The ingenious device of collecting the best trotting horses in the world and pitting them in a championship race should be enough to make the Roosevelt International a rousing success—which is exactly what it was last Saturday night. But no promoter worthy of the name would settle for such an artless gamble, and in the weeks before each International, Roosevelt produces—and newspapers gleefully pick up—the hokiest publicity stunts since Brody went off the bridge. On these pages are a collector's treasure of purest puff proving that Americans have not yet grown too cool for corn. For a further report on races past and present, and the men behind all this wonderful bunk, see the following pages.
MIDSUMMER FAIRY TALE FOR OLD FOLKS
Between you and me and the lamppost," confided the promoter of the most razzle-dazzle harness race of them all, "as a horse race this often doesn't amount to much. What you've got to realize is that artichokes can be more interesting than a horse's record." Forget the records. In eight years New York's Roosevelt Raceway has parlayed pumpernickel, a goat, a revolution in Argentina, the Baron Andreas von Beess und Chrostin ("Call me Andy"), the lord's third horse and, of course, artichokes, into a big-time sports event.
What Roosevelt's President Alvin Weil was talking about last week was the $100,000 International Trot. It is a harness race, and often an exciting one. It certainly was on Saturday night. But what good is a good race if nobody knows about it?
They know now. Since it staged the first race in 1959, Roosevelt has been weaving what it soberly refers to as "The Legend of the International," a sort of midsummer fairy tale for older folks.
The Roosevelt formula began, perhaps by accident, with the crisis every press agent dreams of.
There was Jamin, deprived by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of his ration of Normandy artichokes. The French trotter languished in his stall. The supply of artichokes imported from France with the horse had been impounded and, according to Roosevelt officials, Jamin's temperature had begun to rise.
Veterinarians prescribed other foods, but to no avail. Hourly bulletins reported Jamin's condition. Newspapers began to take notice. The New York Times put a man on the artichoke beat.
Meanwhile, Trainer Jean Riaud cancelled Jamin's workout because the trotter was too sick. Jack Paar appealed nationally for artichokes. First, a hothouse owner in the Bronx came up with some. But Jamin turned them down (and the man was later turned over to the police when a crop of marijuana was found among his vegetables). Finally, according to the very words in this year's International brochure, "investigators, working in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade and Hercule Poirot" found the right kind of artichokes in California. Girl scouts harvested the crop and the artichokes were jetted to Jamin, who immediately recovered and went on to win the race.
All this Roosevelt managed with a completely straight face. The track has been hard pressed to keep it straight since. Joey Goldstein, Roosevelt's current publicity boss, did not invent the legend. That man, Nick Grande, has gone on to become a vice-president. Joey did not invent it—he topped it. Goldstein was hurt last week at the mere thought that the public might have gotten the wrong idea about the ill Jamin. "We never said Jamin needed artichokes to survive," he protested. "We simply said the horse liked them."
In 1960 Roosevelt discovered Baron Andreas von Beess und Chrostin, and never mind that Andy had been working as a groom at the Ben White Raceway in Orlando, Fla. just 18 months before. He was a handsome 31-year-old Austrian, a bachelor and the owner of a castle and 1,200 wooded acres. Unfortunately for his image, the Baron showed up at Roosevelt Raceway with a bride. But the Baron's horse, Iton, made amends. He took to eating Schmalzbrot (pumpernickel and lard), oranges and grapes, and by race time, according to Roosevelt's announcement, he became ill "because of a raid on the stable icebox at midnight." The fact was, he had injured a hind leg. Iton did not start. But the crowds came anyway.
A year later a newspaperman touring European harness tracks at Roosevelt's expense came upon a fine mare named Kracovie. Kracovie had a companion called Brigitte, variously described as a St. Cloud mountain sheep, a goat or, as the newspaperman reported, "something like a wallaby." It was said that Kracovie would fret and fume without Brigitte. And, naturally, Brigitte was no more welcome than an artichoke in the eyes of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
When Kracovie flew into Idlewild for the race, a Government official boarded the cargo plane, pistol drawn, to dispatch Brigitte, but Brigitte had been left at home. Kracovie was inconsolable, Roosevelt reported. She refuses to eat and drink, Roosevelt reported. She has lost 70 pounds, Roosevelt reported.
The track received 119 telephone calls offering goats as companions. Thirty-four appointments were made. Finally, out of fatigue or infatuation, Kracovie found a new Brigitte. That Saturday night the French horse finished second to Su Mac Lad, whose claim to fame was more pedestrian—he was the world's leading money-winner.
"Kracovie was hurt by the many calls that were made on her for publicity purposes," said her trainer after the International. "All that business with the goat. She was not at her best."
In 1962 Roosevelt invited Eidelstedter, a West German horse who drank beer. Good for one column, but the best story at that International was Thomas Atkyns, the trotter caught in a revolution on a Buenos Aires street on his way to the airport. A drawbridge went up and the horse missed his plane.
He was hidden away in a hangar, smuggled out of the country, carted all over South America and, 6,000 miles later, arrived in Miami to, literally, collapse under a palm tree. Thomas Atkyns got to Roosevelt the day before the International but did not race in it.
The 1962 winner was Canada's Tie Silk, and he defended his fourth start in the International. What could be new about Tie Silk? "His driver," said Joey Goldstein. "That's what's new." The driver was Frank Baise, a 30-year-old Mohawk Indian who eight years before had driven his first trotter on a U.S. track and had been driving here and there ever since. Joey figured most New Yorkers had not seen an Indian since the Wappingers sold Manhattan, so the International went Indian. Princess Kahntineta-Horn led 75 dancing Mohawks down Broadway to Rockefeller Center, where they beseeched Gitchi Manito to scatter the rain clouds. Fair weather was needed, you see, because Tie Silk never raced well on a wet track. Sad to relate, he did not race very well on a dry track either, at least not that time.
Last year the theme was Roman and the excitement was British. Roosevelt introduced the foreign horsemen to the press at a lavish brunch at The Forum of the XII Caesars and, to vary the routine a little, had two of the guests arrive by chariot. "The first harness drivers were the charioteers," explained Joey Goldstein, feeding the press grapes and things.
Among the invitees to this International was real, live British nobility, namely Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Alexander Rowley-Conway, O.B.E., the ninth Baron Langford and a 53-year-old master of Bodrhyddan Hall at Rhuddlan in Flintshire, north Wales. Although Lord Langford has a proper castle, which he describes as "a bloody ruin," he did not have a horse.
"After I was invited," he recalls, "both my horses were laid up. I told Roosevelt I couldn't take the trip. They said, 'Look here, we're all jacked up for you now, and you've got to get a horse somehow.' So a friend got poor old Hans B. for me. He was the top trotter in Wales, not bad class and had won some races in the spring. But, let's face it, he wasn't up to standard." "We wanted that lord," says Joey. Hans B. finished last, 25 lengths back. The American press didn't care. One writer referred to poor Hans B. as "the lord's third horse."
Each July the previous year's International is getting to be a tougher act to top, but last week Roosevelt managed, even though things began ominously. There was a New Zealand trotter of distinction named Field Chief. Goldstein decided to stage a "Commonwealth Championship" in Britain, with the purse to be provided by Roosevelt. Since Hans B. had beaten what competition there was in England, Scotland and Wales, the event would be a walkaway for Field Chief, who would then come to the International with a title.
Poor Field Chief spent three weeks in an Auckland warehouse until his freighter had taken on enough cargo for the trip, another five weeks at sea and one week more in an English harbor because of a seamen's strike. Roosevelt reported that only an appeal to Queen Elizabeth, who, everybody knows, loves horses, got Field Chief off the boat. But then, à la Thomas Atkyns in 1962, the horse staggered onto land and collapsed ("You see," said Joey, "the horse fell down and kissed the ground") and the Commonwealth Championship had to be postponed. "I overdid myself on that one," Joey says.
In the meantime, Roosevelt decided that 1966 should be the year of the Vikings, in honor of Pluvier III, the Swedish horse that had won in 1965. Invitations to a brunch reading, "Kare Travvan, Vi vill harmed inbjuda Er till...." were airmailed from Stockholm to New York's press corps. Only the vital words, "The Four Seasons, 99 East 52nd Street, New York, New York" were in English. This restaurant, which cost more than any in the world to design and equip ($4.5 million), is decorated with Chagall and Picasso tapestries. Its foliage changes with the seasons. It is the place Sharman Douglas picked to throw a farewell bash for Princess Margaret last fall. "I'm very glad to be able to finally get to this restaurant," said Roosevelt President Weil as a staff of 29 began serving the 110 members of the press.
At the end of the brunch post positions for the International were drawn, not from the traditional hat but, instead, from a Viking's helmet. Gunnar Nordin, the driver of Pluvier, modeled it. Gunnar is very obliging. In 1965 when he won the International he jumped into a swimming pool at his motel, clothes, flowers, trophy and all. It made a splendid picture.
This year Gunnar gave Goldstein an idea. His horse, although the defending champion, had a lackluster record coming up to the race. "He only seems to do well at home," explained Gunnar. "I guess he misses the diesels." "What diesels?" said Joey, brightening. "The trains that run by his stable in Sundsvall," replied the driver.
Joey immediately dispatched a cable to a Swedish newspaperman. He needed the timetable of the trains. He sent someone else to Sam Goody's on West 49th Street to buy stereophonic tapes of diesels for Pluvier. Meanwhile he found that Italy's Carmelo was stabled near a drag track, so he decided stereophonic sports cars might please the bay stallion. Norway's Merceno is trained near Oslo's harbor. "Pick up a tape of harbor sounds," Joey said.
In the end, sounds of jet planes were piped to Germany's Pick Wick F.; sea gull cries and the boom of surf provided atmosphere for France's Roquepine; and farm sounds (of a babbling brook, sheep, cows and a barking dog) helped make France's other entry, Quioco, feel at home.
Then human interest struck. The Wednesday before the International, Pluvier came up with a headache. "Sunstroke," the raceway veterinarian declared. "Sunstroke?" said Joey, brightening again. After consulting with an Oklahoma sunstroke specialist, ice packs and a ton of oxygen were administered to reduce the fever. Pluvier rallied after seeing his picture in the paper.
Final prerace excitement was provided by a Brooklyn wigmaker named Harry Levenson, who suggested the horses wear dyed manes and tails in the colors of their national flags. "That's a good idea," said Joey, who knows good ideas. But the artificial tails kept falling off. And when the publicity department asked the racing commission for permission to use the colored manes in the post parade, at least, the spoilsport commissioners said no.
By International post time, a huge crowd had assembled at Roosevelt. The favorite was Armbro Flight, the Canadian-owned filly who for the past two seasons has been the best trotter racing in the U.S. Her driver, Joe O'Brien, had taken good care to keep her away from the fun and nonsense leading up to the International. She was shipped into Roosevelt the day before the race and by then all the hokum stories had been printed and the International barn was relatively calm. For one thing, they turned off the taped sounds.
Pluvier III came out from under the ice pack and joined the lineup. But the most significant prerace story went untold. Armbro Flight came into the paddock lame. "She can't win," predicted O'Brien. But she did.
The International was a corker. Time for the mile and a quarter was 2:31⅗ just a fifth of a second off the world record. It was the fastest International ever and certainly one of the best.
On a hot July night, the 40,117 crowd was a tribute to purest promotion. So was the $2,391,282 handle. The fact that the race was good was the payoff. Of such things are legends made.