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Sport: Lady’s Day in Louisville

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Churchill Downs in the pre-Derby dawn is a heady place. Drifting wood smoke, dampened by morning dew, cuts the sharp, ammoniac smell of the stables. From the tarns, where skittish thoroughbreds are breakfasting, comes the metallic clank of feed tubs, or an occasional hoof thump. Sleepy-eyed grooms and exercise boys, clutching their mugs of coffee, shuffle through the shadows.

Even at that hour, feed-box tips are in (he air. This week those tips had more than the usual ring of authority. Nobody had to look far to find the favorites in this week’s 72nd Kentucky Derby.* They were two—Lord Boswell and Knockdown —and both belong to fluttery Cosmeti-queen Elizabeth Arden Graham, whose Maine Chance Farm Stable has the winningest ways in U.S. turfdom. Early this week, they were prohibitive favorites.

Anything can happen in a horse race—and Derby favorites have flopped 50% of the time. Tipsters last week were full of white hopes and dark horses. Other doting owners (some 18 in all) would not pay the $1,000 entry fee just to see their colors flutter on Derby Day. The Downs was alive with regional prides: Marine Victory, the Maryland horse; Pellicle, Kentucky’s own; and a big Texas-born chestnut named Assault, which had won Jamaica’s Wood Memorial Stakes—a proving ground for five Derby winners—in wagon-horse time. Assault is known as the New York horse.

The Arden Varsity. No geographical tag could be pinned on the Arden steeds. They had no place they could call home, despite their perfume-selling owner’s sumptuous, 2,000-acre estate in Maine, and her only slightly less magnificent places in North Carolma and Arizona. Elizabeth Arden horses hit the road all year, trouping from track to track.

The horse of hers that horsemen like best is cranky, gluttonous Lord Boswell. He is solid brown, not too big, with slim neck and the kind of pointed head horses have in old racing prints. He tries to nip and kick his ancient Negro groom, who calls him “Boss Man.” His appetite is so voracious that he has to be muzzled to keep him from eating his bedding. Not long ago, his stableboys found the glass of two electric light bulbs mysteriously crunched out, and Lord Boswell up on his hind legs licking another bulb. Now Boss Man has no light in his stall.

Last week, after waiting around to see which of several mounts he wanted in the Derby, 30-year-old Jockey Eddie (“Banana Nose”) Arcaro, who has ridden the winners of three Derbies, climbed up on Lord Boswell in the 1⅛-mile Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky. What happened reminded oldtimers of such valiant past performers as Display and Exterminator. After almost getting left at the post, Boss Man got going when the race was nearly over, charged hell-for-leather through & around horses in the stretch, won by a neck. Said amazed Eddie Arcaro, who has ridden many a champion: “He’s a hell of a horse—when you really dig into him.”

Lord Boswell’s stablemate, Knockdown, is a big, gawky fellow. His Negro groom calls him “Big Foot Hoss,” and swears he is thoroughly “gentlemanfied.” He got out in front in the $100.000 Santa” Anita Derby last winter and forgot to quit, even though his owner wanted another of her nags, Star Pilot, to win. Knockdown did it again last week in a nine-furlong workout against Star Pilot (who had already won purses totaling $187,385). Gawky Knockdown was running easily at the finish in 1:56. Reluctantly Elizabeth Arden scratched Star Pilot as a Derby starter, and withdrew another horse, Colony Boy, because of a leg injury.

On Derby Day, Elizabeth Arden’s two-horse varsity may get help from an unsung stablemate. Perfect Bahram, whose job would be to make the pace. They were the aces that Queen Arden counted on to rule the Sport of Kings.

The purveyor of Cupid’s Breath (and 300 other pretty-smelling beauty products) is in racing for the sport, but she has made a business of it. Last year she plunked down a staggering $315.000 for ten fancy-bred yearlings; her two-year-olds copped just about every big stake for horses their age. She finished up the season as the nation’s top money winner—with earnings of $589,170—even though she objected to her “little darlings” wearing blinkers because they didn’t look pretty, and forbade jockeys to whip the darlings during a race.

If all three Arden horses—Knockdown. Lord Boswell and Perfect Bahram—went to the post at Churchill Downs, Elizabeth Arden Graham, who never started a horse in the Derby before, would be on a par with the late Harry Payne Whitney, who sent Upset (the only horse ever to beat mighty Man o’ War), Wildair and Damask postward in 1920. The best Whitney could get was second with Upset.

Juleps & Blue Grass. Ever since Aristides took the first Derby (worth $2,850) in 1875, the race has been an exasperating, unpredictable grind. It comes early in the year, before most three-year-old colts (and fillies) have really begun to find their adult racing stride. The distance is a tough mile and a quarter for youngsters used to six-and seven-furlong sprints, with perhaps a couple of mile or iVio races under their hoofs. The Derby has ruined more promising horses than it has made.

This year the Kentucky Derby’s portly, 84-year-old impresario, Colonel Matt Winn, has upped the stakes from $75,000 to $100,000. But it is not the stakes alone that make the Derby indisputably the U.S. turf classic. Out-of-towners will blow about $8 million in Louisville this week—yet somehow the Derby manages to be the one event in the year when horse racing is least of all big business, and most of all sport. The Derby is Kentucky’s great day.

To keep it so, Matt Winn has a bustling publicity staff, including almost everybody in central Kentucky, working for nothing. Professional Kentuckians, over the traditional Derby breakfast (Kentucky ham and beaten biscuits), talk grandly of fine horses, fine whiskey, fine tobacco, and beautiful women. The race is the red stuffing in a very plump olive. Kentuckians, acting for one week the way Texans and Southern Californians do for 52, are out—this year, after three wartime “streetcar” Derbies, way out—to welcome the free-spending outlanders.

The 532-room Brown Hotel, Louisville’s largest, has turned down an average of 1,000 room requests a week for the past two months. Louisville’s Police Chief A. E. Kimberling broadcast a nationwide warning: “Stay home unless you’re the rugged outdoor type.” In Manhattan dailies, an airline advertised direct flights to the Derby for $85.

After a few shots of precious Kentucky bourbon (Kentuckians rhyme it with turban), strangers would almost believe what Louisvillians tell them—that you can smell the blue grass (which is 30 miles away at Shelbyville).

By race time, Elizabeth Arden and about 100,000 other people (previous attendance record: 95,000) would be sardined into Matt Winn’s Derby grounds at 4th and Central Avenue.

Impossible Assistants. Elizabeth Arden Graham has made femininity a science, and probably earned more money doing it (an estimated $20 million) than any businesswoman in history. In 78 countries where her powders & perfumes are sold, Elizabeth Arden is a magic name printed diagonally on vari-shaped bottles and boxes. Elizabeth Arden, the woman, is sixtyish, not much over five feet in height.

As Venus’ handmaiden, she has one mighty asset besides well-publicized vitality: a native shrewdness at hiring smart people to work for her. Says she: “I only want people around me who can do the impossible.” She rarely hires anyone who is out of a job. She tolerates no tomfoolery or inefficiency in horse trainers or jockeys either. She bubbles into the paddock before a race to tell her jockeys to “get out in front and go, go, go!” When she loses, she is apt to blame anyone but the horse.

The grand showcase of the Arden beauty empire at 691 Fifth Avenue is guarded by a grey-liveried doorman and a red door marked simply, Elizabeth Arden. Inside, and scattered over a labyrinth of seven floors, is the amazing factory where ladies (from 2½ years to 84) go to get remodeled. The raw product is examined, diagnosed and then put on the Arden production line.

The finished product—what comes out after being rubbed, scrubbed, flexed, scented, shampooed and even clothed (by Antonio Castillo of Paris)—is emotionally as well as physically restored. The New York salon, No. 1 in her empire, is one of 20 Arden beauty repair shops in the U.S. and 15 more scattered about Europe, South America, Canada, Australia and Hawaii. Elizabeth Arden makes even more from manufacturing and selling Ardena products.

Revolving Doors. Elizabeth Arden is a dreamed-up name. She was born—in the little Ontario village of Woodbridge—with the far more implausible name of Florence Nightingale Graham.* Her father was a huckster whose eccentricity was to use only broken-down thoroughbreds to pull his wagon. Flo tried out as a dentist’s assistant and a student nurse in Toronto before traveling to New York in 1906. It was a time when a woman’s beauty equipment consisted chiefly of glycerin and rose water; for a woman to “paint” was almost as outrageous as it was for her to smoke. Flo Graham decided that the beauty business just needed selling. She borrowed $6,000 from her brother, paid it back in less than six months.

A driving woman, Elizabeth Arden gets up early every day, even if she’s been up late the night before. She okays all her ads, thinks up most of the names for products (Blue Grass, April May, It’s You, White Orchid, Winged Victory), and found time to get married to Tom J. Lewis (for 15 years) and to Russian Prince Michael Evlanoff (for 13 months). She is unmarried now. She has her own ideas of perfection, and demands it of her employes, even if a chemist has to spend days remaking a color until Arden herself thinks it is “paradise pink.” Her competitors say: “Work for Elizabeth Arden and live in a revolving door.”

The conditioning of beauties and beasts obviously had something in common, and 15 years ago, in New York State’s horsy Saratoga Springs, the thoroughbred bug bit Elizabeth Arden. She bought a $1,000 yearling race horse named How High, and hired not so high (5 ft.) Clarence Buxton as trainer. Elizabeth Arden, who had no children, fluttered out to her barn, talked baby talk to her first horse, spoiled him. They parted company because Trainer Buxton treated him like a horse.

Says Elizabeth Arden: “A beautiful horse is like a beautiful woman.” An ugly horse doesn’t stay long in Arden’s barn, even if he can outrun Satan. About two mornings a week she shows up at the track to make sure her “darlings” don’t get too much fresh air, or too little. She worries about flies biting them, and orders screens. Her horses once came down with a misery, and Arden ordered them rubbed down with her Ardena skin tonic instead of horse liniment, which, she said, smelled terrible. The trainer told her the stuff was no good for horses. He got fired.

One of the next four trainers who spun in & out of Arden’s revolving door remarked recently: “Seems we spent more money for paint than for anything else.” One capable trainer, grizzled Guy Bedwell, told her off before she had a chance to tell him. A half-dozen others came & went before Tom Smith came along, in 1944.

Silent Tom. Many a millionaire has ransomed his kingdom for a race horse, and ended up with a big oat bill. The difference, in Millionaire Elizabeth Arden Graham’s case, is that Tom Smith spent her gold and brought home silver cups. Tom Smith is a shortish, pale and poker-faced old codger nearing 70, who is less of a chatterbox than Calvin Coolidge. His silences awed the lady. He spends a lot of time just staring at his horses through wise eyes, and when he is through, a horse knows he has been cross-examined.

Silent Tom got that way partly from his early wanderings as a sheepherder, cowhand, rodeo blacksmith, and trainer of quarter horses. For nearly 25 years he was a “gyp” horse trainer on a western leaky-roof circuit. He was in his 503 before he landed his first big-time training job, and today is one of the crack trainers at pointing a horse for a specific race. His first masterstroke: claiming a $7,500 plater and developing him into mighty Seabiscuit.

Owner Arden was soon convinced that Smith 1) wouldn’t hurt her pets; 2) wouldn’t gouge her; 3) knew horses. They got along as well as any employer and employe can when one of them is Elizabeth Arden Graham. She told him to get rid of Knockdown, a $2,000 ugly duckling, and Tom allowed he would—some day. She brought out her Ardena eye lotion for the horses’ eyes, and Ardena “Eight-Hour Cream” for their chafed spots. Diplomat Tom used them; they didn’t do a horse any harm.

He admitted that the clover she shipped specially from her Maine farm was pretty good clover, but it got hot en route; so he threw it away. When she discovered one day that one of Tom’s grooms had a “mean face,” Tom sacked him; there were other grooms. Says he: “I try not to hurt her feelings, and yet do it my way.”

She has acquired considerable horse sense herself. Samples: 1) when the swelling wouldn’t leave War Date’s sore knee in California this winter, she massaged it out with hands that had massaged wrinkles out of many a woman’s face; 2) when she saw one of her horses limping, she decided it was because his shoe didn’t fit—she ordered the shoe pulled off, proved to be right, and changed blacksmiths. What impressed people around the stable most favorably, besides the ability of her stable to win, was that she obviously loved horses. She never bets on her own horses, and rarely bets more than $5 on anyone else’s. The Silent Partner. Just when Elizabeth Arden Graham’s horses were doing their best, Silent Tom got into deep trouble with the New York Racing Commission. The charge: that he had “hopped up” one of her horses with ephedrine (TIME, Nov. 19).

There was a private hearing in which Jockey-Clubber William Woodward spent most of the time asking what hop Tom had given Seabiscuit to make him run so fast. There were many public hearings which convinced Owner Arden, and most of the racegoing public, that Tom had used ephedrine only to stop a horse’s head cold, that it was no “hop.” Nevertheless the New York Commission ruled him off all U.S. race tracks until next Nov. 1.

It is no secret that Tom Smith has done the training for Elizabeth Arden Graham’s Derby varsity—and with no violation of the law, so long as he disappeared when racing at Churchill Downs got officially under way last week. His 36-year-old son Jimmy took over the Maine Chance horses in California last winter, but old Tom was never far away. Asked if he saw Knockdown and Star Pilot run one-two in the $100,000 Santa Anita Derby, Elizabeth Arden said: “Oh, course he [did] … the old fellow wouldn’t break a rule for the world, but he has powerful glasses and probably was up in a tree.” (Santa Anita is bordered by tall eucalyptuses.)

A month ago, the main division of Arden horses—including her $315,000 two-year-olds—headed for Chicago with Jimmy in charge. A very special division, headed by Lord Boswell and Knockdown, checked into Churchill Downs under the watchful eye of Silent Tom, trainer-with-out-portfolio. He silently went about prepping them with workouts over the mattress-soft Derby strip. He grew talkative only when the conversation turned to the New York Commission, and then his speech was an eloquent two words: “Those bastards.”

On Derby Day, he would probably be up a tree again, watching Arden’s cerise, blue & white colors—and taking anxious side glances at such able rivals as speedy, pint-sized Rippey, big, brown Spy Song and the Calumet Farm’s In Earnest (trained by Ben Jones, who delights in running an underdog to victory). And no one knew better than Tom Smith that an unsung hero might well cross the line ahead of them all.

All the queen’s horses, and all the queen’s men were ready; but what could happen on Derby Day was what made gamblers of 30,000,000 Americans.

*Pronounced “darby.” as in England, by some Anglophiles; but “durby” by right-thinking Kentuckians.

*To keep her beauty and racing interests separate, she calls herself Mrs. Elizabeth N. Graham around the tracks — a combination of her real and professional names.

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