Despite the $2 bettor and the daily double, horse racing is still the sport of kings—or at any rate of queens and khans and Vanderbilts and Whitneys and Phippses and Guggenheims. They are the people whose wealth underwrites racing and whose love of tradition lends a patina of grace to what is essentially a gambler's game. Yet a week from Sunday, when horse racing reaches its most distinguished moment in 1962—the running of the famous Prix del' Arc de Triomphe in Paris—the often saluted but usually drooping banner of international racing will be held highest and waved most vigorously by no king, no khan, no Phipps, but by a chunky little ex-bookmaker from the wrong side of town named Jack Price.
Jack Price owns a 4-year-old horse named Carry Back, a glamour horse of the first class, a tremendously exciting competitor who has become a genuine celebrity. Carry Back usually lags behind the pace until the bettors scream with pain, and then he comes on with a tremendous rush through the stretch. He won the richest race in the world in 1960, when he was a 2-year-old, and last year he took both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, both with come-from-behind finishes. This year he became the fourth horse in history to win more than $1 million in purses. He is the most famous horse in America at the moment, and possibly in the world, and Jack Price has flown him to Paris to run him in the Arc de Triomphe against the best horses Europe has to offer. Other American horses have raced abroad and others have raced in the Arc—and lost—but this is the first time an American horse of Carry Back's high reputation has gone over at the top of his form to put that reputation right on the line. It's quite a thing, and it has given a substantial boost in prestige and publicity to the cause of international racing. And what do American horsemen think of Jack Price for doing this? They think he's crazy.
"I don't know why he's doing it," said a man who has followed the horses in England and in France as well as in the U.S. "I don't see how Carry Back can possibly win. Look. The Arc de Triomphe is run on grass, rather than dirt. Carry Back has had only one race on grass in his career, and that was a year ago and he finished seventh. That's significant, because he's finished worse than fourth only twice in his last 32 races—once was in the Belmont Stakes, when he hurt himself, and the other was in that grass race. He isn't at home on grass. Secondly, the distance of the Arc is 2,400 meters, which is about a mile and a half. Carry Back has run 51 times in his career and only twice has he been in races longer than a mile and a quarter. He finished seventh in one, the Belmont, and a very bad third, nine lengths behind the winner, in the other. He doesn't like the distance.
"On top of that, in the Arc they don't start the race from a gate, as we do here. They use a net stretched across the track in front of the horses which springs up when they're ready to start. Let's see how he starts from that. They run the race clockwise around the course, instead of counterclockwise, as we do here. In other words, he's got to run in the wrong direction. He has to carry 132 pounds, which is an awful lot of weight in a race that long. The Longchamp course, where the Arc is run, isn't flat. It undulates. It goes uphill during the first part of the race, then downhill around a curve into the homestretch. He'll feel that weight. Beyond all this, he has the problems of running on a strange track under a strange jockey. And in a strange country. It's too much. It would be a miracle if he won."
September 30, 1962
Even the press jumped on Price. "Jack Price is doing his best to knock Carry Back out of the running for Horse of the Year honors," wrote Mannie Kalish, the able racing writer of the New York Post. "As an admirer of the lean, long-striding colt I shudder to think how unfavorable his chances are in the Arc.... It is a question whether Carry Back will retain his form for late fall racing after the trans-Atlantic round trip."
"Price has gone about it all wrong, too," said the veteran of European racing. "He waited until the end of August before he did anything about a jockey. Then Liz Whitney Tippett phoned England and got Scobie Breasley for him. Breasley is good—he even won the Arc one year—but Price is having trouble getting him over from England to work the horse. Carry Back should have a French rider, one who is there and who knows the course and the horses and the other jockeys. He could have had Neville Sellwood, one of the best riders in France. Price is stabling Carry Back with Alec Head, a highly respected French trainer, and Sellwood usually rides for him, but Alec doesn't have anything going in the Arc.
"Then there's the thing about the shoes. Carry Back's regular racing plates have a high toe and blocks. A week or so before he left for Paris, Price heard that he'd have to use flat French shoes in the Arc. So he charged ahead and had them put on. Then he decided to ask permission to use the old shoes and had the Jockey Club's Marshall Cassidy phone Paris. The French said O.K. if the shoes weren't dangerous to other horses and that Carry Back's sounded all right. Off came the French shoes, on went the regular ones. But when Price got to France the American shoes were examined and declared unacceptable, and now he'll either have to file Carry Back's down flat or put French shoes on. It's a bit late to get the horse used to strange shoes.
"Price should have planned things. It's a year since he first talked of going over. He could have had someone like Godolphin Darley act as his agent. Darley is bilingual and knows everything about French racing. A man like that would have foreseen the problems and had everything straightened out well ahead of time. Really, it's a shame. If Carry Back finishes better than 10th he's a wonder horse."
The man didn't say so, but the feeling persisted that the bluebloods in racing will not cry themselves to sleep if Carry Back and Price fail in France. Old-line horse people have never held Jack Price in very high esteem, though they do like him personally—it would be difficult not to like this humorous, quick-witted, considerate man. But some of them resent what might be called his usurpation of the position as chief spokesman for horse racing. Price and Carry Back have dominated racing news for two years now, partly because of Carry Back's remarkable success but just as much because Price is delightfully refreshing copy in a sport wallowing in its own clichés. ("Hell," said a pro-Price man, "Jack has got more good publicity for racing in the past two years than those so-called sportsmen have in their lifetime.")
The older, more conservative racing people feel that it is really not quite fair that Price and Carry Back have had so much success. Price entered racing full time only seven years ago, although he has had at least a part ownership in racehorses through most of his adult life. He took over training of his own horses, a sacrilegious step to those who feel a trainer must undergo a long apprenticeship before he can possibly know enough to be successful. The bloodlines people feel that Carry Back is badly bred for a championship horse, and they seem to imply that this somehow is inexcusable. Carry Back's dam, Joppy, raced seven times and was beaten seven times, and his sire, Saggy, was a cheap and unfashionable stallion, though in truth he wasn't a bad horse at all. He won eight of his 14 races, earned over $60,000, set a world record for 4½ furlongs, beat Citation in the only race that superb animal lost during his 3-year-old season and has a fairly good record as a stud. "He gets winners," Price said. "And that's all I was looking for. I wasn't trying to breed a classic horse." Even so, Carry Back has more classic blood in him than the extremists would have you believe. His four great-grandsires were Equipoise, Hyperion, Blenheim II and a son of Teddy, and you can't do much better than that. The trouble is, the combination of Saggy and Joppy sounds so awful that it's been accepted as gospel that Carry Back was bred like a cart horse. And Joppy didn't help much to dispel that belief when just a month before her famous son won the Kentucky Derby she died in Florida after being kicked in the head by another mare, a marvelously rowdy death to add to the wrong-side-of-the-tracks legend.
Price has a distinctly nonblueblood background himself. Born in Cleveland 55 years ago, he is the oldest son of a poor Jewish immigrant from Russia who, Price says, was a horseman, too—he sold vegetables from a horse and wagon. Jack began scrambling for a dollar when he was 8 years old. He caddied, he worked as a messenger, he was a candy butcher, he ran a newsstand in the Cleveland railroad station, he took bets (and paid fines for taking bets). He married a pretty Irish girl named Katherine Boyle (they have two pretty daughters) who was working in a candy shop in the Cleveland station, started a loan company which he eventually sold to a national firm, Personal Finance Co., invested his money in a manufacturing concern, became president of it and in 1955 sold out his interest to his brothers, Leo and Max. Then he retired ("I'd been working for 40 years," he said. "I figured that was enough") and went into horse racing. He gets along with everyone around the tracks, and almost everyone calls him Jack, from exercise boys to members of The Jockey Club. But he has definite and outspoken ideas on horse racing that differ markedly from the traditional.
There's no great secret to training horses," he said a few weeks ago, before leaving for Paris. "I could take a high school graduate and teach him to be a trainer in six months. I don't say he could get a job as a trainer, because he couldn't afford to make any mistakes. If I hadn't been working for myself I'd have been fired for the mistakes I made when I was first training. But he could learn enough to get a job as an assistant trainer and go on from there. There's no mystery to it. It's just common sense and experience, like anything else.
"They have some strange ideas in racing. Certain things are right and certain things are wrong. Certain stallions become fashionable, and if you don't breed to them you're not doing things the right way. You're not in fashion. It's like a woman who wants a Givenchy dress—if that's the right name—and she'll pay $800 for an original. A few months later she might find an exact copy of it for $89 someplace. It's the same dress, isn't it? But it's not as fashionable. The men who own the stallions create the fashion. It's good business, I suppose, but I don't know. There's one man, I swear he'd breed a mare to a Cadillac if he could convince buyers it was fashionable to own a foal with fins.
"I've been criticized for running Carry Back too often. But I've never sent him out to run when he wasn't ready. He's a tough horse and he's consistent. Not running him as much might have saved me some criticism, but it wouldn't have made him a better horse. I have another colt named Dirby Line who's had trouble with his ankles, and I've raced him only two or three times. He still isn't any better than he was. After Carry Back lost the Belmont last year they were saying that I had overworked him and that now he had broken down and was all through. He rapped himself in that race, and I held him out for three months, until he was ready again, and then I entered him in a $6,000 allowance race. I never enjoyed a race of his more than that one. He won it, and he came back a few days later and won the Jerome Handicap and he's been fine ever since.
"I was criticized in 1961 for saying that as far as I was concerned Carry Back was a moneymaking machine and the Kentucky Derby was just another horse race. I wasn't misquoted, but I was misunderstood. I was half kidding with the writers, but what I meant was that as far as the horse was concerned it was just another race, and if he wasn't ready for it I wouldn't run him. Some of these sportsmen will do anything to a horse to get him on the track for the Derby, or for any other race they want to be in badly enough.
"They're saying that I'm crazy to be going over to run in the Arc, and maybe they're right. But what can we lose? When I first began to run Carry Back as a 2-year-old I thought he was nothing but a sprinter, so I ran him a lot to win what I could fast before the races got longer. Then, when we found out that he was more than that, we went for the bigger races. I had to make him a supplementary entry for The Garden State and, in all, that cost me $12,000, but I thought it was the best bet I ever made in my life. The horse was 8 to 1, but I stood to win more than $160,000 for my $12,000, and that's 13 to 1. Even if he finished as low as fourth I would have got my money back and more. He won. Of course, I supplemented for the Champagne Stakes, too, that year for $10,000, and Carry Back got left at the gate and finished last."
Price thinks like a gambler, not in the sense of what-the-hell-take-a-chance, but in the practical, mathematical way of the professional, estimating what he might lose against what he might win, weighing the odds and always trying to get odds that are more in his favor than pure chance. All of these factors had been carefully considered when, a month ago, he announced that Carry Back was for sale for $1 million.
"If I sell Carry Back," he went on, "the new owners may elect to run him for a while next year before putting him to stud, in order to get some of their purchase price back. But if he isn't sold, I won't run him. The money he might win would not be important in comparison to the possible damage he could do to his future stud fee as a stallion. If he runs well he won't add much to his prestige. But if he runs badly he could ruin the reputation he has now. It isn't worth the risk.
"Some people are using the same argument when they talk about me taking him to France, and they say I'm crazy to do it. I can't understand them. First of all, it's a great thing for international racing to have the best horse from the U.S. go to a race like the Arc. And unless the horse gets badly hurt—which is a chance you take anyplace—I honestly don't see what I can lose, except for the money it's costing me to go over. That will run close to $20,000 for travel and living expenses for Mrs. Price and me and the horse and his groom and the exercise boy and the vet, and for the insurance premiums we have to pay. He's insured already for $1 million, and the premium on that is $35,000 a year, or about $100 a day. For this trip the premium triples to about $300 a day.
"But the important thing is, the horse's reputation can't suffer. Maybe he'll lose, but that doesn't worry me. He's lost before. I know he'll run a creditable race no matter where he finishes, because he always has. He always tries. If he does lose, they won't blame him—they'll blame me. And if he wins"—Price grinned at the prospect—"Carry Back's stud fee will go out of sight. And we'll win a $150,000 purse, too.
"I like this horse," said Jack Price. "I like money, too. There's nothing inconsistent about liking both a horse and money, is there?"