Norman S. Woolworth of New Canaan, Conn. and Winthrop, Maine is a tall, 36-year-old, unfailingly good-humored sportsman of an uncommon breed. As owner of the Clearview Stable, which has its headquarters on the 1,750-acre family estate near Winthrop, Norman Woolworth is deeply committed to the tight little world of harness racing. In scarcely more than a decade in the sport, he has become a highly knowledgeable horseman and a first-rate amateur driver. Some of the great trotters and pacers of recent years—among them big money winners like Muncy Hanover, Bright Knight, Hillsota, Egyptian Princess, Sh Boom and Porterhouse—have raced under his silver, red and blue colors. (Porterhouse, winner of the American Trotting Championship last season, defends his title at Roosevelt Raceway this Saturday.) Last month Woolworth added another star to the cast in Meadow Skipper, a 3-year-old pacer for whom he is said to have paid $150,000.
Woolworth is a director of The Hambletonian Society, a director and vice-president of the Lexington Trots Breeders Association, a trustee of the Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y. He is the donor of the Norman S. Woolworth Challenge Trophy, awarded to the amateur driver scoring the most points in races around the Grand Circuit. Harness racing proudly points to him as an owner and competitor in the great tradition of E. Roland Harriman and the others who kept the sport alive at Goshen in the 1920s and 1930s. "Norman Woolworth, a horseman has said, "is a young blood of the old school."
What makes Norman Woolworth a rare kind of sportsman is that—deeply involved as he is in harness racing—he has not lost interest in other sports. He has not been fenced in. He remains a man who is at home almost anywhere around the sporting scene. He still races a few Thoroughbreds. He is as emotionally involved as ever with the fortunes of the New York Yankees, the New York Rangers and the New York Giants of professional football. He continues to follow the fights, to hunt, to fish, to bowl and to play a game of golf that has improved to the point where his wife Toni, who was women's Eastern champion at 24, no longer can spot him a stroke a hole.
The most active participants in any of sport's tight little worlds are usually so wrapped up in their own affairs that they have difficulty in communicating with strangers from the outside. Not Norman Woolworth. Wherever he goes, he speaks the language like a native. For example, in describing the qualities of his great pacers, Muncy Hanover and Bright Knight, for the benefit of a baseball man some years ago, Woolworth said: "Now, Muncy Hanover is a little fellow. He takes three times as many steps as anyone else. But he's fast, and he reminds me of Phil Rizzuto tearing down to first base. Bright Knight is big and powerful. He reminds me of Moose Skowron."
July 14, 1963
Woolworth could have made the qualities of the pacers understood as easily in the world of books and music and the theater. His interest in the arts is as keen as his interest in sports. As a matter of fact, he is interested in so many things that he is up and about at 5 o'clock in the morning in order to have time to pursue at least some of them. Without ever appearing to be harried or hurried, he crams an amazing lot of activity into every day, keeping in touch with his New York office and his nonsporting investments, consulting by telephone with his driver-trainer, Earle Avery, wherever he may be, working with Link Keene, who supervises the breeding and training programs at Clearview in Winthrop.
He is not the sort of man who ever finds himself at a loss for something to do. One day 14 years ago he came close to being immobilized for some hours. It was the day he married Elaine Antonia Fanoni of New York. The ceremony was set for 4 p.m. at New York's Plaza hotel. If he was to observe the tradition that the groom is not to see the bride before the ceremony, it meant that he was faced with several hours of nervous floor pacing. So, instead of just waiting around, he decided the right move was to catch the first game of a double-header at Yankee Stadium.
"I still think it was a sensible thing to do," he says today, "but it caused me some embarrassment when Toni and I were standing in the receiving line responding to well-wishers after the ceremony. I got along fine until a close friend of mine came along and said the usual things about long life and happiness. I kept murmuring, 'Thank you, thank you,' and then I blurted out, 'Say, did you happen to hear what the Yanks did in the second game?' "
Happily, Norman Woolworth could not have had a more understanding bride. Toni Woolworth is a lifelong baseball fan. Her team, at the time, was the New York Giants (there is a Woolworth horse named Say Hey Kid), but her all-time baseball idol is the Yankees' Joe DiMaggio. As a matter of fact, she shared—and continues to share—all her husband's interests in sports. Their courting included many a ball game, hockey match and prizefight as well as a generous quota of afternoons (this was before Norman's harness racing phase) at Aqueduct and Belmont. Through it all, there were only two occasions that could be called downright unromantic. One night at a prizefight a fighter's rubber mouthpiece came flying out of the ring and landed in Toni's lap. She picked it up and hurled it back at the fighter. It was a little unnerving and, at the very next fight, it seemed to happen all over again. Only this time what fell in her lap was a set of chattering teeth that Norman Woolworth had picked up in a novelty shop.
The Woolworths—Norman, Toni and their son, Norman Jeffrey—spend their winters at their Connecticut home, which is set down on 65 acres in New Canaan, and their summers at their big, white rambling house in Winthrop. There are three other family houses on the Maine estate, which lies on the shores of Lake Cobbosseecontee. One belongs to Norman's mother, Mrs. Pauline Woolworth (his father died a year ago), another to his sister Pamela (Mrs. Bernard Combemale), and the third is the summer residence of Norman's brother Fred, who now spends his winters as owner and operator of El Convento Hotel in Puerto Rico.
Norman Woolworth is continually being asked in sporting circles about his family's connections with the founder of the 5 & 10¢ stores. The facts are that his grandfather was a cousin of the original F. W. Woolworth and himself established the first Woolworth stores in England. Norman's father, Norman B., tried managing a store in New London, Conn. as a very young man, did not care for the work and went off to build his own fortunes in real estate, sugar and other investments.
The Norman Woolworths were the first of the family to arrive in Winthrop this summer. They drove from New Canaan in a red station wagon which they shared with their four dogs: a beagle, a corgi, a bull mastiff and a mongrel named Lexie they had picked up as an abandoned puppy in Lexington, Ky. some years ago.
As usual, they found great activity around Clearview Stable. There seemed to be foals in almost every other stall, with more due to arrive momentarily. Mares from other owners were being brought to Clearview's stallions. Horses were being worked on the half-mile training track, including the 4-year-old twins, Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Twin births are a great rarity among Standardbreds. The odds against both surviving are astronomical. The chances of both getting to the races are so slight that even the experts will not hazard a guess at the odds. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, who were sired by the former champion, Galophone, out of Woolworth's mare Novelle Hanover, both made it.
Three-year-old Norman Jeffrey Wool-worth inspected his pony Mousie, a gift from the famous owner-driver, Del Miller. Then Link Keene showed him the sulky that was being converted into a pony cart. Norman Jeffrey expressed satisfaction with both exhibits and went off with his father to catch the first fish (a perch) of his young life. Meanwhile his mother was looking over the freshly painted obstacles in the infield of the training track where she would later ride her 6-year-old jumper, Snow Goose. When nothing else was going on at the training track, Norman Woolworth himself would probably be jogging the distance on foot as part of his personal physical-fitness program.
In one of the stalls was a 19-year-old mare named Moretta. If she seemed to wear an air of proprietorship, she was entitled to it. Moretta was the cause of it all.
"My brother Fred," said Norman Woolworth, resting his elbows on a fence rail, "bought Moretta back in 1953 for $200. She was mean then, and she's still mean. Anyway, when Fred bought her, he began to pester me to go with him to the trots around Maine. I finally gave in and found myself becoming interested. Moretta, who hadn't raced in a couple of years because of her disposition, developed into something of a favorite with the Maine harness racing fans. They discovered that on the nights she intended to make a real effort to win she would hold her tail up high as she came on to the track for the warmups. When the tail went up she usually won, and the bettors waited for Moretta's signal before placing their bets.
"That fall Fred suggested that we go to the sales at Harrisburg, Pa. and start to build up a stable in a serious way. Well, we bought four horses for too much money and found out later that we had nothing. So then we decided we needed some expert advice. We went to see Walter Gibbons, now the general manager of the Lexington Trots, then the racing secretary of Roosevelt Raceway. We asked him to recommend a good trainer. Walter thought a couple of days and recommended Earle Avery [still Woolworth's driver-trainer at 69]. We hit it off fine with Earle, and one of his first purchases for us was a stake winner named Filet Mignon. We later bred her to Dave Johnston's Rodney and got Porterhouse, who won the American trotting championship and a total of $135,086 last year. Incidentally, I named Filet Mignon's second foal Tenderloin. I have another horse named Lamb Chop, and I'm beginning to run out of cuts of meat."
(As Fred and Norman acquired more and more horses, their father observed their activities with a somewhat skeptical eye. Gradually he himself became interested enough to climb aboard a sulky and jog a horse now and then. But he contended that, if the truth were known, nobody was able to tell one horse from another. He got up early one morning and attempted to prove his theory. He switched several horses around to different stalls and then waited to see how long it would take the grooms to discover the deception. It took them no time at all. Mr. Woolworth had to confess his error, but he fell back to a prepared position from which he announced a new theory: chimpanzees, he said, could easily be taught to play bingo.)
Norman Woolworth walked away from the rail of the training track and sat down on the grass. He picked up a blade and nibbled it and mused aloud:
"In 1956 my brother Fred joined the syndicate that bought the Detroit Tigers and withdrew from harness racing altogether. That left me with full responsibility for the stable. I counted up what I had. I think there were about 75 horses. I decided to sell off half of them. One I planned to sell was Betty Frost, an Adios mare we had bred to Knight Star. But at the time of the fall sale she took sick. Her foal was a puny-looking thing, so I decided against selling either one. A good thing, too. The foal picked up and turned out to be Bright Knight, who took the $68,042 winner's share in the Empire Pace at Yonkers and has total winnings of $142,417.
"But I believe the best horse I ever owned was Muncy Hanover. Earle Avery went with me to the yearling sales the year I bought him. I was after an Adios horse, but I was outbid on our first three choices. That left Muncy and, although he had a fine set of legs, he looked awfully small. As the bidding began, I looked at Earle. Earle said, 'Well, if you still want an Adios, you'd better go for this one and pray that he grows.' The bidding got up to $22,000 and I bid $23,000. Somebody bid $24,000. I looked at Earle again. 'Norman,' he said, 'if he was worth $23,000 to you, he ought to be worth $25,000.' I got him for that.
"Muncy didn't grow much more, but he developed terrific speed. When he'd get out in front, the other horses would make you think of a pack of greyhounds chasing a rabbit. Muncy set stakes records in the Goshen Cup and the Ohio Standardbred Futurity and a world record for 3-year-olds when he won a heat of the Little Brown Jug in 1:58[3/5]. He was retired at age 6 with total winnings of $220,768 and is now standing at Lana Lobell in Hanover, Pa.
"Another great horse that I bought as a yearling at the auctions was Egyptian Princess. I paid only $2,000 for her. In contrast to Muncy Hanover, she was a good-size filly, and she continued to grow in training. In 1955 she won the Hanover Shoe Filly Stake and the Walnut Hall Stud at Lexington. Next year she won the Coaching Club Trotting Oaks at Goshen, and in 1958 she won the Transylvania at Lexington and the U.S. Harness Writers Trot at Roosevelt. She was the best bet I ever had for The Hambletonian, the last one that was run at Goshen. She was a winter-book favorite and was heavily favored on the day of the race. However, in the first heat she got her left forefoot caught in the wheel of a bike ahead of her, and at least half of her hoof was sheared off. Between heats, the blacksmith built up the injured hoof with plastic wood, but, although she was back on the track for the next heat, she finished far back and The Intruder was the winner. Of course, I don't say that the Princess would have won if she hadn't had the accident. I don't believe in second-guessing a race. She might very well have been at her best and lost anyway."
Woolworth took Egyptian Princess to France for the Prix d'Amérique in 1959 and, all being well, hopes to do the same with Porterhouse next January. Woolworth's attitude about Egyptian Princess reflects his realistic feelings about the sport in general. He does not believe in entering horses in classic races unless he feels they have a reasonable chance of winning. This year, for instance, he will probably pass up The Hambletonian, in contrast to some owners who enjoy the prestige of just having an entry in that race. The same realism is to be found in Woolworth's administration of Clearview's business affairs. Although he enjoys every minute of the sport and could afford to operate at a loss for the sheer pleasure of being in it, he wants to see black ink on the books at the end of the year. He usually does. Last year his horses won more than a quarter of a million dollars, and he has had better years than that. But he is as gracious in losing as he is in winning.
"Norman is the best loser I've ever seen," says his friend Dave Johnston, a 37-year-old textile manufacturer of Charlotte, N.C., an owner and breeder and amateur driver of Standardbreds. "I know he was terribly disappointed when Egyptian Princess lost The Hambletonian. But he was the first man to shake the hand of The Intruder's owner, Leonard Buck." (Woolworth did more than that: he slipped a considerable bonus into the pocket of Driver Earle Avery and told him not to feel bad.)
From his vantage point at trackside on the Maine farm, Norman Woolworth watched the horses who were being worked and from time to time glanced inquiringly at Link Keene's wife, Grace, who held a stopwatch in her hand.
"The great thing about owning Standardbreds," he said after a moment, "is that you can be a participant as well as a spectator. You can work your horses and sometimes race them. You get to know their idiosyncrasies, and so you have a better understanding of what is happening in a race. Trainers like their owners to work and drive their horses because then they don't come running down after a race and ask, "What happened?' The owner-driver usually knows."
Woolworth chuckled. "Speaking of idiosyncrasies in horses," he said, "we've had some oddballs from time to time, but never anything to match Sh Boom, a son of Rodney bred by Dave Johnston. Sh Boom, who is now 9, raced at Lexington and Roosevelt this spring and has had total winnings of $104,318.
"But when we first brought him here to Clearview we discovered that we had a problem on our hands. Sh Boom just didn't seem to care to race. Hitched up to a sulky he just stood there and refused to budge. Nothing we could do could persuade him to move. He was having none of it. Finally Earle Avery, Link Keene and I talked over the problem and Earle came up with a suggestion. He proposed that we hitch Sh Boom beside a workhorse and have the pair of them pull a manure wagon around. Sh Boom resisted that, too, but the big workhorse dragged him along and pretty soon it was clear that Sh Boom was ready to take up trotting. We had no further trouble with him."
That evening Norman Woolworth sat on the terrace outside the living room of the big white house. He had had a couple of tall drinks before dinner, had eaten three Maine lobsters and then had gone upstairs to hear Norman Jeffrey's prayers. Now he looked out over his acres and the great lake beyond, the picture of an utterly relaxed and thoroughly contented man. Toni Woolworth gave the four dogs a brushing and there was small talk about books and plays and horses and comic strips and motion pictures.
"What's at the drive-in?" Norman Woolworth asked suddenly.
"A couple of horror pictures," said Toni Woolworth. "They sound awful."
"Oh," said her husband. He sounded as disappointed as if movies were the one great interest of his life. But then he put the record straight.
"I'll never forget one night at that drive-in," said Norman Woolworth, compleat sportsman and the man who took in a baseball game on his wedding day. "I forget what pictures were playing there, but anyway I turned on the car radio and heard Warren Spahn pitch a no-hitter."