The expansive straightaways and the sweeping, carefully banked turns of the turf course at Chicago's Arlington Park are clogged with heavy traffic these mornings as the nation's best grass horses receive their final preparations toward the rich ($100,000) and significant Arlington Handicap on August 22.
Sharp-eyed, professionally skilled clockers, those colorful keepers of a dawning hour when racing stars are made—not born—are paying particular attention to the work of the United Nations contingent representing Hasty House Farm: the Irish-bred Jack Ketch, the English-bred Troubadour II, the Chilean-bred Sarcasmo and the American-bred Ekaba.
Owned by Toledo's Allie and Billie Reuben, Hasty House has enjoyed unusual success in American turf racing—three successive victories in the Arlington Handicap, for example, from 1953 to 1955—largely with horses purchased abroad by 65-year-old Realtor Reuben and brought to a fine edge of condition by 47-year-old Harry Trotsek, one of America's most competent trainers, whose off-course business acumen is almost on a par with that of his astute and affluent employer.
With the notable exception of the world's leading money winner, Round Table, who seems equally at home on dirt or grass (and who is also pointing for the Arlington Handicap), few of America's top horses have been permitted to race on the turf by owners and trainers fearful they may break down on the relatively uneven surface. Nashua, Citation, Native Dancer, Tom Fool, Bold Ruler and other contemporary greats went through their entire careers racing solely on the main dirt course.
Rather, it is the foreign horses, accustomed to racing on the grass in their native lands and purchased in increasing numbers during recent years by American sportsmen, who have been winning the rich purses established by U.S. tracks on infield turf courses built as a crowd-pleasing novelty.
Reuben, once president of the Toledo Mudhens, who gave Casey Stengel one of his first managerial posts in baseball, is the father of—and the most successful participant in—this comparatively recent trend. Pockets bulging with foreign form charts, extended pedigrees, comparative analyses and other statistical information brought up to date daily by mail, cable, telephone and messenger, the bow-tied Ohioan is a walking library on the performance, quality and value of just about every topnotch Thoroughbred racing anywhere in the world today.
A stuffed briefcase, which accompanies Reuben on his endless travels throughout the U.S., contains those books and photographs he is unable to jam in his jacket; while in Toledo, at his downtown offices and at his suburban, 60-acre Hasty House Farm, extensive card catalogs are neatly indexed to provide him with even more detailed data on bloodlines, conformation, class and other pertinent background.
"Money is no substitute for knowledge in the purchase of horses," Reuben will tell you. "It is important, for instance, to know not only the horse you intend to buy but also the caliber of the opponents he has been meeting and the prospects of his adaptability to our American racing procedures."
Organized like the State Department, the Reubens' international activities involve not only material published abroad but also personal representatives at most of the major turf centers around the world. Experienced and reputable bloodstock dealers like Frank More O'Ferrall of the Anglo-Irish Agency and France's well-known Godolphin Darley are quick to alert "A.E.R." (Allie E. Reuben) to any opportunities for the purchase of a crack horse in their locale. After checking their suggestions against his files Reuben makes a decision on further action.
Telephone bills reach astronomical figures when Reuben swings into action as he burns up the transcontinental and transatlantic wires in diligent pursuit of first class racing material, for which he has spent over $1 million.
Reuben insists on conformation photos and occasionally on film footage showing a horse's action in galloping to determine whether or not the action would be suitable to American tracks. For additional advice on conformation Reuben relies heavily on his wife, once one of America's premier equestriennes. Winner of many honors in the show ring and at hunt meets, Billie Reuben has as sure an eye for fine points or faults in a horse as anyone in racing.
The first foreign-bred the Reubens bought is the best grass horse they've ever owned. Stan, bred in England, was purchased for a sum "in excess of $30,000" as a 3-year-old in 1953 from the international dealer W. C. Reid.
"It was getting difficult to obtain horses of some established form in this country at a fair price," Reuben recalls. "So when I was advised of this opportunity, I flew from Miami, where we were racing, to a farm near Newark, N.J., where Stan and other horses from England were in quarantine. I bought him shortly after."
Stan went on to earn $230,850 in the Reubens' blue-and-silver silks, was voted the best grass horse of 1954 when he swept the Arlington, Meadowland and Grassland handicaps, plus other major stakes.
Encouraged by Stan's success, the Reubens proceeded to gather such good ones as the English-bred, French-blooded Mahan, who beat Swaps in the 1956 Arch Ward Memorial and won the 1957 running of the Washington, D.C. International ("Our greatest single thrill in racing"); the Irish-breds Summer Solstice and Stephanotis, both of whom triumphed in Hialeah's coveted Bougainvillea Turf Handicap; the Irish-bred Jack Ketch, winner of the rich Canadian Championship last fall; the Argentine-bred speedster Mister Black; and others from France, England, Ireland, Chile, Australia and Argentina.
It should be noted, however, that the Reubens have also raced some fine American-bred horses. When they came into racing, shortly after the end of World War II, they had moderate luck with yearlings from the sales rings at Keeneland and Saratoga. "Then," Reuben recounts, "we decided to buy 'made' horses on my handicapping; horses we thought we could improve. In 1949 we purchased Seaward and Inseparable from Brookmeade, and they won over $450,000, most of this in our colors."
Other crack horses owned by the Reubens include the Preakness and Widener winner, Hasty Road ("our best horse"), who earned $541,402; Oil Capitol, a winner of $580,756 (owned in partnership with Trainer Trotsek); Sea O' Erin ($407,309); Queen Hopeful ($365,044); Ruhe ($294,490); Platan ($245,405); and additional clever stakes winners like Alspal, Pomace and Hasty Doll.
Trotsek is the only trainer the Reubens have ever employed. "We were showing and hunting horses in the Detroit area when we decided to come into racing," said Reuben. "We checked into the background of trainers stabled at the Detroit track and found that Harry's care of a horse came closest to the methods we used for our own stock. He had a public stable at the time, and we became one of his several patrons. A few years later, when we expanded our activities, he gave up the horses he had for others (except a few of his own) and has trained solely for us ever since."
Trotsek is considered a master at getting the most out of his horses in the afternoon with a minimum of effort on their part in the morning. He is also recognized as an outstanding developer of jockeys and is responsible for bringing out such boys as Ken Church, Lois and William Cook and Johnny Sellers.
Trotsek is a serious student of his profession, is as expert a teacher of horses as he is of men. "I'd say that patience is the primary quality a trainer must have," Harry advises, "particularly in dealing with foreign-bred horses. Remember that in Europe and other parts of the world horses are trained in seclusion at a private 'yard' and are only brought to the track for a race. Trainers abroad can take time with their stock, while we in this country must rush through our work each morning because the track closes for harrowing at 10 a.m. In addition, radios blare and automobile horns honk in our stable areas, noises foreign horses are not accustomed to in their private yards. You must have patience until they have had time to become familiar with our way of life.
"There are other differences, of course," Trotsek continued. "They reshoe frequently abroad, using heavy nails, and when foreign-breds come over here we must take time to let them grow a new foot. Many European horses are accustomed to having their stall doors shut completely and I usually start them off with a large screen to give them privacy but permit the air to circulate. And then they must be ridden differently. Foreign jocks neck-rein a lot with a long hold; our boys reach up with a short hold behind their ears. The keynote of our entire operation is patience and understanding. We think we're going about it the right way."
The record book speaks in Trotsek's behalf.
For two weeks the racing public had been vainly hoping for a climactic meeting between the leading 3-year-old fillies—namely, Resaca, Quill and Silver Spoon—for a convincing demonstration of which is best. Yet none of them showed up at the Delaware Handicap a fortnight ago, where the promised meeting was supposed to take place. And last week only Silver Spoon was present at the Monmouth Oaks. Just to muddy the picture further, the C.V. Whitney filly ran a disappointing third in the latter race to Royal Native and Indian Maid in that order.