The two Chicago meetings at Arlington and Washington parks produce the finest summer racing in the United States, the finest opportunities for horsemen who in 67 racing days can shoot for 28 stakes worth $1,150,000 and the finest facilities for patrons, who can get away from the summer heat at the world's only two entirely air-conditioned grandstands.
A lot has been said—and not half enough done—about giving racing's mainstay, the $2 bettor, a fair shake for his money. Well, at Chicago it has been both said and done, entirely because a master executive named Benjamin F. Lindheimer has had both the vision and the courage to realize that racing can never succeed unless it has the public's confidence and acceptance. Lindheimer, at 67 a far-sighted realist, is enough of a sound businessman to know that there is no substitute for a satisfied customer. Executive Director of both Arlington and Washington parks, Lindheimer drives himself relentlessly through a year-round schedule aimed at only one objective: to build up racing. "We have," he was saying the other afternoon, "a lot of progress to make and a tremendous responsibility to the public. We must, for example, completely protect the integrity of racing because most of the general public and a large percentage of our patrons believe racing is still dishonest. They are unfamiliar with our various protective measures and the vigilance of our racing officials. Until the public accepts us a hundred percent, I'll feel we're not doing everything we can for the sport of racing."
Actually, Lindheimer has probably done more than anyone in the country to build up this needed public acceptance, and a visitor to Arlington or Washington parks is treated as royally in the grandstand area as he would be in the exclusive turf clubs at most other U.S. tracks. There is a seat for every Chicago racing patron who wants to sit in one and, as California's Rex Ellsworth remarked during a stopover at Arlington last week, "One of the great features of racing here is that everybody makes you feel at home all the time."
To some of the country's biggest and most successful stables, Chicago is home and will probably remain so for a long time to come. Calumet has summered there for over 20 years. Mr. and Mrs. Allie Reuben's Hasty House Farm, Freeman Keyes's Reverie Knoll Farm, Mr. and Mrs. Dan Rice's Danada Farm and Fred Hooper, just to name a few, are the big names in Chicago racing. And most of these outfits aren't about to move. Reuben, for example, is probably summing up the opinions of most of his mid western racing contemporaries when he says, "Chicago offers great stake opportunities for every class of horse. They seem to give us a diversified program with real scope to it. I particularly like the turf program, and I think the public is really getting to like watching the grass races."
In the matter of horses, the impression here is that California may have (or did before Hollywood Park recently closed) a higher proportion of established allowance horses in the $15,000 to $30,000 bracket and that the East's 2-year-old crop may be better as a group. But there too we get on dangerous ground, because it's too soon to judge 2-year-old form, although certainly Poly Hi (out from New York) looked great in winning the Arlington Lassie on Saturday and so did Fred Hooper's Alhambra in taking the Arlington Futurity the previous week (only to be disqualified for a stable-mate's foul). I don't know what Saratoga is going to turn up in the way of new faces in the 2-year-old ranks, but I can assure you that Calumet has some good ones at Washington Park. It is amazing to think that here is a stable which has won over a million dollars in purses this year already—and it was done without starting even one 2-year-old. In fact the first one did get to the races just a week ago. He was a beautiful dark bay son of Bull Lea named Kentucky Pride. Off at even money, he coasted home by five lengths. "We think he may be all right," said Jimmy Jones with a grin. "But we've got some others, too. Fifteen in all, and six of them look real promising. The two I like best so far are Temple Hill—he's a Citation—and a Tom Fool colt named Tim Tarn." Jones's grin got more serious and turned itself into a worried frown. "Who knows," he added. "We might have one just good enough so we'd have to send him East to try for that Belmont Futurity and The Garden State. Yep, we just might have to."
The real hero of midwestern racing is a perfectly put together 4-year-old bay named Swoon's Son. This beautiful running machine, owned by Lexington breeder E. Gay Drake and trained by A. G. (Lex) Wilson, is without a doubt one of the most underrated—and one of the finest—horses to have appeared on the American scene in the last 10 years. A son of the better-than-average stakes winner The Doge, out of Drake's own race mare Swoon, Swoon's Son has toiled faithfully around the Kentucky and Chicago circuit for three years with such success that in 32 starts he has never been worse than third (except when once moved back on a disqualification). Today he stands seventh on the alltime money-winning list, sandwiched between such impressive names as Native Dancer and Assault, with a bankroll of $685,530. Swoon's Son is the kind of horse that can do just about anything—and has. He's won from five-eighths of a mile to a mile and three-sixteenths. He wins on dirt or grass. He's won with 132 pounds and is always giving away weight to his opposition. "One of the nicest things about this horse," says Chicago Steward Keene Daingerfield, "is that the men who own and train him could teach plenty of racing people an awful lot about sportsmanship. It's a joy to see men who never kick or complain, never make an excuse or ask for an advantage. They accept the weight given the horse and send him out to run."
They sent him out again last week in the Arlington Handicap, on grass, and Swoon's Son beat everything but a 4-year-old named Manassas. In receipt of seven pounds from Swoon's Son, Manassas won his fifth consecutive turf race. Dave Erb had a little problem in the traffic with Swoon's Son on the far turn, and by the time he got him straightened out and headed for home Manassas was through and away to win by two lengths.
Chicagoans were a little disappointed at seeing their hero lose, but Trainer Wilson consoled himself with the thought that there are still "races worth $550,000 which we could run in between now and November 30."
With all Chicago's wonderful features, conveniences, hospitality and general attractiveness, it is a crying shame that there isn't more patronage of a setup which has sunk over $4 million into just trying to make people feel at home. But the fact remains: Chicago is a great sports town but a bad racing town. Attendance averages around 15,000 at Arlington and Washington parks. Ben Lindheimer explains: "We seem to be years behind other parts of the country in building suitable parkways, and today it takes a good hour to drive to either track. [Trains taking about 35 minutes bring 24% of all patrons to Arlington; 31% to Washington Park.] But now they're building the Northwest Expressway and the Tri-State Toll Road, and in a few years you'll be able to drive to either track in half an hour. When the roads get finished we'll start packing our race tracks. I've gambled four million bucks on it, fixing up the tracks so that when the crowds do start coming they'll want to come back. Now, I don't propose to lose four million."