Derby Week is a hectic round for those connected with one of the horses. Each day there are hundreds of people to see, dozens of decisions to make and countless parties to attend. The routine has exhausted and exasperated more than a few horsemen, but last week one rugged individual loved every minute of it. Sonny Werblin, erstwhile show-business impresario and former owner of the New York Jets, balding and semi-retired at 60, still has so much energy and stamina that he could have spared some for his horse, Silent Screen (left), who needed it.
On Sunday, Silent Screen's tweedy trainer, J. Bowes Bond, stood outside Barn 41 at 7 a.m., taking an occasional sip from a steaming cup of coffee, trying to wake up after a night out with Sonny. The business at hand was to give Silent Screen his last big workout before the Derby. At 7:30 the colt's regular jockey, Johnny Rotz, arrived, followed five minutes later by Werblin and his wife, Leah Ray, who once sang with the old Phil Harris orchestra. (Her most popular song: On the Sunny Side of the Street.)
The workout went well. With Rotz in the saddle, Silent Screen went a mile and an eighth in 1:53 2/5, then galloped out the Derby distance in 2:07. At the barn everyone was happy. "That's a step in the right direction," said Bond. Thus assured, Sonny and Leah Ray left to catch a plane for New York, where they were to help one of Sonny's old clients, Ed Sullivan, celebrate his 22nd year on TV.
On a dark and overcast Monday morning Bond did nothing more than walk Silent Screen around the barn and tell swarming newsmen, "No, I'm not going anywhere. I've got to get some rest so I'll be ready for the rest of the week. When Werblin gets back, nobody will get any sleep."
May 10, 1970
An overnight rain was still coming down steadily Tuesday morning, so that the main topic of discussion was what would happen if it rained on Derby Day. Said Bowes to a cluster of soggy reporters, "I don't think it will hurt us." The Werblins arrived from New York that afternoon to watch the Derby Trial. Joined by Eddie Arcaro, they saw a long shot named Admiral's Shield plow down the muddy stretch for a surprise victory. That night Werblin attended a dinner thrown by the Thoroughbred Breeders of Kentucky, Inc. at the Brown Hotel. Afterward he and Bond returned to their rooms at the Standiford motel, where Werblin stayed up to drink vodka and watch Johnny Carson, his good friend and neighbor at the United Nations Plaza apartments, on the Tonight show. After four hours' sleep Sonny was back at the track looking for action and was quickly surrounded by reporters again. He toured Warner Jones' Hermitage Farm, and he and Bond attended the National Turf Writers dinner.
Following a spell at the hotel bar and less time in bed, Werblin showed up at the track Thursday wearing a coat and tie so that he could attend the governor's luncheon. That night Ed McGrath, the local agent for Lloyds of London, which had insured Silent Screen for $1.8 million, threw a private dinner for the Werblins at the Big Spring Country Club. Sonny was given a certificate naming him a Kentucky colonel. At 7:15 a.m. on Friday, Werblin, sporting a wild Hawaiian print shirt, watched Silent Screen blow out three-eighths of a mile in :34.2, somewhat faster than Bond had planned. By that night most of Werblin's guests had arrived, and they all went to a party thrown by Toots Shor at the Standiford.
Sonny and Leah Ray left the party at 2 a.m., were up early Saturday to check the colt's condition and returned to the motel to mix a few of the drinks they always have on the morning of a race—Jack Daniels and orange juice, otherwise known as black screwdrivers.
Established in three boxes overlooking the finish line at the Downs, the Werblin party joined in the singing of My Old Kentucky Home. Nobody cried. Silent Screen finished fifth. At the victory party Sonny was a good loser. He had a few drinks and left early for another party.