Charles Engelhard arrived, a Coca-Cola in his hand, his racehorse trainer following with a six-pack and a bucket of ice cubes. It was barely dawn. The shedrow lights burned and the silence of the foggy Carolina morning was broken by the snorts of racehorses being readied for workouts and the thin plaintive song of an exercise boy. In the sparse stable office Engelhard put his ebony cane on the desk, settled into a chair and reached for a glass jar that was filled with Hershey's Kisses. He quickly ate several. "I'm not allowed these at home," he said wryly.
Home is an estate in Far Hills, N.J., a house by the water in Dark Harbor, Me. or Boca Grande, Fla., apartments in New York, London and Rome, a mansion in Johannesburg, a lodge in the lion country of the eastern Transvaal and a salmon river camp in Gaspé, Quebec, all places supervised by his wife Jane, a brilliant, 10-Best-Dressed woman whom New York society affectionately calls "Our Mother Superior."
The ashtray soon overflowed with silver Hershey papers. Engelhard walked slowly outside, through the long airy barn. He moved ponderously, leaning heavily on his cane, pained as always by an arthritic hip. In England a race-goer once recognized a rumpled Engelhard laboring up the stairs in a railroad station. "Good morning, sir," the punter said. "I'm sorry to see you don't move as well as your racehorses." Engelhard was amused.
No, he does not move well. Nor is he ever likely to join his wife on a 10 Best list, even though a valet named Derek travels with him. That morning in the Aiken, S.C. stable Engelhard was sock-less, his feet zipped in fleece-lined hide boots. He wore two sweaters, a bulky scarlet and a blue, which rolled and bunched over mustard slacks—disordered clothing that hardly suited the image of international tycoon. Yet a tycoon he is, a walking conglomerate. His $15 million Thoroughbred empire, which extends from the U.S. to Europe and South Africa is, in his own words, "a hobby, a relaxation." His horses, after all, race in only five countries; he has businesses in 50—trading in platinum, gold, uranium, diamonds, oil, silver, plastics.
April 27, 1969
Ten Thoroughbreds were now being ridden around the stable ring. Engelhard scanned them and proudly began providing a kind of equine annual report: breeding, performance, a horse's assets and debits—"bad knee... should go better over a longer distance...one of our speculative purchases...." He has a mental file on each of the 240 horses he owns and his memory is remarkable. You can't change something you have already told him—why a horse went lame, why one lost a race—say his trainers. He remembers too well what you told him the first time.
Engelhard has a high-frequency mind, one made restless by inactivity. This, more than a desire for money, undoubtedly has been his stimulus for turning a modest $20 million family business into a $250 million fortune in two decades. A global grasp of business and an influential position in the world's gold and precious .metals markets have made him the confidant of Presidents and Prime Ministers on five continents. When Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson wanted a secluded vacation two months ago it was an Engelhard invitation they accepted for a holiday at Boca Grande. Engelhard picked them up in Texas in his $2.8 million jet and they helped him celebrate his 52nd birthday.
The horses jogged, skittish under the high pines, toward the sandy loam track. Fog covered the backstretch. A pair of colts broke away from the quarter pole and worked slowly, heads bobbing earnestly as they passed the small horseman's stand. Engelhard watched, drinking another Coca-Cola. A group of trainers from other stables kibitzed.
The morning passed with that quiet rhythm that is part of a racetrack regimen. The stakes winners worked anonymously beside the selling-platers, only stopwatches separating them. Toward noon a veterinarian stopped by the office on his rounds. "Would you look at my finger?" Engelhard asked him. "It's giving me some trouble." The vet examined it and sent for a bucket from the shedrow. He poulticed the hand in a horse bandage—an unexpectedly small hand, one thought, in view of the power it held. On Engelhard's wrists were copper bracelets adorned with lions and elephants—conflicting symbols of strength and arthritic weakness. "I've also got an abscess on my side," he told the veterinarian. "Maybe you can do something for that." The vet said he would take a look.
Some of the world does not view Engelhard as quite so down-to-earth. His picture appeared recently in Esquire in a gallery that included Richard Nixon, General Lewis Hershey, John Wayne and J. Edgar Hoover—all were called targets for young troublemakers. The magazine took the first potshot. Engelhard's photograph was captioned: "Fatcat. Powerful industrialist, philanthropist, Democrat. Much of his wealth comes from South African gold." Forbes magazine once identified him as possibly "the inspiration for Ian Fleming's Goldfinger." Indeed, Fleming and Engelhard were acquaintances in the late 1940s. That was when Engelhard, in an effort to avoid international trade restrictions on the sale of bullion, was shipping solid gold pulpit tops, dishes and bracelets out of South Africa. Engelhard takes the Goldfinger talk good-naturedly. For a while he called a stewardess on his company plane Pussy Galore, it is said, and he showed up for at least one party in an orange Goldfinger sweatshirt.
By late afternoon Engelhard was flying north from Aiken in his small plane, a Jet Commander named Pigeon. The little jet landed in Newark and taxied up alongside Platinum Plover, Engelhard's BAC One-Eleven. (His third plane, an Aero Commander, is called Partridge. His helicopter is unnamed.)
"Charlie is a mogul," says his friend Alfred Vanderbilt. "My wife and I have gone to Africa and Asia with the Engelhards and you go first class, I've got to tell you. Everyplace we went we met the important people—lunch with Indira Gandhi, the embassy people. You see the things worth seeing in a country; you don't sit around all day and have drinks. You learn what the place is like and what its problems are. Charlie is a bright and curious man."
The engines of the transatlantic jet were roaring, ready for a flight to London. Engelhard climbed the stairs slowly, the door closed and the plane, which as a commercial airliner can seat 90, moved onto the runway in the February dusk. Charles W. Engelhard, the most intriguing and engaging new figure to enter the topmost echelons of Thoroughbred racing in years, was off to deal with the gold market. And his hand felt better. He has a good vet.
By spending lavishly yet shrewdly, Charles Engelhard has seemingly disproved the theory that a man cannot buy success on the turf. In eight years he has purchased at U.S. auctions some $6 million worth of young horses. "He plays with horses the way I play solitaire," said a Jockey Club member. Among Engelhard yearling purchases were the winners of five English and Irish classic races, and his horses have been placed in four other classics. Not since Calumet's heyday here or Sir Victor Sassoon's a decade ago has an owner done so well in classic races in so short a time. Engelhard's current 3-year-old star, Ribofilio, is the favorite for this week's 2,000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby, the first two legs of England's Triple Crown. Engelhard calls Ribofilio "the last of the cheap Ribots." The colt cost $110,000 as a yearling at Kentucky's Keeneland sales.
Though Engelhard has had comparatively little racing success in the U.S.—his best performer to date is 1966 Grass Horse of the Year, Assagai—his impact on the American sport has been significant. "There used to be a feeling that no yearling was worth $100,000," says John Finney, president of Fasig-Tipton, a major Thoroughbred sales company. "Mr. Engelhard raised the lid. The psychological barrier is largely dissipated." In the past four years Engelhard has bought between 25% and 40% of the top-quality U.S. yearlings that were sold at auction.
The high risk involved obviously exhilarates him. He has a propensity for the hazardous—he delights in driving a Sting Ray flat-out or a high-powered speedboat at full throttle through the rocks at Dark Harbor. Furthermore, Engelhard likes to gamble, chiefly at poker and backgammon. Racing suits him admirably. "He's got a lot of horses and a lot of action" is the way one racing man puts it. "Buying yearlings is a superb game of chance."
Engelhard the businessman is substantially different from Engelhard the sportsman. The businessman was tutored from childhood by a stern Prussian father. Charles Engelhard Sr. emigrated to the U.S. from Hanau in 1891 as the sales representative of a platinum firm. He invested in precious metals companies, amassing substantial holdings and increasing his wealth. "My father was very thorough, very Germanic," Engelhard says. "He controlled every detail of the business. He visited every plant he owned every day, punching in and out by the time clock. In some companies he signed every check for more than 50 cents. I can't ever remember having a personal conversation with him. All we ever talked about was business."
The Engelhards lived in a Rhine-style turreted castle on a hill in Bernardsville, N.J. Each morning Engelhard Sr. would arrive at the stables at 6:45, mount his horse and ride with a groom on the neighborhood bridle paths. He was so punctual that people in the community set their clocks by him. "He made such a fetish of it that I seldom rode with him," Engelhard recalls.
His father died in 1950, but his mother, now 91, continues to balance her own checkbook and marvel at "my boy Charles." At 87 she visited him in South Africa, and he gave a mammoth 90th birthday party in her honor at the Plaza Hotel. Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield and the Duke of Windsor were her dinner partners, a former governor of New Jersey toasted her and the New Jersey Symphony played. Friends like to tell the story of Mrs. Engelhard, several years ago, listening to a discussion of starvation in India and of how a $300 million grant was being made to help relieve the situation. "Is Charlie giving the money?" Mrs. Engelhard asked.
She was almost 40, and her husband nearly 50, when their only child was born. Seldom has a son and heir turned out so extraordinarily well. Reflecting on this, Engelhard notes, "I'm only the second generation. They say it takes three generations to lose the family money."
In 1947 Engelhard married a tall, striking widow, Jane Mannheimer. Her first husband, an Amsterdam banker, was, like Engelhard, one of the world's richest men. In pre-World War II Europe Fritz Mannheimer floated loans that kept whole countries from sinking. At their marriage he was 49; she was 21. Eight weeks after the wedding Mannheimer died, and the following day his investment house closed, bankrupt. Jane Mannheimer went to work for a while for John J. Raskob. During the 1940s she operated a microfilm company that copied U.S. war records and material for the Library of Congress. Friends even now are awed by her executive mind and her ability to organize. Her eight homes remain open and staffed, always available to friends. She gives lunches for 50 or 80 people without an eyelash coming unglued. There are frequent weekend house parties that include friends, celebrities and men of power. In election years the Engelhards extend their extravagant hospitality to campaigning Democrats—3,500 people came to a Far Hills barbecue of ribs, beans and hog jowls that they gave for Lynda Bird Johnson, and 1,700 showed up at a garden tea in honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver. On a more private occasion Andy Williams sang at a party for Bobby Kennedy at Dark Harbor. The Engelhard homes are exquisitely tasteful, decorated in pastels and filled with flowers and superb paintings—works of Degas, Renoir, Manet, Monet, Corot, Cézanne, Fragonard and Winslow Homer. Shortly after they bought their Far Hills house and renovated and redecorated it, the Engelhards received a visit from Father Martin C. D'Arcy, the English Jesuit who married them. After a tour Engelhard asked, "Well, what do you think of it. Father?"
My son, with God's help I think you have done a wonderful job," Father D'Arcy said. Charlie is said to have replied, "You should have seen the place when God was running it on his own."
For all the priceless furnishings, the house is a comfortable well-lived-in home for the Engelhards' four daughters (a fifth is married). There are no sons. An ancient parrot, Jacob, which Engelhard was given when he was 5 or 6 years old, holds dialogues with himself in the study, occasionally interrupting himself with a "shut up" or calling in a high-pitched woman's voice, "Clark, Clark." For several years the Engelhards employed a butler named Clark who would come rushing to the study at the parrot's call—the bird had learned to imitate the voice of Mrs. Engelhard.
A kennelful of prize golden retrievers—the Engelhards have won best-in-breed three times at Westminster—romp through the living room. "The house was named Dogwood Hill when I bought it," Engelhard says. "But soon our friends were calling it Dog House. That's when I decided to change the estate name to Cragwood."
The menagerie once included a lion cub. The Engelhards took him to their Canadian fishing camp each June, shipped in a crate along with some of the golden retrievers. "I don't know what the customs man would have thought if he had opened the lid," Engelhard says. Eventually the lion became difficult to handle and was given to the Toronto zoo. At the zoo's suggestion, Engelhard imported a mate from Southwest Africa. "I always go to see Charlie and Jane when I am in Toronto," Engelhard says, apparently not abashed at the names of the pair. "Once I found them separated, and Charlie looked forlorn. I asked the keeper what had happened. He told me they had been making love all the time and had been drawing the wrong kind of clientele to the zoo."
More celebrated Engelhard donations have been to the White House—a $25,000 18th-century cr√®che and antique dining room furniture (Jane Engelhard was a member of Jacqueline Kennedy's Fine Arts Commission)—$500,000 to Boys Town and $1.25 million to Rutgers University for a graduate school of business administration. The Engelhards subsidize the New Jersey Symphony, and he is a director of the Bronx Zoo and the World Wildlife Fund.
What is perhaps more telling of their generosity is that the Engelhards would give, as they did a few years ago, a wedding reception in their Johannesburg mansion for the daughter of their housekeeper. And Jane Engelhard, like other New Jersey housewives, solicits for the Community Chest. "I remember her showing up with the rest of us in a church hall in Somerset Hills," a woman says. "She wore a faded coat that looked like it came from S. Klein. When she took it off I caught a glimpse of the label—Balenciaga. She had a diamond on her finger as big as a bottle cap. But when her name was called she trotted up like everyone else and got a certificate for collection—100% in her district."
Praise of Mrs. Engelhard is often lyric. Last year Vogue asked a priest to describe her (she is a fervent Catholic and attended sessions of Vatican II). He quoted Proverbs 31:10: "A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.... She looks well to the way of her household.... Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her...."
If Charles Engelhard can be caught for a fleeting moment in mid-February looking at his horses in Aiken, S.C., he can be found, too, in the middle of June in Canada. That is when Gaspé stirs and warms. The wild grass pushes up and the rivers run surging toward the sea. Men in woodsmen's jackets drift canoes silently down the Grand Cascapedia, eyes squinting for the quick shadows of salmon. The old beaver is back, working above Rock Pool. A moose clambers through the ripple at Limestone. The salmon fisherman relishes the sharp evergreen smell of wilderness, the feel of sun on his back and wet line in his hand. The guide lights a cigarette and the match chokes out as it hits the water. The morning idles, and a man is satisfied with his straight gentle casts.
These are expensive pleasures. Charles Engelhard has probably $1 million invested in 15 miles of salmon river on the Grand Cascapedia in Gaspé, and local records show that only about 40 salmon were taken from his water all last season. For Engelhard, a keen and dogged fisherman, it is a luxury worth affording. He remembers taking this 44-pounder, that 47-pounder, the 40-pounder he landed on a trout rod.
His stretch of water is at its best for only two weeks in June, but Engelhard spends six weeks headquartered there, flogging the water well into the evening while his guests dress for dinner. He tells, with some amusement, of his efforts to improve the fishing. "I was stinking depressed one year," he says. "No one had had a rise or seen a fish. I decided to buy 25 or 30 salmon for $1 a pound from the netters out in the bay and turn them loose in the river. They were towed upstream on a barge and tagged and turned loose. I never heard of anyone catching one of them, but the next morning Jane had a visit from a river guardian. 'I've got some good news for Mr. Engelhard,' the man said. 'The fishing is going to be better. Some crazy American has bought salmon from the netters and is stocking the river.' " Local fishermen say that some years the Engelhards have been obliged to go to the fish hatchery near New Richmond to buy salmon to send their friends, so few are caught on their stretch of water.
The main Engelhard lodge (two nearby camps house the overflow of guests) is seemingly endless, a rustic Pentagon. There is a movie room with reclining chairs and first-run films. Framed letters from Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson, thanking the Engelhards for salmon, hang on the wall. And for the guests there are elaborate meals ("If you get a baked potato it will have an egg in it," one friend remarked). At lunchtime a squad of butlers may take up positions along the riverbank, the pace of fishing being such that the anglers might beach their canoes at several different points. Each butler is prepared, should fishermen arrive, to serve a picnic feast complete with wines and p√¢té.
In mid-August, when the sea trout run ends, in the Cascapedia, the camp closes. The staff of three dozen lines up and Engelhard stands on the porch with his wife and makes a small speech. He tells them quite charmingly in his soft, expensive-prep-school (St. Paul's '35) voice how much this place and these months mean to him. And he presents to each a small gift.
Turn south now, in pursuit of Charles Engelhard, to the heat of Boca Grande in tarpon season, say early April. When the tide sucks out of the straits and these 100-pound fish flail for the bait, Charles Engelhard likes to be there. He has four boats: two 19½-foot jets, one 22-foot Chris-Craft and a 41-foot Hatteras—but he charters two others for tarpon. He talks of the power and splendor of these fighting fish, of hooking one and seeing it crash and jump and hurl in the moonlight.
Boca Grande is an isolated town (pop. 400) of the very rich on a Gulf Coast island that was once a pirate's hideaway. It was discovered in 1910 by a modern buccaneer of sorts, J. Pierpont Morgan, who invested in the phosphate fields of Florida and shipped the chemicals by rail to a deepwater port on the island. The phosphate trains still clatter through and the mansions of millionaires stand a few yards from the tracks, but du Ponts and Vanderbilts cherish the seclusion. It is a place of rich informality, bare feet on marble floors.
The Engelhard house, appropriately, is named Pamplemousse (French for grapefruit). When it was purchased, a tree that bore exceptional grapefruit was growing on the grounds. Engelhard soon suggested that a few more grapefruit trees be planted. "The first year we put in six," he says, "and the old tree immediately stopped producing. Then I put in 12 trees. Still not a grapefruit. I called in an engineer from one of my companies and he built a wall to protect the trees, but a hurricane came from the wrong direction that year and knocked the fruit off. Now we have a lot of grapefruit trees. Each has its own stall shower and manure pit. We should get bushels of grapefruit, but probably we won't. I've found Jane likes to snip off the branches with the blossoms because they are so fragrant." It was to Pamplemousse that the Johnsons came last February.
Engelhard is fascinated by politics and political figures. "Because I have a knowledge of the world's political and economic affairs," he has said, "I have done things on a broad base. I look upon myself as an investor in things that are influenced by international affairs."
His father was a friend of Franklin Roosevelt and twice served as a Democratic Party elector. By his early 30s young Charles was making substantial campaign contributions. In 1951 he backed his New Jersey neighbor, Republican Malcolm Forbes (publisher of Forbes), for the state senate. In 1952 he supported Eisenhower. Then he switched parties, putting his wallet behind Democrat Robert Meyner in the 1953 New Jersey governor's race.
Large Engelhard contributions to the Kennedy-Johnson ticket were thought to have made him eligible for a major ambassadorship in 1961. Instead he served the Kennedy and Johnson administrations on various commissions—NATO, East-West trade—and as the country's representative on such special occasions as the coronation of Paul VI, Independence Day ceremonies of Gabon and Zambia and the celebration of the first anniversary of Algeria's independence.
It is his major role in South Africa's economy that provokes the most criticism of Engelhard. His stature in that country is immense and he reacts to it. An associate tells of flying to Johannesburg with Engelhard. "He was happy, mussed-up Charlie all the way down in the plane. But an hour before we landed, he changed his clothes. He walked off that plane looking like a sultan."
Engelhard's view of apartheid is that "it is not practical." In Johannesburg several years ago he explained his attitude in a speech: "The industrialization of this country has advanced rapidly during the last 20 years, but if this industrial development is to continue, fuller use must be made of the potential skills and capacities of all the peoples who make up the population of South Africa. This calls for more widespread and advanced education, so that leadership and ability can be developed in all sections of the community, both European and non-European. It should be emphasized that the non-European must have the opportunity to improve his standard of living if he is to be encouraged to work alongside the European in the development of this country."
In public appearances in the U.S. Engelhard has been picketed by civil rights groups. Recently black students at Rutgers demanded that the $1.25 million he gave the university be used as a statewide fund for black students "so the university will be purged of the argument that it is as racist as the donor's business activities have demonstrated."
Engelhard defends his investments in South Africa (estimated by Forbes in 1965 to be worth $30 million). He has interests in gold, copper, platinum and diamond mines, timberlands, chemical companies and newspapers. He is a director of South Africa's huge Anglo American Corporation, which has assets of $540 million and annual profits of $43 million. Anglo American has some 150 subsidiaries and affiliates and controls, as well, De Beers Consolidated Mines with assets of $565 million. All told, Anglo American is estimated to manage assets of close to $3 billion.
In recent years Engelhard has been an unofficial ambassador both to and from the South African government. Whether this relationship will continue during the Nixon administration is uncertain. (Asked about Nixon, Engelhard said he had met him but never paid much attention to him. "It never crossed my mind until a few months ago that he would be President.")
Engelhard's commitment to Africa is emotional as well as financial. He speaks of the electric feeling of the continent and the compulsion that seems to pull him there. It was there he made his first fortune with his pulpit tops—"I wanted to get away from my father," he says of those days. It was there, too, in 1957 that he bought his first racehorses. Probably not coincidentally it has been said of Harry Oppenheimer, Engelhard's chief partner in South African ventures: "Other things being equal, if Harry had to choose between a racing man and one who did not know one end of a horse from the other, the racing man would win Harry's friendship every time." For several years now Engelhard's South African stable has been more successful than Oppenheimer's. Engelhard has been the country's leading owner three times in the last five years.
It is likely that Engelhard enjoys his days spent photographing big game in Africa's national parks even more than his racing afternoons. With his wife in a babushka beside him, he jolts across the savanna in a truck, looking for a pride of lions or some elephants. "Often the photographs are much the same," he says, "but the animals are different." African game is a heritage for all people, he believes, and he contributes substantial sums to preserve it. Tanzania's 700-square-mile Tarangire game reserve was founded with an Engelhard gift, and he has donated funds to build a large dam in South Africa's Kruger National Park.
South African investments are just a fraction of the Engelhard business empire. They are included in the portfolio of Engelhard Hanovia, the family holding company, whose assets are believed to be about $100 million. The other giant of his empire is the Engelhard Minerals & Chemicals Corp., which had sales last year of $1.34 billion (Engelhard and his family own about 40% of the stock). The company is the largest of its type in the world, refining precious metals and manufacturing a diversity of products from missile parts to dental drills.
Engelhard is one of the inner circle of international financiers, and he enjoys his prestigious position. He declared once, "Other men may have made larger capital gains, but few men have earned more economic power."
It has been suggested by some who deal with him that Engelhard did not get where he is by being a good-time Charlie. But the business community views him as fair. "He has the leverage, muscle and momentum," one man noted, "to create an abrasive situation for someone else. But he seems to give the other guy more than a fighting chance. Of course, he is not going to let anyone push him around."
He moves about the world with an entourage of executives (known as his satellites), friends, secretaries, chefs, valets, butlers and animals. On a flight from London to New York on the Platinum Plover a secretary may have a cockatoo sitting on her shoulder during dictation. A Great Dane or golden retriever may bound up the aisles. Engelhard executives wait through the night and sometimes the following day to be summoned to conferences. The call may come at 3 a.m. or 7 p.m. But that is a prerogative of power. Luxury is something he takes for granted, like the next Coca-Cola. For Engelhard, money is the medium—the message is somewhere else.
Now, finally, see Charles Engelhard here. The hallway floor is a pastiche of muddy footprints—man and child and dog. Boots warm on an upright radiator. A $3,000 painting of an Engelhard St. Leger winner hangs crookedly on a nail. "I remember the first time I heard Mr. Engelhard was coming," Mrs. Helen Johnson Houghton is saying. "I thought I should clean the house and lock out the dogs and cats. Of course, I didn't." Mrs. Johnson Houghton trained Engelhard's first horse in England, and he has a special affection for her and her home at Blewbury, high on the Berkshire Downs. Two of his British classic winners, Ribocco and Ribero, were trained here, and Ribofilio, his current Derby favorite, is in the Johnson Houghton yard.
Engelhard visits the pink house three or four times a year, coming for evening stables, that British ritual in which a horseman surveys his domain at dusk. In every stall a jodhpured lad is ready to show Engelhard his horse. The trainer will run a practiced hand across the Thoroughbred's ribs and then down its legs, hesitating over a fevered knee, prescribing a salve or liniment. Over tea and scones before a fire there is an assessment of the horses, Mrs. Johnson Houghton and Charles Engelhard, expert to expert. A terrier may curl into Engelhard's lap and a cat perch at his shoulder. A Muscovy duck that enjoys watching television may also appear in the living room. "Charlie is an awfully cozy person," Mrs. Johnson Houghton says. "He doesn't seem to mind."
Horse racing has subtle attractions for the very rich man, the camaraderie of the high-low aristocracy—titled wealth and famous jockeys—the élan of winning the simple silver trophies that money cannot buy. For Engelhard, horse racing is these things. But it is also the more obvious pleasure of high risk and high excitement. David McCall, the Englishman who is Engelhard's turf adviser, says his boss is so excitable watching a stable entry run that he refuses to follow the horses with binoculars: "He carries a huge pair of glasses which he uses on races in which his horses are not running, but when we have an entry he says he can tell by the color of my face how the horses are going. And that's what he watches, my face."
Engelhard's horses in training are valued at roughly $8 million, his yearlings, foals, mares and stallions at $7 million, which is a sizable commitment for a man who appears on a racecourse—Saratoga, Keeneland, Ascot, Doncaster or Turffontein—perhaps only 15 times a year. These infrequent outings are no measure of Engelhard's interest. A Telex machine in his Newark office chatters out reports on races run by his horses during the day. "I like to know the results of a race, win or lose," he says. "Then I don't lie awake at night wondering." Each Sunday morning McCall telephones from London for lengthy discussions on the prospects and performance of the stable in Ireland, England and France. American trainer MacKenzie Miller calls several times a week. At night in bed Engelhard reads The Morning Telegraph, the horse magazines and reams of racing clippings from London's newspapers. "He's delighted at the arrival of a thick yearling sales catalog," McCall says, "because he sleeps badly. He pores over the pedigrees, making lists of possible purchases, and he will come to the sale with maybe 30 horses marked in his catalog."
In the eight years since he first appeared at the world's horse auctions, Engelhard has become supremely knowledgeable on bloodlines and he is not a bad judge of a horse, though you must grant him an occasional whim. He sent McCall a few years ago to inspect one undistinguished animal and was obviously very disappointed to receive a negative report. "I was hoping you would like him," Engelhard said. "He was born on my birthday." McCall says that Engelhard is still apt to give unusual attention to yearlings born on his birthday although he has one costly reminder of this tendency. In 1966 he bought a yearling filly for $177,000 at Saratoga. Her conformation and pedigree were faultless and to a man who believes in playing hunches, in both horses and in cards, she was irresistible. She had been foaled on Engelhard's birthday and was being sold on his wife's. The filly was named, hopefully, Many Happy Returns. She started 20 times before finally winning a race and last winter was gracefully retired to a broodmare barn.
But Engelhard's hunches must not be scoffed at. He bought one of the first Ribot yearlings sold at public auction and kept investing in them while other horsemen were calling them an unsound, crooked, peevish lot. (In 1967 he missed one Ribot filly when he lingered too long over a chocolate sundae.) Engelhard banked on what he calls that stallion's "prepotency and his inspired offspring, those with a bold eye." He will tell you that every one of the successful Ribots has this bold eye. "I have often thought that if I were another horse and one of these Ribots looked me in the eye it would affect my performance," Engelhard says. He believed—had a hunch, if you will—that American training techniques were not suited to this rare breed and that they would probably develop their classic potential only in an English stable where horses are handled with the care of vintage wine. Engelhard's speculation was correct—his theories proved by Ribocco and Ribero, sons of Ribot, who won extraordinary doubles, the Irish Sweeps Derby and English St. Leger, in successive years. This year's classic prospect, Ribofilio, is considered a better horse than either of the earlier colts.
"The Ribots are funny people," says Fulke Johnson Houghton, who since 1961 has been training the horses in his mother's yard. "You have to let them get away with things, to kid them. They have tremendously strong characters and like to feel that they are boss." Ribot himself was temperamental as a La Scala baritone, usually arriving on European racecourses with three men in tow to help manage him. But he was unbeaten in 16 starts at distances from five furlongs to two miles. Now at stud in Kentucky, he uses an elm tree in his paddock as a punching bag and kicks up a fury if he spies even a lowly steer two fields away.
Ribot's offspring are not so much hotheads as contrary and stubborn. Seldom will they work at home, and because of this unwillingness they are usually slow to develop. "I think they become fitter by all the bucking and playing they do than by their workouts," McCall says. "They are full of the joys of springtime. They will not conform. If Ribocco went once around a track in the States he would never go around it again. He was very much a mental horse, a thinker. He had his likes and dislikes, which had to be indulged."
The Johnson Houghtons coddle their five Ribots (Engelhard has four more in other European racing stables) like princes. When Ribocco was in training he would be sent to a race meeting a few days early "because he liked being away visiting. He was a bit more interested." Ribero and Ribofilio are taken to the Downs for their gallops a new way every few mornings so they will not become bored with their route. Lester Piggott, England's eccentric riding genius, is engaged as jockey to the Ribots at Blewbury. One British trainer stated flatly that when Piggott rode one of his Ribot colts, the horse improved by 21 pounds (the equivalent of 10 lengths in a mile-and-a-quarter race). Piggott's effect has been similarly startling on Ribocco and Ribero. "He has a supreme understanding of these horses," McCall says. "He will sit there and suffer, waiting until they decide to run."
As with all stables, for every success Engelhard has had there have been a dozen disappointments. "I have bought a lot of yearlings that were not very good," he readily admits. "You hope that you will get one horse now and then that will pull you out, that will make up for the deficit."
It is necessary for a man like Engelhard, who spends tremendous sums on yearlings, to consider their potential stud value. If a colt turns out to be a successful racehorse, and he has the breeding, he may be worth from $1 million to $5 million as a stallion. Ribocco, who cost $35,000 and earned $435,000 racing, is valued now at $2 million. "In buying horses I am only interested in those that have potential as a classic winner and stallion," Engelhard says. "You have to take as many shots at that as possible. Until three or four years ago I could buy just about every yearling I picked out in the sale. But now I am being outbid on a lot of them. People used to feel that high-priced horses never turned out well. But lately it has been working the other way. The competition is fierce. There are eight or 10 top yearlings and people are waiting in line for them. They are being ridiculously priced. Last year I found myself bidding up to twice what I had set as a limit and still losing out. I bought horses last year far beyond what was prudent or wise. When this happens, any system or plan you have is destroyed. You fail to get the horses you hope to buy and you purchase others to fill your barn, horses you had not thought enough about and did not particularly want."
In the past year Engelhard has been an underbidder for a $405,000 yearling half sister to Ribocco and Ribero, for a $225,000 Rough n' Tumble colt, for a $200,000 Ribot colt and for a $210,000 Sea-Bird colt. But he managed for the third straight season to be the biggest buyer at North American yearling sales—he spent $1,134,500 on 19 colts and fillies.
Engelhard now vows that he will buy no more than three or four yearlings at the 1969 auctions. He points out that he has acquired 47 broodmares (among them such good performers as Quill, Admiring and Lea Lane) and already has 18 yearlings at Bull Hancock's farm in Kentucky. He has invested in stallion syndicates—Buckpasser, Damascus, Dr. Fager, Tom Rolfe—and he says he is looking forward to a new era, one of breeding classic horses, not simply buying them. Says Hancock, "It's a little like a man who has been going to a bakery to buy his cakes. Now he wants to bake them." The risk is greater than buying a racing stable at public auction: the owner of a stud gets a mixed bag—crooked foals, sick foals or no foals. Engelhard learned the hazards in a single week last winter. Three of his mares lost foals—by Round Table, Bold Lad and Buckpasser—and a fourth mare who was thought in foal to Hail to Reason was found to be barren. But he persists in his eagerness to create a great stud. The best American racehorses—those bred by the Phipps family, the Whitneys, Paul Mellon—never come on the yearling market. The Phipps stud is 44 years old. C. V. Whitney's is a legacy from his grandfather, who started it in 1898. So Engelhard has a decade or two to succeed or fail.
Meanwhile he has a closer goal that is heady enough, an Epsom Derby victory on June 4. Picture him there, if you will, on the members' stand, leaning heavily on his cane, a portly, disheveled figure next to the elegant Jane. His large field glasses are on his chest, unused, and he is searching faces for a hint of how his green and gold colors are faring, as Ribofilio and the field come into Tattenham Corner.
Should Ribofilio win, there would have to be an immediate recollection of the events at Doncaster last year when Ribero won the St. Leger. After the trophy presentation Engelhard could not be found. Friends, employees, emissaries rushed about frantically asking, "Where's Charlie?" David McCall spotted him at last in a cheap racecourse bar, drinking Coca-Cola with a crowd of ex-jockeys and trainers, most of whom he had never met before.