The most elegant showcase for the formal display of the horse undoubtedly is Toronto's Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. There, in a bunting-bedecked coliseum, some 600 American and Canadian horses vied for red rosettes while Toronto citizens, equally competitive, vied for tickets to see them perform. At New York's National, which immediately precedes the Winter Fair, one sometimes feels that only members of that vaguely entrenched group caricatured as the horsy set worry about seats. In Toronto, it seems, everyone wanted to go to the fair. All seats were sold and the sign, familiar on Broadway but rarer than eccentric Mrs. Libby Chase Swift's jumping mule at a horse show, appeared: "Standing Room Only." Even standing room sold so well the fire department had to call a halt.
Thousands daily streamed under the monumental arch not only to see the show but also to visit the two-story horse palace, the flower exhibit and the lavish displays of cattle, swine, sheep, rabbits and birds. For the Winter Fair, modeled frankly on Chicago's gigantic International Livestock Exposition (now in progress), has outstripped its ideal. It has, in addition to size, a formal elegance that relies not only on the presence of perfectly attired box holders in white tie and sweeping dresses, but also on the proceedings in the ring itself. For example, for the presentation of awards, a relatively casual ceremony in the U.S., two soldiers roll out a special red carpet so that the ladies need not trail their long gowns in the tanbark when bestowing trophies. Even the show's end, when God Save the Queen is played a final, nostalgic time, is as stirring as the actual performance. The show's champions pass under a triumphal arch of flags to mass in the ring in colorful confusion, along with the Mounties, the international teams and wagons laden with farm produce and flowers.
The Canadians are not only out to thrill the audience but to inform it. An electric timer flashes the seconds so that all can keep track of timed events, and a scoreboard posts for ready reference the number of faults made in jumping classes.
With all of this excellence of staging and presentation, it came as a surprise to some that Canadian horses failed to make more of a showing. The bulk of first-place honors went to U.S. horses but this is less surprising than it seems. With only three major shows in Canada (against 15 or 20 in the U.S.), there is little opportunity to develop the polish needed to overcome the thoroughly practiced U.S. invaders.
December 3, 1956
A DOC FROM ILLINOIS
It was a combination of a Canadian-owned horse and a surprise driver from St. Charles, Ill., R. C. (Doc) Flanery, that kept at least some Canadian silver at home. Doc, the flamboyant driver of many a champion road horse, had retired from showing trotters in the ring in order to train them for the track. However, when Montreal's Roy Calder turned up with a cyst on his hand and was unable to drive, a phone call to Illinois brought Doc Flanery back into the ring to take over Calder's good road horse, Royal Commander. Elbows cocked, leaning out of the buggy at his usual 45° angle, with one foot on the side bar and the other braced against the dash, Doc seemed delighted to be back in the ring, and the crowd cheered its approval. When the red carpet was put in place and the new roadster champion announced, Doc drove both horse and buggy into the middle of the carpet to receive the rosette.
The Toronto show also is the scene of the final appearance of the international jumping teams. The U.S. horses were jumping both high and handsome, and this was more than evident in the International Individual Puissance (one of five events in which they placed first). In the jump-offs the jumps were raised repeatedly until the stone wall towered at 6 feet 3 and the triple bar was spread to nine feet and raised to five and a half (higher than anything in the Olympics). Only Hugh Wiley on Nautical, the big palomino which had to stay home from the Games because of a nail in his hoof, and Mexico's General Humberto Mariles on Chihuahua II were left. Chihuahua II refused the ultimate challenge, and a limp but triumphant Wiley accepted the red rosette for the U.S. (In Canada red is first and blue is second.)
Busier than any horse at the show was Virginian Robert Burke. In the $1,500 Open Jumper Stake he rode (among others) Black Velvet, owned by the A.B.C. Farms of Brompton, Ontario; Bar Hop, property of Alan B. Connell Jr. of Fort Worth; and Saxon Woods, owned by the Saxon Woods' Farm, White Plains, N.Y. The stake was won by the Canadian horse, with the Texas horse second and the New York horse third—all with Burke aboard.
As was traditional, the last class of the eight-day show was the international team challenge trophy event—total low score deciding the winner. It was soon a contest between two teams.
Although the U.S.'s Defense made a clean trip for Frank Chapot, he was slow and received half a time fault. Mexico's Julio Herrera on the 14 de Agosto made his round without a fault. Hugh Wiley on Nautical came close to going off course, swung quickly back but was forced to take a refusal, which added time faults to his score of one knockdown. Mexico's Hugo Barragàn, riding at Toronto in place of Samuel Soberon, had one knockdown and a quarter time fault with Tarahumara. Bill Steinkraus' First Boy added to the American score with two knockdowns and a quarter time fault. Last to ride was General Mariles on Chihuahua, and it seemed as certain as sunrise over Chapultepec that the Mexicans were going to pull off their usual last-night coup—despite the fact that the general had received the disturbing news that his government had just appointed five new official teams without consulting him. Even with three knockdowns they would still win, and three knockdowns for Chihuahua seemed highly improbable. The bobtailed horse popped over the first few obstacles with ease. Then, inexplicably, the general turned left when he should have turned right. The Mexican team was disqualified, and the second-placing U.S. team was suddenly first. "The general," murmured one of his teammates regretfully after the show, "has his troubles. He has many things on his mind." The general also had tears in his eyes.