen Phillips and his pacing superstar Sleepy Tom, robbed by fate of his vision, but fortunately leaving his courage and desire absolutely intact.