• U.S.

Sport: Scarlet Spots

14 minute read

Ask any horse-racing fan, from the paddock-club swell to the tinhorn sport, which track he would choose if he could visit only one before he dies, and nine out of ten answers are: Saratoga.

In August that sleepy little spa in upstate New York wakes up to become to U. S. racehorse people what Ascot is to the English, Longchamp to the French, Melbourne to the Australians. Saratoga can be as hot as the Sahara in August. Its hotels are great grotesque relics of the Mauve Decade with creaking elevators and hard beds. Its natives are openly out to make hay while the sun shines.

But its drooping elms, gardened avenues, gingerbread architecture, the little fanelike spring houses, the old horse-drawn traps and flies pulled up along the main street, and above all, the shady racing park with the thoroughbreds circling under the linden back of the clubhouse before the races—all this makes Saratoga a picturesque American scene. Last week, for the 75th year since an Irish politician named John Morrissey founded the track for the spa’s bored cure-takers, the annual August trek to Saratoga began.

It was Saratoga’s Diamond Jubilee year, and last week’s activity presaged a season as glittering as any in its glittering past. Never before had there been so many applications for stalls (57 trainers had to be turned away). All the famed “cottages” were rented (few socialites own homes at Saratoga). Portly George H. Bull, President of the Saratoga Association, leased not one but three villas to take care of his guests. Arrowhead, Piping Rock and other famed casinos were busy taking the covers off their roulette wheels, for rumor had it that the lid, clamped down last year, would be off this season.

Besides its quaint charm and universal appeal to racing people, Saratoga is unique as a racing establishment in two other respects: it serves as the first big get-together of the season for two-year-olds; it is the national marketplace for the country’s yearlings. Though many turf enthusiasts are looking forward to a possible meeting of Charles S. Howard’s sensational Argentine-bred Kayak II, foremost handicap horse of the year, and William Woodward’s fleet-footed Johnstown, foremost three-year-old of the year, field glasses at this Saratoga season, like all its predecessors, will focus on the 500 or more two-year-olds making their debut in swank racing society.

Well-bred two-year-olds are seldom raced until midsummer, except for occasional overnight races to test their ability. By last week the following had shown promise of keen competition in Saratoga’s big two-year-old stakes: Cornelius Vanderbilt (“Sonny”) Whitney’s Flight Command, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt’s Now What, Arnold Hanger’s Roman Flag, Colonel Edward R. Bradley’s Bimelech, and Millsdale Stable’s Andy K.

On Saratoga’s opening day this week, 15 youngsters met in the 70-year-old Flash Stakes, oldest U. S. race for two-year-olds. With 8,000 spectators looking on, Epatant, a bay colt owned by Mrs. Charles Shipman Payson, a third-generation racing Whitney, ran away from the field, finished two lengths in front of Cousin Sonny Whitney’s Parasang, joined the list of this year’s outstanding juveniles.

Next week the two-year-olds will be partly eclipsed by their younger brothers & sisters, when the big yearling sales that take place during the middle fortnight of the Saratoga season begin. Probably no event in the country, except opening night at the Metropolitan Opera or the National Horse Show, attracts a more plush crowd than that which assembles nightly in the wooden pavilion known as the Saratoga Sales Paddock. There the patrons of horse racing, hoping to spot another Man o’ War, watch the young thoroughbreds parade around the arena, bid for those they fancy.

This year, with about 700 yearlings up for auction, turfmen expect some $2,000,000 to change hands. Largest group, as usual, will be those from the famed Claiborne and Ellerslie studs (59 this year), owned by Kentuckian Arthur B. Hancock, biggest commercial breeder in the U. S. Next largest group will be 44 put up by Willis Sharpe Kilmer, another famed breeder who, unlike Hancock, keeps some of his stock for racing under his own silks. A small string, however, that always commands attention are the dozen or so offered each year by the Belair Stud of Collington, Md. For Belair’s owner, 63-year-old Millionaire William Woodward, Chairman of The Jockey Club, whose 50 members regulate the sport from start to finish, is not only one of the most successful stable owners of the past decade. He is the decade’s most successful breeder.

To the millions of U. S. citizens who follow racing, racing’s ancient purpose—Improvement of the Breed—is largely a gag. It is no gag to The Jockey Club’s Chairman. It is a business as serious as building up the world’s eleventh biggest bank, to which he has devoted two decades. The banking business has not been too good for anybody in the past few years. But for William Woodward the business of breeding and running horses has been fine.

The Winner. In 1926 Breeder Woodward mated the famed French racehorse, Sir Gallahad III (whom he and three other U. S. turfmen†had imported for $125,000 the year before), with his rugged broodmare Marguerite, bought as a yearling at Saratoga in 1921. Their foal, a bay colt named Gallant Fox, developed, after a mediocre season as a two-year-old, into one of the great racehorses of all time. He won nine of the ten races in which he started in 1930, including the three-year-old triple crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont Stakes). Trained by Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons and ridden by smart Earl Sande, he earned the scarlet-spotted Belair silks $308,275, became the first and only horse ever to win more than $300,000 in one year.

Gallant Fox is the greatest horse yet to come out of the Woodward stud, but by no means the only great one. Woodward-bred horses (up to July 1, 1939) have won 1,612 races, have earned more than $3,500,000 on U. S. and English tracks. Not all of this money went into Mr. Woodward’s pocket. Horses sold as yearlings won $1,250,000 of this amount. In the past decade, three Woodward-owned horses have won the Kentucky Derby: Gallant Fox (1930), Omaha (1935), and Johnstown (1939). Five have captured the Belmont Stakes, considered by breeders, because of its longer distance (1½ miles), far more important than the Derby. Thrice Mr. Woodward has owned the No. 1 money-winner of the year (Gallant Fox, Omaha, Granville).

In 1936 the Woodward horses won their owner-breeder $229,000 ($137,500 on U. S. tracks and $91,500 abroad), world’s-record winnings that year, outstripping the winnings of the fabulous stables of Lord Astor, the Earl of Derby and the Aga Khan (in that order). And in the following year, Woodward-owned horses took first place in four of the nine English stakes in which they started and earned more money ($104,365) than any U. S. stable had ever won in England in one year. Last week on the eve of the opening of Saratoga, the Belair Stud, with famed Johnstown and Fighting Fox out front, was again in the top money spot with winnings of $225,000 so far this year.

Fighting Fox, a temperamental four-year-old, who breaks a record one day and runs like a plug the next, has earned almost $75,000 of the stable’s 1939 winnings. But three-year-old Johnstown, Kentucky Derby winner, has been the sensation of the 1939 racing season. Toasted as another Man o’ War when he made all his contemporaries look like hobby horses early in the season, Big John, a homely colt with lop ears, upset the dopesters when he was beaten by William L. Brann’s Challedon in the Preakness.

Last fortnight, after three more sensational victories (in the Belmont, the Withers and the Dwyer Stakes), and two record-breaking trials, railbirds were beginning once more to hail Johnstown as one of the great horses of all time, when he was beaten again by Challedon in the Arlington Classic at Chicago. If Johnstown recovers his lost prestige at Saratoga (and most turfmen think that he will), William Woodward may have another great champion to retire to stud.

The Breeder. As it does with no other U. S. racehorse man, raising comes before racing with William Woodward. He likes to win races. When his turf career was crowned last year by Flares’ (son of Gallant Fox) victory in the Ascot Gold Cup, the longest (2½ mi.) important flat race in the world,* Owner Woodward made a proud round of Manhattan’s swankest clubs. But William Woodward had been breeding horses for 13 years before he began racing them.

Fresh out of Harvard Law School in 1902, William Woodward was introduced to racing at Ascot and Newmarket while working in London as secretary to U. S. Ambassador Joseph Choate. In 1910, on the death of his uncle, Banker James T. Woodward, young Bill inherited not only controlling interest in Manhattan’s Hanover National Bank, but also the famed Belair Stud, a 3,000-acre farm at Collington, Prince Georges County, Md., close by the spot where his paternal ancestors first settled in 1700.

Belair had been famed as a breeding farm for more than 150 years—since the day in 1747 when its first owner, Governor Samuel Ogle of Maryland, brought with him from England a stallion named Spark and a broodmare named Queen Mab, two of the earliest thoroughbreds ever imported to the U. S.†But in the 29 years that zealous William Woodward has been master of Belair, its name has become far more famed than it ever was under generations of Ogles.

With the characteristic methodicalness of a young man who had graduated from college with Honorable Mention in Economics, Banker Woodward began to build up his stud farm by learning all there was to know about blood lines. He scoured the U. S. and Europe for the blood he wanted. He evidently got what he was looking for. Last spring Horse & Horseman selected Woodward’s 19-year-old Marguerite—whose four colts (Petee-Wrack, Gallant Fox, Fighting Fox and Foxbrough II) have earned over a half million dollars—as the most eminent broodmare in America. When in 1923 William Woodward felt that he was ready to pit his thoroughbreds against the best in the U. S., he began to race.

Belair. One of the few large U. S. racing establishments that annually show a profit at the end of the year, William Woodward’s Belair Stud is conducted with the same efficiency that developed the Hanover National Bank into the huge Central Hanover Bank & Trust. Belair is itself a fairly big business. It represents an investment of perhaps $1,000,000 and spreads over four plants. The horses are born in Kentucky, raised in Maryland, groomed for their racing careers on Long Island (or Newmarket), retired to stud in Kentucky.

The Belair stallions and broodmares are kept at Arthur Hancock’s Paris, Ky. farm (four or five broodmares are kept in Ireland to be bred to Irish and English stallions). Every winter* Breeder Woodward personally selects the parents of the next year’s crop of foals (usually about 25). At weaning time (six months), the foals are transferred to Collington. There they remain until they are yearlings.

Then Owner Woodward selects half of the crop to be sold at Saratoga, keeps the other half for racing. From the racing group he chooses four to be sent to England, to become acclimatized to English weather and accustomed to English tracks —under the guidance of the celebrated British trainer, Eton-bred Captain Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, at his famed Freemason Lodge at Newmarket. The rest of the crop is sent to Long Island, entrusted to the loving care of Trainer Fitzsimmons, ablest in the U. S.

Horse Lover. So great is William Woodward’s love for horses that he has oil paintings made of all his great racers, has prints made from them for Christmas presents. So horse-minded is he that when his wife, one of Baltimore’s famed Cryder triplets, bore him a son after four daughters, he wired his friends: “Fine colt born this morning.” Sometimes he names horses after his very good friends. One year he had two especially fine colts. One he named Sir Ashley, after Sir Ashley Sparks, U. S. resident director of the Cunard Line. The other he named Sir Andrew, after one of his blackest, most bowlegged grooms.

At his Belair Stud, Breeder Woodward also raises Clydesdale draft horses. Once a year he sends the stallions around the countryside to improve the stock of the Maryland farmer. Next to horses, the Master of Belair loves trees—not fancy trees, but big homey maples, oaks, beeches. He is always adding trees to his farm, often personally directs their planting and pruning.

Although his fortune is estimated at well above $5,000,000, there is no swish to William Woodward. He owns no marble palace, no yacht, no private railroad car. He has four homes (Manhattan town house, Long Island country place, Newport cottage, Maryland farm) but none of them is pretentious. His four daughters, beauteous like their mother, were never advertised as Glamor Girls, had no noisy coming-out parties. His only son sails a 15-foot boat on Long Island Sound—and when Father Woodward wants to go yachting he sails the little tub too.

No member of William Woodward’s family shares his fetish for horses. They are always on deck for the big races (Mr. Woodward sometimes regrets that his box is not big enough to hold them all), but when it comes to rock-bottom horse talk, William Woodward’s best crony is the man who has trained his horses for 16 years, big, moonfaced, 65-year-old James Edward Fitzsimmons.

Mr. Fitz. Two years older than his employer, Mr. Fitz, as he is known to turf fans, has been around racetracks for over 50 years. Starting as a stable boy at Sheepshead Bay in 1885, he became a jockey soon afterward, rode on the Frying Pan circuit (half-mile tracks), got $5 a ride (when his employers paid off). In the flourishing Nineties, Jim Fitzsimmons became a pee-wee trainer. His big chance came in 1908 when betting was outlawed in New York, the topnotch U. S. trainers flocked to England, and the second-raters got a crack at the juicy training jobs at home.

Today, the onetime jockey weighs 200 lbs., lives in a little white house surrounded by a little white fence on Long Island’s Aqueduct racetrack. There he boards and trains horses (not only for Mr. Woodward but for Mrs. Henry C. Phipps, Ogden Phipps and others), has developed more outstanding distance racers in the past decade than any other U. S. trainer. He remembers the habits and mannerisms of all his past charges (about 50 a year), but the one he likes best to talk about is Gallant Fox, his favorite. He likes to tell how, in his first big race as a two-year-old, the pride of Belair—a $12,000 investment—was left at the post, too fascinated by an airplane overhead (the first he had ever seen) to budge.

One of the world’s most successful trainers, Sunny Jim is also one of the kindest, most understanding. Says he: “There are only two kinds of horses: those who have good manners and those who have been neglected.”

†Marshall Field, Arthur B. Hancock, Robert A. Fairbairn. *Only one other U. S.-bred horse had ever won this 133-year-old race: the late Speculator James R. Keene’s Foxhall in 1882. †At that time the thoroughbred was just beginning to be established as a breed in England. *All thoroughbreds have the same birthday, January 1. So that foals may be dropped as soon after January 1 as possible (a mare carries her foal eleven months), the thoroughbred mating season is around the first of February.

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