As post time approached for the first International Championship Trot at New York's Roosevelt Raceway last Saturday night, handsome Jean Riaud, driver of the French horse Jamin, was a troubled, frowning young man. "I do not know what to expect," he said. "I cannot plan how to drive. Always in France, Jamin has the handicap; we start behind the other horses. I take him out to the center of the track so we cannot get into trouble with the other horses—and he wins. Here"—and he shrugged—"I do not know. I think he is the best horse, but maybe he will not like this [half-mile] track. In France the tracks are bigger, the turns are not so sharp." Then he excused himself and drove out to race.
Up in the clubhouse, Del Miller, dean of U.S. drivers, was talking about a chance meeting with Riaud that morning. "We're old friends," said Miller. "I got to know him real well in France last winter. I told him this morning—'Jean, the only horse you've got to fear is the American Trader Horn. Follow him. Follow him as long as you can. At the end, pull out and go' I think he'll win," Miller concluded, "and I'm betting on him."
In the plush Directors Lounge overlooking the track, Madame Leon Olry-Roederer, owner of the French horse, saw Jamin come out on the track and also excused herself. She'd never seen Jamin race; all through his four-year career, though he'd won the vast majority of his starts, Madame Roederer had never been able to bring herself to watch. Nerves, she explained, and disappeared in the direction of the powder room.
Johnny Simpson cornered a friendly reporter in the paddock. One of the best trainer-drivers in the business, Simpson, normally the noncommittal horseman, was surprisingly animated. "Listen," he told his friend, "I've been watching that Jamin work out. He can go far and he can go fast. A beautiful gait. Trots like our Dean Hanovers. Here," he said, fishing out a roll of bills, "you're leaving anyway—put this on Jamin for me. If you're smart, you'll put some up yourself. I can't leave the paddock; I got some horses to race later on."
August 9, 1959
"Sorry," said his friend. "You know I never bet. Besides, I'm going to report the race from here."
Simpson shrugged and they turned toward the track.
Eight trotters—one each from France, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Canada and the U.S., and two from Italy—paraded to the post before a festive opening night crowd of 48,000. The setting for this first world championship event was perfect. A balmy, starlit evening, a superbly conditioned track surrounding a sparkling green infield, the drone of an occasional plane overhead cutting the tense, expectant hush. Trader went off at 4 to 5; Jamin at nearly 5 to 1; most of the others at long odds.
Going into the first turn, Jamin broke stride, something he'd done only once before in five years. (Riaud explained later: "It was the sharp turn. He is not used to it.") But he recovered quickly, and Riaud had him tucked in neatly behind Trader Horn at the quarter-pole. (In the clubhouse Del Miller nodded, pleased.) From then on, until the last few yards, Riaud sat, immobile, behind his horse as a succession of trotters fought for the lead. Each time he passed the paddock turn (there were three circuits in this mile-and-a-half race) the knowledgeable railbirds there marveled at Riaud's relaxed drive. "Look at him," said Simpson. "He might as well be in a rocking chair. He just knows he's the best."
Starting the final lap, Riaud really showed his confidence. Trader Horn was leading, and Riaud pulled out alongside and went the last half mile on the outside. (Trader's driver, Billy Haughton, said later: "When I saw him go outside, I figured here was my chance to gain some ground. But I couldn't—not an inch.")
Turning into the stretch, Riaud shook the lines slightly, and Jamin had a two-length lead in seconds. The race appeared over until, with yards to go, the game Italian, Tornese, also passed Trader and began to challenge. Riaud slapped the sulky shaft with his whip, and the race really was over. (Asked, later, why he'd used the whip when he never had previously, Riaud said: "I think we would win anyway, but I also think why should I take the chance? I do not want to say to myself tomorrow if I lose—why, Jean, didn't you do something?")
In the powder room, Madame Roederer had fainted. She had not reckoned with the fact that Roosevelt's public address system carries the call of the race everywhere on the track. Just listening to Jamin race was too much for his owner. But they revived her in time for the elaborate ceremonies in the winner's circle.
Del Miller beamed as he headed for the cashier's window. Jamin paid $11.70 for each $2 bet.
In the paddock, Johnny Simpson turned to his friend. "You knothead," he said. "You cost us both a small fortune."