Just What the Doctor Ordered

Meet I'm Irving, a racehorse of modest talent (one win in his six years) who is regarded by the Baltimore pharmacist who owns him, Irvin David, as the best medicine any man could have
June 25, 1972

They brought William S. Farish III's Bee Bee Bee back to stall No. 4 in the Pimlico paddock right after he won the 97th running of the Preakness and $137,000. They patted him and checked him over, took off his equipment and made him feel comfortable, and then led him away, to applause, to his barn.

Six minutes later, another horse is led into stall No. 4. He has made $1,200 so far in 1972, eaten about that much worth of food, has been offered for sale at $3,000 with no takers, and is named I'm Irving. Irvin David's I'm Irving.

He is a bay 6-year-old, by Etonian out of Chalvedele, bred at Fountainhead Farm in Kentucky, presently residing in Forest Hill, Md., trained by Ray Mikkonen, with Jockey Dale Gress in the irons today, under 109 pounds, wearing black and white silks, 6 to 1 in the morning line for the ninth race, a handicap for 3-year-olds and upward who have run for a claiming price of $3,500 or less since Aug. 31, 1971.

I'm Irving has won one race in his life, and that was two years ago when he beat Mr. Lish and Where It's At in a hard drive. But things are looking up again. A week ago, at 46 to 1, I'm Irving finished second in a race similar to this one. He was trailing by 21 lengths—or "linnts," as they always say around the Maryland tracks—but he only got beat two limits. Everybody screamed, "Here comes Irving!"

Well, maybe things aren't looking up, after all. Right after the Preakness, just as I'm Irving came into the paddock, it started pouring outside. Cats and dogs. And I'm Irving is no friend of Jupiter Pluvius. "Someone just spits on the track and he doesn't want to run; Irving is not too crazy about mud," Irvin Myers says, neatly glossing over the fact that up to now Irving does not seem to be too crazy about any surface known to man or beast. Irvin Myers has an interest in I'm Irving that is largely sentimental, and along with his friend, Irvin David, more or less lent his first name to the horse. They added the "g" for effect, and to help I'm Irving's popularity if ever he ran in New York.

Irvin David, who bred the horse and then registered it in his wife's name, gives a friend $6 and tells him to buy a combination ticket on the horse. They put the saddle on Irving, and blinkers, although Irving does not care for them and makes these feelings known. Irving likes to look around when he is running. Since the blinkers make it impossible for him to see out the sides he prefers to stay in last place so that he can see everything unfold in front of him. With Irving, getting there is half the fun.

Despite these eccentricities, several people love I'm Irving. He is the only horse racing for Irv David. He is the only horse Irv Myers has ever named. He is the only horse Ray Mikkonen trains. Dale Gress averages riding only a couple of mounts a day. I'm Irving means every bit as much to the two Irvins as, say, Bee Bee Bee does to William S. Farish III. At 33, Mr. Farish is by Humble Oil out of Sears Roebuck, bred to Du Pont. The two Irvins are pharmacists. If people cared only for horses like Bee Bee Bee, there wouldn't be any racetracks.

Each year there are 25,000 thoroughbred foals registered in the U.S. There are at least 200,000 owners and comparable numbers of jockeys and trainers and exercise boys and girls. There are even more bettors, and there are 750,000 races run every year to give the bettors a chance to catch up after the daily double at Tropical on Jan. 1.

Very few of these races are the quality of the Preakness. Almost all of them are like the race after the Preakness. "But we need the Preakness. We need the races like that," Irv David said earlier in the afternoon, munching on a crab cake. Because it was Preakness Day, he could not get a seat, even though his horse was running. "Without the Preakness, without Riva Ridge, without a star there's no show. It's the stars that pay to clean up this place and paint the barns where Irving stays," David continued.

But the opposite applies. Racing needs all the I'm Irvings and the people who own I'm Irvings. Certainly, it needs a last race, which always has a high per capita handle, for the same reason that the last lifeboat off the ship is always crowded. As the two Irvins reached the paddock, many others in the crowd were working their way to the exits, but not to leave. There, at the gates, you can pick up for free the discarded tout sheets—Ad Tab, Jack's Little Green Card, Clocker Law-ton and so forth—that were commanding a dollar sale price just a few races before. Invariably, the comment next to the last race selections on these cards is GO HOME A WINNER. This day, sadly, not one of the tip sheets viewed I'm Irving as the vehicle for this happy ending.

Irvin Myers, 57, tall and gregarious, a native Baltimorean, ran the Hilltop Pharmacy, catty-cornered to the Pimlico far turn, for a decade, until 1960. He met a lot of racing people at his luncheonette there, and began servicing the Pimlico first-aid room. He still does, although now he is employed by the state department of health. Everybody at Pimlico knows Dr. Irv Myers; he just enjoys hanging around the place and talking with horsemen; he seldom bets. When Irving finished second at 46 to 1, he figured in a $1,083 exacta, but Dr. Myers only picked up a few bucks off a $6 combination ticket.

"When I started at Hilltop, I was like a novice, a neophyte, you might say," he explains. "I was very gullible. If I'd been a gambler, I'd been out of business that first season. Every race, with eight horses, I had nine tips—everyone in the field and an added starter. But if you are born and raised in a candy store, you never eat candy."

Still another reason why Dr. Myers does not bet hardly anything on I'm Irving is that he has absolutely no faith in him. "Irving is docile until you start to take him to the track," he says. "Then he'll snap at you. Irving will only run when he feels like it. There's nothing anyone can do. He's spindly-legged, too. People ask me, how does he run? I say: 'Horribly.' He won't even be blowing when he comes back from most races. But you never know. That last time out, look, he's 21 linnts back when he decides he wants to run, and he just gets beat. Listen, when he wants to, Irving comes on like buster's gang."

With his son Leo, who at 13 is already taller than he is, Ray Mikkonen looks over I'm Irving in the paddock. Ray was a good steady rider on the Maryland circuit for years. He is in galoshes, but he has no raincoat over his sports coat and slacks. He does wear a hat, so presumably he is bald. Nobody wears hats for any other reason anymore.

Irv David likes Mikkonen. "He's from the old school. He takes pride in what he does," he says. Ray used to be known as The Fighting Finn, and he still speaks with a slight Scandinavian accent. With his earnings as a jockey from the good years—he won a stakes once with an 85-to-1 shot named Guardian II—Mikkonen bought a farm in Forest Hill, northeast of Baltimore, where he boards and cares for horses. He currently has 56 on the premises, but Irving is the only one he trains, the only one he races. He brought him down to Pimlico earlier that day in a van. There is no stall space available on the grounds for cheap claimers belonging to one-horse stables.

Mikkonen tells the groom to turn his horse around so that he is facing in, away from the crowd that is lined up around the paddock. Hardly has he done that when the Baltimore Colt marching band and a whole drum and bugle corps begins to traipse right through the other side of the paddock. They have been out in the infield, playing Maryland, My Maryland for the Preakness, and now that the big race is over and it is beginning to rain, somebody just sends them right through the paddock. Irving stares over the top of his stall at the marchers, but accepts the intrusion calmly. However, next to him, No. 3, Anzio Blue, the favorite, kicks his stall in distress, and No. 7, a long shot named River Abroad, reacts even more violently. There are a lot of signs posted explaining that only owners, trainers and authorized personnel are permitted in the paddock, but when it is just $3,500 claimers, a different set of rules apply.

Irv David looks over at the drum and bugle corps and shakes his head. "That's terrible," he says in disgust. "Don't they care for the horses? These are our horses. They're just like Preakness horses to us. A man could have his life tied up in a thing like this."

The ninth race is for a purse of $6,000—$3,600 to the winner, $1,320 for second, $720 for third, $360 for fourth. It costs about $7,000 a year nowadays just to train, feed, van and otherwise care for a horse, any horse—Bee Bee Bee or I'm Irving. Horses eat the same no matter how fast they run.

Irvin David, who describes himself as the only Jew in the world with five Baptist grandchildren, got into racing because he used to sell an owner "photofinish pills" at his pharmacy, the Manor on North Point Boulevard. These are pills to help calm you. The tense man was a roofing contractor, and the one reliable horse he owned was named Chalamoor. In 1957 Irv happened to read that a sister of Chalamoor was up for auction at the Kentucky fall sales. He tried to get the roofer to bid on her, and when he wouldn't, David decided to buy her himself "out of spite." The roofer said: "Go ahead, dummy, go broke."

Irvin was planning to get married and couldn't afford both the trip to Kentucky and the horse, so he authorized a friend who was going to the sales to bid up to $1,000. Soon Irvin was out $800. The only guarantee he got was that the horse was not blind, and when Irvin saw her, he shuddered. "Oy, vey," he says, "she looked like a toy." She was so fragile that, at first, nobody would risk trying to break her. Irvin named her Chalvedele, taking the first syllable of Chalamoor and tacking on various family initials. "I was prepared to stay in the game two, three races," he says.

Chalvedele shot holes in this schedule. Irvin David is still in the game, although sometimes it seems that he is really not in racing, just in something that happens to involve his beloved Chalvedele. If Chalvedele bowled or did needlepoint, Irvin David would get into that to accommodate her. There is a dreamy, second-reel quality about Chalvedele. Dr. David almost broke the bank with her the first time he picked up the dice, and even now he spins those golden memories of her and dreams of the time when one of her sons or daughters will make it all come true again, only better yet.

A substantial number of thoroughbreds never make it to the races. Many others—particularly those that cost $800—never win. Chalvedele was never out of the money as a 2-year-old, and at three was one of the better fillies in the country. She made close to $70,000 for Dr. David and ran in the best female races in the land. Many men spend a lifetime in racing and never once get a horse that rewards them so.

In his wallet Irv still carries the clipping which reports that "Irvin David's Chalvedele" will race in the Triple Crown for fillies. He can recall these races as if they were on yesterday's card, and Chalvedele's antagonists—Berlo, Airman's Guide, Irish Jay, Rash Statement—become mythic creatures. It is as if the greatness in all the strains came to flower only in that spring of 1960. All the other fillies of all the other years were pale imitations.

Irvin David's Chalvedele. How many other things does a man ever own where he can put the apostrophe "s" after his name and attach style and dignity to himself? Bill Smith's Lincoln? Nothing. Dana Jones' Whirlpool? Harry Brown's Chris-Craft? Just tacky and acquisitive. Not even something like Tom Yawkey's Red Sox and Leonard Tose's Eagles has the kind of fine ring to it that comes with a horse, with Irvin David's Chalvedele, or even with Irvin David's I'm Irving.

Dr. David still can itemize every move his filly made that glorious season of 1960. She is looking Irish Jay in the eye, matching strides with Airman's Guide, she is moving up, making her run, refusing to quit. Irvin David's Chalvedele was second in the Mother Goose, fourth in the Coaching Club Oaks. " 'Is everything all right, Mr. David?' 'How many in your party, Mr. David?' The racing secretary himself used to come by in New York to ask," Irv says. "And, oh, they would all call us. My little butterball turned out to be one of the best of her generation, and they would all call us to get her to run. 'Will you run Chalvedele here, Mr. David?' 'Chalvedele at Delaware, Mr. David?' They would call us all the time.

"If we hadn't gone up against Airman's Guide in the Black Eyed Susan, there wouldn't have been a race. And what a race she gave her, all the way. Then in the Mother Goose, we were the one who went out and challenged Irish Jay, which set it up for Berlo to win. You don't remember Berlo? That just shows you how much you know. She's been called the best of her generation. Mr. duPont owned her. The greatest compliment ever paid me is that duPont himself came over to the stable just to look at Chalvedele. He came all that way just to look at her."

Irvin changed riders after that race, Bill Hartack replacing Bobby Corle for the Coaching Club Oaks. Chalvedele was perfectly placed coming into the stretch, and Dr. David started to prepare himself for the TV interview in the winner's circle. "Momma always had one good run in her," he says, "and she was just going into it." Instead, as the chart says, she "weakened" and dropped back to fourth. It was 4:52, Saturday afternoon, June 25, 1960 when the dream ended.

Dr. David grimaces at the memory. "Her ankle swelled up, and we found out it was a hairline fracture. And with a fractured ankle, only one horse passed her in the stretch. The chart says she 'weakened.' She had a broken ankle, and 'weakened' is what it will always say in the records. It was like after the Mother Goose when The New York Times headline said: BERLO BEATS CHALVEDELE. Did we deserve that? Sure, Berlo beat Chalvedele, but where was Cain Hoy? Where were King Ranch and Phipps? Chalvedele beat them."

Chalvedele hung on for another three years after the Coaching Club, but the tracks stopped calling. Her last season she made $1,630 in nine starts; even I'm Irving does better than that. Dr. David had one other horse for a while, a half-miler named Verlie (after his wife); but, of course, he still keeps Chalvedele for breeding.

"New owners, they spring up like weeds—and then they're gone," he says. "How have I survived 15 years? Just wheeling and dealing. To tell you the truth, I've made more deals than a blackjack dealer in Las Vegas—no, let me think of a better line. You see, if you've got quality like Chalvedele, you can wheel and deal. I worked out an arrangement with a guy for hardwood flooring for Irving. My house needs painting, my downspouts are falling down, I'm over here hustling crab cakes for lunch, but my horse has hardwood flooring."

In the jockeys' room, Dale Gress puts on his black silks with the Star of David outlined in white. ("Star of David. And Irvin David—get it?" Irvin Myers explains.) Gress had watched the Preakness on TV, and after the reruns he comes back to his locker and catches a smoke. He dresses right next to Braulio Baeza and Ron Turcotte, who rode the favorites in the big race, and the national press jams in around them. Gress weighs out as Baeza and Turcotte change into their $250 custom suits for the trip back to New York. Then he goes down to the paddock to talk with Ray Mikkonen. Gress has ridden I'm Irving twice before, so there is no need for detailed instructions; he is aware that Irving likes to come from far back.

The rain outside is torrential by now, and the track runs in little rivers. Gress shakes his head ruefully. He is a pleasant country boy from McConnellsburg, Pa., with heavy eyes and a prominent nose. He fractured his neck jumping a horse once on his father's farm, he fractured a hip galloping at Bowie, and the last time he fell, a few months ago in a race at Timonium, he suffered amnesia. But Gress loves riding. His only regret is that his father wouldn't let him leave home earlier to go to the races. "I'd be better off now if he let me go when I first wanted to," he says. Gress averages around 700 mounts a year, at about $30 a ride, before his agent takes out his 25% and his valet gets his couple of bucks.

But he is satisfied with his job and his living, and he has a lot of years left in it. Gress is naturally small and thin; he is 5'2" and strips at only 103 pounds. A lot of jockeys, particularly as they mature, have to fight weight. If they go out to dinner and eat a normal meal, they excuse themselves, go to the men's room and stick a finger down their throat to make themselves throw up. Jockeys who must do that often learn just to will the food up after awhile. They can gag up their meals without the finger. They call it "bouncing." A lot of jockeys are perennially hungry and, accordingly, perennially ill-humored.

But Dale Gress is filled and cheerful. The night before was his 27th birthday; he and his wife took a friend out for a party, and they went to a smorgasbord. Sticking to racetrack parlance, Gress says his friend "goes 180, maybe 200, but"—and he says this with great pride—"I ate much more than him."

Gress had three mounts this Preakness Day—the three cheapest races on the card. He rode in both ends of the daily double. "Then I got to hang around the jocks' room all day," he says, smiling, half-kidding. During the afternoon he would go out on the jocks' balcony in his terry-cloth robe and watch all the excitement of Preakness Day. "What I'd like to do, I'd like to go out into the infield, watch the go-go girls, drink a couple beers and eat some chicken, but that dumb agent of mine has got to go and put me up on a horse in the last race."

Gress slips on four pairs of goggles, which he'll flip down, one at a time, as the mud covers them, and when the paddock judge calls "Riders up!" Ray Mikkonen takes Gress' boot and slips him up onto Irvin David's I'm Irving.

Irving ambles off toward the track. He does not seem, well, he does not seem involved. He never did get to the races as a 2-year-old, and he sat out another 20 months when he had a bowed tendon and had to have the nerves in his foot deadened. "All he did was eat and sleep," Irv Myers said. That was the time Irving liked the best. When they brought him back to action this February, they didn't even give him a serious workout before his first race because they were afraid it might be too much for him.

In this comeback try, Irving fell 23 linnts off the pace but closed with a rush and only lost by 15. He duplicated that next time out, and then twice in a row merely lost by nine linnts. Then came his second-place surprise. What everybody is anxiously awaiting is for I'm Irving to get in a close race, because he has something called a "parrot mouth," which is like a large overbite, or a weak chin if you are being uncharitable. His nose hooks right out there. "If there's ever a question of a nose, we're in," Irv Myers says.

Irving is up to 12 to 1 by the time his people reach their seats. With the Preakness over, all the bigwigs are gone and the track can let them have a box. The week before, when Irving took second, Irvin David couldn't even watch his horse run because he had to stay and work at the pharmacy.

Now he watches Irving go into the gate and he puts a Salem in his mouth. Verlie tries to soothe him, for he is obviously very nervous: Irvin David's I'm Irving is about to race. "I've bred the horse," he says. "He's my horse. You get to this point, you don't even care about the race. You just want him to come back all right. That's all. You can count the money later if you win." In the seventh race that day, the one before the Preakness, the five horse, Joseph Kaplowitz' Smokey Johnny, broke a leg at the 16th pole in the middle of the stretch, right smack in front of the grandstand. The horse ambulance took away Joseph Kaplowitz' Smokey Johnny and they shot him. Sometimes one, or both, of the Irvins will get in a car and drive the 45 minutes or so up to Mikkonen's farm just to see I'm Irving, give him a sugar lump and make sure he is O.K. They just like to visit him occasionally, as you would anyone you care for. "I'm walking around with a double hernia," Irv David says, "and Irving's had two operations at the University of Pennsylvania."

Dale Gress moves I'm Irving into the middle of the gate, slot No. 4. The rain has slackened off to a fine mist, but the track, sloppy all day, is now swampy. Nobody who knows Irving well believes he will cotton to it. "You don't even need your binoculars for Irving until the backstretch," Irv Myers says. "He's easy to spot because he's so far back. Then, if he decides he wants to run today, he'll start somewhere over there."

They're in the gate. Dr. David lights another Salem as they break. And what's this? Everybody does a double take. Irvin David's I'm Irving is third out of the gate, and as they go into the clubhouse turn, he is battling head and head for the lead with Leroy W. Boyer's Social Curtesy. Nobody knows what to make of it. What has come over Irving? From down the way, a big voice, apparently belonging to a man who is determined to go home a winner, booms out: "Irvinggggg!" in much the same way as other people bellow "Play balllll!" right after the national anthem.

Ray Mikkonen comes over and apologizes. "He's doing the opposite of what I told him," he says, shaking his head dumfounded. Down the backstretch goes I'm Irving, still in the top flight, just off the pace set by Nicholas E. Rinaldi's Powder Peddler. At the [5/16]ths pole, Gress hits him and asks him to go after the leader in earnest. "Irvinggggg!" comes the cry.

Well, to make a long story short, that was the end this day for I'm Irving. He just wasn't having any more. Gress had put him on the lead because he broke so well, and also because that way you don't get so much mud in your face, but when he urged Irving at the [5/16]ths pole "he started sliding all over the place." I'm Irving had another chance in the stretch when a big hole opened up, but, to tell you the truth, he come up empty. The chart said he "raced evenly," which proves that the chart isn't always mean.

The winner was the three horse, Lawrence F. Wilcox' Anzio Blue, trained by James C. Burke, ridden by Anthony Agnello, carrying 117 pounds, a bay 8-year-old gelding by Anzio Landing out of Robin's Blue. He closed strongly on the outside to beat Double B Stable's Federalist by a linnt, and Powder Peddler by 2½. In fourth place, 7½ linnts back, a head in front of Social Curtesy, was I'm Irving.

People bet $340,516 on this race. Because of this, more money was bet at Pimlico that day than any day before. Anzio Blue paid $5.20, and the exacta, Nos. 3 and 5, paid $49.40. Go home a winner.

The two Irvins watch Gress ride I'm Irving out and bring him back and weigh in. "Well, Irving looks all right," Irvin David says, and everybody gets up to leave. "No, wait till it's official. I want to see it official. Fourth is the difference between a restaurant and a drive-in." The time is 6:38 when the official sign lights up. "There it is. We can have Caesar salad tonight."

David moves off through the crowd with Verlie. Nobody at the escalators realizes that he is the owner of the four horse. "I know how to act big," Dr. David says. "I found out how to do that. You know, I'd try to go see Chalvedele in New York, and they'd stop me at the barns and say, 'Hey, where ya think yer goin'?' and I'd pull myself up—here I am trying to make a Robert Hall look like a Bergdorf Goodman, if you know what I mean—and I'd say, 'Excuse me, I'm Mr. Davis, the owner of Chalvedele.' Get it—I'm not a Jew anymore. I'm Mr. Davis. And they'd look right at the program above Chalvedele where it says David, they'd look right at it and they'd say, 'Oh, of course, Mr. Davis, I'm so sorry we didn't recognize you, Mr. Davis.'

"See, I was born big in this game. What I don't know is how to act small. I've got another one in the barn, a Chalvedele filly. I'm going to write Delaware Park and ask for stall space for 1975. She'll be in the Handicap that year. I started at the top in this game. I know where it is."

"All you need is one horse," Irv Myers says. "That's all you need is one."

Sometimes the horse is Irvin David's Chalvedele and sometimes the horse is Irvin David's I'm Irving. It really doesn't matter much, if you give them all sugar lumps and let them have a year or two off to eat and sleep when they're bowed.

PHOTOJOHN IACONOA picture of contentment after another loss: David (left), I'm Irving and Mikkonen. TWO PHOTOSJOHN IACONOIn the ninth race at Pimlico on May 20, I'm Irving (No. 4) demonstrated his largely unknown competitiveness by going head and head for the lead. His dam, Chalvedele, who is now nursing another champion, would have been proud. PHOTOREPRODUCED BY PERMISSION OF TRIANGLE PUBLICATIONS INC. (DAILY RACING FORM).
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)