Bill Boland on Beau Purple
Bill Boland on Beau Purple after winning the Man of War

Horse Racing: Page Two

In those days, the backyard of Aqueduct was spacious, but occupied by cement and wire fences. My experience in the grandstand helped me understand the need for change. We had the backyard grassed over, and benches and chairs were added. They got so much use that a tote board was installed.

Races are run every half hour. Between races many of the less sophisticated handicappers are bored. We arranged for bands to play music at Aqueduct and Belmont. The public seemed to like this a great deal. My favorite band was one we got from New Orleans, the Preservation Hall Band.

After I had been chairman of the NYRA for a year I had to resign to spend full time in the medical field. Much new information had been published on phenytoin, and I had to assist in preparing a supplementary bibliography. This work was completed in 1975. By coincidence, I was again offered the position of chairman of the NYRA. I accepted again.

The second time I became chairman, I did it with the reservation that I might not be able to keep the position long, and suggested we have an assistant chairman. Dinsmore (Dinny) Phipps took the job. It was a pleasure working with him and we have been the best of friends ever since. When, a year later, I felt obliged to spend more time in the medical field, Dinny became chairman and did a splendid job. The second time I was chairman I had some fun stirring up the advertising for the track. A series of ads was done on the race horse as the fastest animal in the world. He is not as fast as the cheetah for a hundred yards, but for a mile, he’s the fastest animal (I think). Other ads were done on taking a half-day vacation from the city by going to the track. There was a noticeable improvement in attendance following these ads.

Hobeau Farm won the Turf Writers’ Award for best breeder, twice. This was a tribute to Allen Jerkens’ training. One year we won nineteen races at Saratoga, a twenty-four-day meet—a record at the time. In 1977 I received the Eclipse Award, Man Who Did the Most for Racing, which I deeply appreciated. The award was given in Los Angeles.

On the way to Los Angeles a nice thing happened. I had my own plane but it couldn’t go that far in one hop, so we stopped in Phoenix, Arizona. President Nixon had told me he thought the Arizona Biltmore was the finest hotel in the world. I figured his opinion would be pretty good, he’d been around a little. So I stopped at the Biltmore, getting there around eleven o’clock in the morning. It was too early for lunch and too late for breakfast, but I was hungry. There was a large menu in my room. On it was continental breakfast. I don’t go for formality. If I wanted that, I’d ask for coffee, rolls, and jelly. But what the heck, in Rome do as the Romans do. So I dialed the number. A nice female voice said, “How may I help you?” I said, “This is Room 346. Could I have a continental breakfast, please?” The nice voice said, “Which continent would you like it from? This is the overseas operator.” What a wonderful put-down.

I’m still on the Board of the New York Racing Association. I miss a few of the meetings because of medical research. Every once in a while I make a speech about how crazy it is for the state to charge the bettors seventeen percent per race. It’s ruined the business. Anybody but government would change it to ten percent. Now I’ve said it in writing, and gotten it off my chest—again.

I’d like to finish this section with a story for my friend Gloria Steinem, of Women’s Lib renown. Robyn Smith was one of the earliest female jockeys. My trainer Allen recognized her talent and was one of the first to give her mounts. Much later Robyn was married to Fred Astaire. One day I got to Aqueduct too late to make a bet on the first race. It was winter, the grandstand was enclosed with glass, and I hurried to the front window to see the race. There were a lot of people in back of me. Robyn was riding a seven-to-two shot. As the race started, I heard a distinctive voice yell, “Come on, Robyn.” Robyn’s horse broke second to the favorite. As it pursued the favorite up the back stretch, the voice urged, “Come on, Robyn. Come on, Robyn.” When the horses came into the stretch, Robyn’s horse started gaining on the leader. The voice became more intimate and said, “Come on, Honey. Come on, Honey.” As Robyn’s horse went over the finish line, the winner, the voice lowered and said, “Okay, bitch.” Now that wasn’t nice.

Before leaving this section I should say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my association with the members of the Board of the NYRA. As a group, and as individuals, they have been a pleasure to be with.

Next Section: Experiences and Thoughts

See Also: The Blood-Horse