When the horses reached the clubhouse turn the sport-shirted man and his housedressed wife and his blue-jeaned son were all on their feet. "Come on, Greek Game," they shouted, practically as one. The child, a frisky colt of about 8 (some two-thirds of the major tracks in the U.S., including those in Illinois, admit children), spilled a few drops of his chocolate soda as he waved it imploringly toward the finish line. Greek Game rolled under the wire, and the family trio's joy was complete. "What a horse," shouted the husband. "Goes like a machine," said the wife. "He runs fast," said the boy.
An interested bystander couldn't resist asking a personal question. "Did you have a big bet down?" he asked the husband.
"Bet?" said the sport-shirted man. "Who bets?"
Who bets, indeed, at Chicago's mammoth Arlington Park, home of pampered customers, luxuriating jockeys and contented horses? The answer is: lots of people, but not everybody. Many a customer is happy to kick in $2 for a clubhouse seat just for the privilege of watching the horses run. As Chicago Daily News Sports Editor John Carmichael once remarked after forgetting his pass and paying his money like the commonfolk, "This is such a beautiful track you can afford to take a small loss before the races even start. It's a pleasure to pay your way in." Greater admiration hath no pass-less sportswriter.
Credit for creating this race-trackers' Elysium goes to a mild-mannered well-heeled 64-year-old businessman named Benjamin F. (for Franklin) Lindheimer. Starting in an atmosphere of apathy and downright pessimism, Lindheimer singlehandedly destroyed the old canard that Chicago and the Midwest were "the graveyard of horse racing." If a few Midwest tracks are still dismal operations, that's because Lindheimer can't be everywhere at once. Veteran Jockey Johnny Adams says, "A lot of Midwest tracks in the days before Mr. Lindheimer were crummy, run-down places. They were nothing but open-air roulette wheels. There's a few like that left, but not many, thanks to him."
In all, Lindheimer (he and his associates own Arlington and Washington Parks) shelled out $12 million in 12 years for improvements, and he plans to spend $3.5 million more in the coming year. Biggest winner was the customer. As Lindheimer points out: "We had to gear everything to the $2 bettor. There aren't many big spenders here, and we can't depend on wealthy vacationers the way California and New Jersey and Florida tracks do. Who vacations in Chicago? We're dealing with the machinist, the clerk and the farmer, and we try to make it nice for them." Evidently Lindheimer succeeds. Last year's average daily mutuel handle at Arlington and Washington ranked ninth and 10th in the nation in terms of average daily mutuel betting—and most of it from the "little man."
The $2 bettor boards a Chicago & Northwestern train downtown, is whisked to Arlington Park in 35 minutes. He walks several hundred feet under a shed, pays his money, climbs on one of the park's 16 escalators. He is neither rained upon nor required to climb a single step. If he has driven to the track, he has 15,000 parking places to choose from (one spot for every two seats in the stands). If his car breaks down, it is serviced free by an emergency repair crew. If he has been forced to park on a distant backlot, he buses to the grandstand and buses back after the races. If he wants to bet, he has a 320-foot mutuel line waiting for his convenience.
By next year the Lindheimer operation also will have set the pace in air-conditioning and heating. Washington Park already is air-conditioned by the two largest portable refrigeration units in the world. Arlington Park will have the same setup in 1957. At Washington Park, where spring racing can be a chilly pastime, Lindheimer's engineers set up "hot air curtains" in front and back of the main grandstand. Blowers spaced every 30 feet discharge downward blasts of warm air.
Net result of all this crafty kindness has been a resurgence of interest in Thoroughbred racing in an area once considered a horseman's wasteland. So it was no surprise when a big crowd came to Arlington last week to watch seven ambitious 2-year-olds go to the post for the 27th running of the $140,850 Arlington Futurity, a race which in previous years has tipped handicappers to potential next-year winners of the Kentucky Derby, Belmont and Preakness (e.g., Hill Gail, winner of the Futurity in 1951, the Derby in 1952).
The question to be answered at this year's Futurity was: How good is Greek Game? The strapping, big-footed colt, 1,140 pounds heavy and 16 hands high, was tagged by Owner Fred W. Hooper "the fastest colt I've ever owned." Winner of his three previous starts, Greek Game had ripped five and a half furlongs in 1:04⅖ four-fifths of a second off the track record, in beating All Speed for first place in the June 20 primer. Now he was matched with an English import named Ben Lomond, an impressive winner at Belmont, and five other fast sprinters. To complicate matters, the track was a slough of mud and water, and Greek Game was untested as a mudder.
The conditions didn't keep the crowd from running odds on the favorite all the way down to 1 to 5. Mud or no mud, the combination of Greek Game and Willie Hartack looked unbeatable. It was. Greek Game was first out of the gate and led all the way around the comparatively dry first half mile. Then he sloshed into a final two-furlong stretch that gleamed like a Louisiana bayou. "Now we'll find out," somebody shouted. The big brown colt began to pull away. "He loves it," somebody else shouted, and under the wire loped Greek Game, five lengths ahead of Jet Colonel, six ahead of Etonian. The time: 1:12[1/5] less than four seconds away from Hill Gail's track record of 1:08[4/5] and a remarkably fast pace for the six-furlong mush. The victory proved that the undefeated son of Olympia, like Arlington Park, can operate in any kind of weather. It also sent home in a happy frame of mind the nonbetting, sport-shirted husband and his enthusiastic family.