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Kern closes the gap in ‘The Great Horse Race’

We’re continuing to write about “The Great Horse Race,” sponsored by The Denver Post and run in 1908 between Evanston, Wyo. and Denver.

The race pitted western broncos with their cowboy riders against thoroughbreds and other breeds born and trained for horse track racing.

We’re recalling the story because one of the entrants was Old Man Kern, described as an old-time Westerner. Kern, riding the 600-mile distance on a bay named Dex across the Continental Divide, had been a Pagosa Springs pioneer.

By the start of the fourth day, a Wyoming cowboy named Charlie, on a rip-snorting Bronc named Teddy, owned the lead after covering 270 mile. Workman was in the lead at Fort Steele.

Kern had eased into second place at the end of the third day and slept in Rawlins. Late that night he was joined by three other riders.The rest of the field, minus several dropouts, was scattered behind the two leaders across 100 miles of dusty Wyoming roads.

On the fourth day, the leaders moved into the middle third of the race with Medicine Bow on the horizon. Workman and Teddy clung to the lead throughout the day, but they were slowing. Kern on Dex was only two hours behind. Within another hour, Edwards on Sacred Clipper and Means on Jay Bird were there too. McClelland limped in on Biley and had to drop out.

From now on, Workman had company. On the fifth day, four men left Medicine Bow together. They were Workman, Kern, Edwards and Mean. All day as they rode through the rolling hills of southeastern Wyoming on their way to Laramie, they stayed bunched together.

Back along the trail, in the dark of a Wyoming night, a small, strawberry roan cow pony responded to the urging of his lanky cowboy rider and closed on the leaders. A ruckus late in the night woke up the Laramie stable man. Out in the dusty street Sam, the strawberry roan, was snorting and cavorting as his rider prepared to settle in for the night.

In the early morning at first light, five men sat on five creaking saddles as five horses left Laramie. The sixth day merged into the seventh with no overnight stopping.

It seems as if the first seven days merely served as preparation for the final race to the finish line. Some issues had been sorted out. Only 15of the original 25 racing partners remained in the race. And five of those 15 were front runners.

Four of the top five horses were broncos. Backers of the well-bred hot-blooders were suddenly quiet because only Jay Bird, the fifth-place horse, had a chance of winning.

Based on the standings so far, Charlie Workman on his long-legged bronco called Teddy had to be the favorite to win the $300 first prize.

Of course, at one time, Workman had had a lead of more than 30 miles. Losing the trail during a sandstorm had cost him much of the lead.

Who would have guessed that 50-year-old Old Man Kern on 30-year-old Dex would be pushing Workman for the lead?

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