Handicapping at Hialeah
Handicapping at Hialeah

Horse Racing: Page One

There had been no horse races in Alabama. I was introduced to them in an unusual way.

P. Hal Sims, the famous bridge player, and T. Suffern Tailer (Tommy), and I played golf one day—I forget where. Hal was a good golfer, and a better bettor. Tommy had a one handicap. I don’t remember the golf, but I remember what followed. Hal and Tommy suggested we stop at Jamaica Race Track on the way home. I was outvoted, two-to-one. We got to Jamaica before the fifth race. There was a buzz around the track about a jockey named Alfred Robertson, who had won three of the first four races.

With my wealth of handicapping skills, I decided to bet on Robertson’s horse in the fifth race. It won. I bet on his horse in the sixth race. It won. Robertson had tied the record of most races won in one day. In the seventh race Tommy gave me some sound advice, and told me Robertson’s horse had almost no chance. I bet on him anyway, and he paid a big price. (Robertson winning six races in the seven-race card is still a record.) There were only seven races, so I had to give up this good thing for the moment.

Well, I started to go to the races whenever I got a chance and used a system of betting given me by a friend. Later I read some books on handicapping and started figuring things out for myself. Going to the races and betting became a great pleasure to me. Every day that I could get loose I went to the track. In my informal attire, I always visited the grandstands where I became friends with lots of the regulars. There was a period when I was too busy with business to go to the afternoon races so I went to the trotters at night. They’re called trotters although they’re mostly pacers. I used to go at 6:30 and watch the early workouts. During the races I would mark my program as to which horses went wide. I must have been one of the best handicappers because I learned that when people gave the guard at the $50 window $5 for the “hot” horse he usually gave them my selection.

While watching the thoroughbreds, I observed a two-year-old filly named Bellesoeur and thought she was great. She was second to Bewitch in the Experimental Handicap that year. Bellesoeur didn’t race at three and was bred to Count Fleet, who had just retired. Count Fleet was a great horse—not nearly as great as a stallion—but that wasn’t known at the time. I wanted part of that first foal. At the time, I couldn’t think of buying all of him. A friend at the City Athletic Club was a friend of Laudy Lawrence, owner of Bellesoeur. He arranged for me to buy half of the foal, named Beau Gar, for $14,000. A friend of my father bought one-quarter. I could barely afford my $7,000 purchase.

Before Beau Gar’s first race, let me tell a story. I was going with a girl whose roommate had been robbed and was in financial straits. I offered to give her roommate $50, but my friend said she wouldn’t take it. I asked if she’d mind if I bet $10 on a horse that won, and gave her the money that way? My friend said, “What horse?” I said, “Beau Gar.” She agreed, and I gave her $52, wanting it to look realistic. Three weeks later Beau Gar had his first race. He won and paid $10.40—exactly $52 for the $10 bet. Some handicapping. Beau Gar raced under Laudy Lawrence’s name and won a few more races. He had to be retired because of an injury to his back. I still had faith in him. A few years later, and a few bucks richer, I bought the other three-quarters of him, at the original price.

Beau Gar had shown plenty of speed before his injury, and Maje Odom, his trainer, thought well of him. I loved his breeding and decided to take the long shot of trying to make him a successful stallion. Of course, no one else wanted to breed to Beau Gar and I didn’t have any mares, or a lot of money.

If you have a mare and want a foal, you buy a service to a stallion. As you know I do things backwards. I had a stallion and wanted foals, so I leased mares, six of them for a year. I don’t know if it’s been done before or since, but it turned out well. I bought one mare, Water Queen. Bred to Beau Gar, she produced Beau Purple, a great horse. Beau Purple won the Kentucky Derby Trial, but in it he fractured a bone in his leg and had to be retired for over a year. When he came back, he was sensational. He established five track records in a period of eight months, from seven-eighths of a mile, to a mile-and-a-half on the grass. Kelso was Horse of the Year five times in a row. Beau Purple beat him three times out of the six times they raced. He also beat Carry Back, Kentucky Derby winner, three times. Beau Purple was the result of breeding my first horse, Beau Gar, to my first mare, Water Queen. In Sports Illustrated, I was quoted as having said, “It was 110 percent luck, the rest was skill.”

For the first few years, Maje Odom was my trainer. Later, when my stable got larger, it wasn’t convenient for him to handle it exclusively. I met up with Allen Jerkens, an exceptionally fine trainer, and to this day he trains for Hobeau Farm. Allen and I are the closest friends. He’s a bit of a nut, quite like me, so we understand each other thoroughly.

Beau Gar initially stood at Henry White’s Plum Lane Farm in Lexington, Kentucky. A few years later I got the impression that a higher percentage of good horses than would be expected, considering the quality of the breeding, were coming from Ocala, Florida. When I noticed Rosemere Farm was for sale, I went to Ocala and met Elmer Heubeck, who had been manager there for seventeen years. Elmer and I liked each other from the beginning. He told me there was a cattle farm that he knew well, about fifteen miles outside of the city, that had plenty of limestone and beautiful oak trees. He thought it ideal for a horse farm, and it was for sale. Elmer recommended I buy it instead of Rosemere, and I did. Elmer built the farm. We named it Hobeau Farm. Elmer and his wife, Harriet, built it with every thought from the horses’ point of view. My former wife, Joan, made creative architectural suggestions, which were followed. And the fences are a lovely blue. Elmer built a first-class one-mile track. At that time, it was one of the few private one-mile tracks in the country. After a few years Elmer became a partner in Hobeau Farm. He and Harriet did a wonderful job, and I can’t thank them enough.

* * *

For years I was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), a group of horse owners who defend the rights of the horse owners. On one occasion the president of the HBPA was absent for three months, and I found myself temporary president. It happened at a critical time. The owners were justifiably upset about the small end of the track profits they were getting. They were furnishing the entertainment, the horses, and felt they were not being paid properly. The directors wanted to boycott the races, but accepted my suggestion to try discussion. I made arrangements to see Governor Nelson Rockefeller. He was gracious, listened to the story, and recognized that it was valid. The governor said he would make arrangements for us to get an extra half percent of the handle. The horse owners had wanted more, but they agreed.

About a week before we were supposed to get the half percent we found out that some members of the legislature had blocked the governor’s proposal. At that point it was felt necessary to have the boycott. (For reasons best known to lawyers, we couldn’t call it a strike.) I found myself the equivalent of a labor leader of the HBPA. It was a lot of responsibility, and not a lot of fun. The New York Racing Association (NYRA) made it especially tough by saying that if only one horse was entered in a race, he’d get the purse. Somehow we held together for a week, and there weren’t any races. That was a tough week. I got two phone calls, with sinister overtones, from an alleged friend of one of the legislators. I pretended not to understand, but I did, and was worried. The weekend was particularly trying. I decided that on Monday I’d call Governor Rockefeller and get together with him again. When I got to my office I found the governor had called me. It had been arranged for us to get the half percent. That was my first and last experience as a labor leader. The HBPA graciously presented me with its annual award, in memory of Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, “One Who Contributed Most to the Best Interests of Racing.”

This event brought me to the attention of James Brady, who had been, for six or seven years, head of the New York Racing Association. His little boy, Nicholas, recently was Secretary of the Treasury. Jim asked me if I would like to join the Board of the NYRA. I was surprised because I was from the grandstand side. But it was nice, and I accepted. Jim went a step further and said, “In a year or so I’m going to retire and maybe you’d like to take my job.” That was flattering, but I took it with a grain of salt.

A year later, in 1970, Mr. Brady asked me if I would take the job as chairman, that he’d had it long enough, and would like a little rest. This happened at a particularly convenient time. The Dreyfus Medical Foundation had just sent a bibliography, The Broad Range of Use of Phenytoin, to all the physicians in the United States. With the world literature sent to the physicians and the government, I felt I’d done what I could, and others would take over. So I accepted Mr. Brady’s proposal.

I thoroughly enjoyed the job. Everyone was wonderful to me. My former secretary, Terry Troglio, helped me more than could be believed.

Next Page: Horse Racing Page 2

See also: The Blood-Horse