A Pier Six horse race. Nobody expected last Saturday's $143,510 Washington Park Futurity to be a knitting contest, matching as it did Rex Ellsworth's powerful California Kid and Fred W. Hooper's strapping Greek Game (both apparently Derby-bound in 1957) and five horses named Joe. Greek Game, son of Olympia, had won four straight starts before tangling with California Kid in the Prairie States and losing to the westerner. California Kid was going into the Futurity with four wins in six starts. The race figured to be a tight one between the two front-running 2-year-olds. It turned out tighter than anyone dreamed.
Willie Shoemaker shoved California Kid out front at the start of the six-furlong sprint and held him there to the stretch turn. Bill Hartack, who usually likes to grab the lead and keep it, lay back on Greek Game in the No. 3 spot, a shade behind Aberion, the Aga Khan-bred colt. At the home turn, Greek Game made his move. By the quarter pole the two horses were side by side, California Kid on the rail, Greek Game on the outside. Then began the Pier-Sixing.
The two horses bumped slightly, but neither broke stride. Running nose to nose they bumped twice more under left-handed whipping by both jockeys. At the 16th pole they cleared each other and stormed under the wire in a photo finish. From the eighth pole on they had never been more than a few inches apart. The crowd of 22,945, which had sent California Kid in at even money, Greek Game in at 3 to 2, stirred restlessly while awaiting the results. After a few minutes the tote board flashed: "1-4-6-2." California Kid, Greek Game, Buddy, Aberion. Cheers and jeers went up, and so did a little red notice: "Inquiry."
Rex Ellsworth and Trainer Meshach Tenney ambled to the winner's circle. Greek Game's owner, Hooper, ambled in the opposite direction. Bill Hartack slid off Greek Game and mumbled: "There was a lot of bumping down the stretch." Willie Shoemaker turned his mount over to an exercise boy without comment. Minutes passed, and still the little red "Inquiry" hung over the track like an unfinished sentence.
September 9, 1956
Then came word from the announcer. The stewards were making the inquiry; there had been no foul complaints from the jockeys. The inquiry concerned only the two lead horses. After 20 tense minutes, during which the judges attended the premiere showing of the film of the race, Greek Game became the winner. For repeated fouls California Kid was moved back to second place. Said State Steward Keene Daingerfield: "From the quarter-pole home, California Kid came out several times under Bill Shoemaker's left-handed whipping and bumped Greek Game, knocking the latter off stride...."
Ellsworth and Tenney sorrowfully withdrew from the winner's circle, and a feverish search finally turned up the victorious Hooper. But both horses and both jockeys had long since retired from the track, and the winner's circle festivities were further dampened by the surrounding crowds of loudly mourning bettors. Standing on the trackside ramp, they shook fists at the judges' booth above, punctuating their gesticulations with messages like: "Nice going, Mr. Capone," and "How much you bet on da winner?"
The complaints achieved all the grandiose success of a Leo Durocher-umpire argument and Greek Game bettors gleefully went off to cash their tickets at $5, $2.80 and $2.40. In all the confusion hardly anyone noticed that the time (1:10¾ for both horses) was plenty fast for a dull track which had acquired the classification "fast" only a short time before the race, after two days of off-and-on rain. Nor was much attention paid to the fact that Greek Game, by nailing down the Futurity, had become the nation's leading 2-year-old money winner: the $87,070 purse boosted his winnings to $199,805, topping by $10,230 the earnings of King Hairan, who a few hours before had captured the Hopeful at Saratoga.