The very irreverent horse trainer

Arnold Winick says any reasonably intelligent young man can handle Thoroughbreds. This heresy, coupled with his own success, has not endeared him to some oldtimers
February 04, 1963

If you look over my horses," says Arnold Winick, the trainer, "you'd be pretty silly not to see that I've got just about everything. You name the kind of race you want a horse to run in—a $3,500 claimer or the Kentucky Derby, a three-furlong sprint or a race at two miles—and I've got a horse that can run in it and win. How did I get them? Some of them came to me because my reputation has grown so fast and some of them came to me because different owners started noticing that I work as much as 21 hours a day at my job. But I don't think a darned one of them came to me because I was 'just plain lucky.' "

This week, as the important 40-day meeting at Miami's Hialeah racecourse enters its second quarter, Arnold Winick is its leading trainer. Blue-eyed, handsome, confident, successful, natty, cheerful, brave, clean and irreverent, Winick is moving toward far more than the trainers' championship at Hialeah this year, however. At the age of 35 he has a very good chance of becoming the youngest trainer in racing history to saddle the winners of over $1 million in purses. Within the next 13 weeks he will be trying to win:

•The $100,000 Widener Handicap or the $145,000 Santa Anita Handicap with Sensitivo, the most improved distance horse in the country.

•The $100,000 Flamingo Stakes, the $100,000 Florida Derby and the $125,000 Kentucky Derby with two prize colts, Swapson and In the Pocket.

•The $35,000 Kentucky Oaks with Smart Deb, the top 2-year-old filly of 1962.

Though he finished second in the trainers' standings last year in money won, with $871,275, Winick has still not attained the fame that normally accompanies such success in Thoroughbred racing. In Florida, where last season he trained a record number of 51 winners, he is as well known to the tourists as pompano and key lime pie. He is well known, too, in Chicago, where he finished second (16 winners to 15) to M. A. (Mish) Tenney at last summer's Washington Park meeting. (It was Tenney, the cowpoke conditioner for Rex C. Ellsworth's powerful West Coast stable, who beat Winick out for the money-winning championship in 1962 and it is Tenney whom Winick must beat this year.)

There are some racing people who feel that Arnold Winick is not the complete horseman in the sense that Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, Jimmy Jones or Mish Tenney are. These critics maintain that Winick simply hires excellent help and then rides along on their coattails. This is standard criticism, in racing, of someone who has achieved success at a young age; when it is said about Winick, however, there often is an edge to the speaker's tone. Perhaps the edge is there because Winick's self-confidence can be interpreted as cockiness, perhaps because the game of horseracing, a holy calling to many of its followers, is the target of Winick's irreverence. "I do not believe," he said recently, "that training horses requires more intelligence than any profession in the world or that the smartest men in the world are involved in it. I think that any young man of normal intelligence can be a tremendous success training horses today."

If such views offend some backstretch experts, they have not blinded a good number of the more discerning. About the time he was beginning to attract attention, Winick was walking alone over the sandy bridle path at Hialeah with a porkpie hat tilted on the back of his head. Five trainers were seated around Barn A, telling lies, and as Winick walked by, a few uncomplimentary remarks were whispered. Things like "Pretty Boy" and "Beau Brummel." When Winick was about 50 yards away from the group Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons raised his cane and pointed it at Winick's back. "Some of you fellows knock anything that looks like it might be good," Fitzsimmons said. "If some of you had your way they'd of never got Coca-Cola off the ground. I don't know where that kid's from but he has a sense with animals and he's going to be one of the biggest trainers around someday."

Arnold Winick is from Glenview, Ill. When he was 10 an uncle, who was a judge from The American Kennel Club, convinced Winick that he should become a dog handler. Working basically in the obedience and conformation classes, Winick won blue ribbons at shows in Chicago and New York by the time he was 15. In 1949 a dog owner paid off a $900 board bill by giving him a sore-legged Thoroughbred named Miss Navanod and Winick immediately began to train her.

"It took me three years," he says, "before I got a winner. Finally I sent a filly which I had saved $2,000 to buy—Kathleen R.—to the post at Sportsman's Park in Chicago and she won."

The Argentine experiment

For several years, as his winning totals increased, Winick was known only as a trainer of second-grade horses. In 1959, however, Mrs. Herbert Herff turned over Tudor Era to him, and Winick started the horse in the Man o' War at Aqueduct. It was Winick's first $100,000 race, and Tudor Era won. Other owners began to give him quality horses then, and began to allow him considerable leeway in training and racing them. A born experimenter, Winick also expanded his interests in other directions. "I began reading magazines from the Argentine," he says. "In 1961 I got interested in a horse down there named Sensitivo, flew down to see him, had a vet look him over and bought him for Mr. R. F. Ben-singer." Last year Sensitivo was one of our best distance horses, winning the Gallant Fox and Display handicaps. Winick currently has nine Argentine horses in training. "I believe," he says, "that they have exceptional ability and that American methods will make them run better."

Winick's method with his horses is to be at the track each morning at 6, either at Hialeah or Gulfstream Park. (With over 50 horses to bring to hand it is necessary for him to stable at two tracks—stall space in racing today is too precious for any track to give 50 stalls to any one stable.) He examines each of his horses like a doctor making his morning rounds in a hospital. Instead of taking his horses out to the training track in large groups he prefers training two or three at a time so that he can watch each one closely. He then spends considerable time thinking over what each one did in training and what each should be able to do during the afternoon and in upcoming races.

Of all the horses under Winick's care today, Swapson, the most expensive Thoroughbred yearling ($130,000) ever sold at public auction in the United States, is drawing particular interest. In 1961 Winick tried to buy Swapson at the Keeneland Summer Sales for Ben-singer but John Olin outbid them. Two days after the sale Olin called Winick and said, "Arnold, you liked that colt quite a bit, didn't you?"

"Yes," said Winick.

"Would you like to train him?" asked Olin.

"Yes!" said Winick.

Swapson got shipping sickness in the spring of 1962 and nearly died. Winick stayed up nights with the colt and nursed him back to health, only to have him buck his shins in the early summer. Swapson finally got to the races last fall, won his first race and then was beaten in his second. Last Thursday, Swapson made his first start of 1963 and was third. "He is definitely one of my Derby horses," says Winick, "and he's got the stuff to be one of the best 3-year-olds around."

Winick's skill as a developer of jockeys as well as horses is also on display this year, in the person of 18-year-old apprentice John Beebe, who rides most of the stable's top horses. Beebe, another native of Glenview, was a success on the horse show circuit and once worked as an exercise boy for Carl Hanford, the trainer of Kelso. Two years ago Beebe was out of a job at Christmastime and thumbed through a copy of the Daily Racing Form to see who the top trainers were. He saw Winick's name atop the list at Tropical Park, called him and was hired. Winick gave Beebe his first mount, then his first winner, and Beebe is now the top apprentice at Hialeah and may become the Ronnie Ferraro of 1963.

With the major spring stakes coming up, Arnold Winick will be the man in the East to watch in Thoroughbred racing. In those cities where newspapers are still published, the chances are you will be able to watch him just by looking at the headlines.

PHOTODAPPER AS USUAL, WINICK POSES AT GULFSTREAM WITH TOP RUNNERS SWAPSON (LEFT), SMART DEB (CENTER) AND SENSITIVO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)