Even looking casually over the racing scene during the course of the last year, it is clearly noticeable—if for a moment we may forget Swaps and Nashua—that women owners are playing a more prominent role in Thoroughbred racing and breeding than at any time in history. Overseas, the stimulus added to racing through the genuine interest of Queen Elizabeth and other such successful owners as Lady Derby, Miss Dorothy Paget and Madame Suzy Volterra has aided immeasurably in increasing the popularity of the sport. In the United States there is no less of a success story, with serious-minded women who run large stables the rule rather than the exception. And for some of them the year 1956 may be the brightest year of all, or certainly the brightest season in some time.
Take, for example, the familiar names of Calumet Farm, Maine Chance Farm and Brookmeade Stable. All three of these racing dynasties are governed by ladies of acknowledged executive ability and thorough understanding of the turf and its plethora of problems. Should Calumet rise again this year to such heights as those when Citation and Coaltown were carrying the devil's red and blue silks to fame, most of the credit will naturally come showering down upon trainers Ben and Jimmy Jones. And forgotten, perhaps, in the general excitement, will be the fact that a great deal of the original planning for every campaign starts with a lady sitting in the Calumet office at Lexington, Ky.
There, in daily conference with Farm Manager Paul Ebelhardt, Mrs. Gene Markey injects her personal opinion in discussions relating to virtually every phase of the enormous operation. Since inheriting the stable from her husband, the late Warren Wright, Mrs. Markey has also shown an added interest in international breeding. She has nominated a total of six colts for this year's Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. Most highly regarded of the lot are Fabius, a son of Citation who finished third in the recent Flamingo, Liberty Sun and Eastgate. The hunch here is that she may have a sleeper in Pintor Lea, a bay son of Goya II out of a Bull Lea mare.
Mrs. Elizabeth M. Graham, the mistress of Maine Chance Farm, is better known among her associates in the business world as Elizabeth Arden. Her devotion to her racing stable has developed over the years to such proportions that a trainer working for her often becomes, in effect, the assistant trainer who stands by while Owner Graham gives the jockey his final orders, after which, if the mood strikes her, she may occasionally choose to plant a firm kiss—no, not on the jockey—on the nose of the horse. All of this, as you can imagine, through the process of time has been the foundation for some jokes directed at the stable and, in particular, at the expense of trainers, who in rather steady succession are taken on at Maine Chance Farm. One that comes to mind was told by the late Joe Palmer, who was describing the arrival of a horse player in heaven. Having been directed to heaven's racing section, he noticed, as Mr. Palmer used to say, "most of the dwellings were single-family affairs, but there was one very large apartment building. This, it was explained to the horse player, was for people who had trained for Maine Chance Farm. A new wing was under construction."
None of this has harmed the success of Maine Chance Farm. Mrs. Graham had a Derby winner in Jet Pilot and other notable color-bearers such as Busher, Lord Boswell, Knockdown and the fillies Beaugay and Myrtle Charm. And today she has Jet Action, a son of Jet Pilot and one of the three horses to beat Nashua last year, and in Gun Shot a lightning-fast chestnut by Hyperion who must be rated one of the early Kentucky Derby favorites.
Although the fortunes of Brookmeade Stable, owned by Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane, have not recently reached the peaks attained in former years (such as when her Cavalcade won the Derby in 1934, or when Greek Ship, Sunglow and Bold were making headlines in 1950 and 1951), Brookmeade may be in for better times in 1956. For one thing, Mrs. Sloane has a very useful handicapper in Sailor, who certainly helped "make" the recent Widener Handicap. Another colt who may be heard from is Lawless, a Triple Crown candidate in a serious way.
And there are plenty of other headline name horses who run for women, i.e., Nail, the Futurity winner, owned by Mrs. Anson Bigelow, a daughter of the late Joseph E. Widener; Happy New Year, a good-looking son of Hill Prince who belongs to Mrs. John R. H. Thouron; and a Mahmoud colt named Call Me Lucky who is owned by Ada L. Rice. This dark bay, incidentally, was the last one to beat Needles. He did it handsomely—by five lengths.
Racing success goes—as it seems to in most sports—in cycles. There are many women owners who know this only too well, and just as many who are waiting patiently for the cycle of success to spin in their direction. Among those who come to mind in this connection is Miss Eleonora Sears, who has invested over a half million dollars in Thoroughbred stock in the last two years without winning a major victory. There is also Josephine Abercrombie Robinson, whose Pin Oak Farms (owned jointly with her father) seems headed for more prosperous days. Co-ownership of racing stables, as a matter of fact, has provided the opportunity for many women to share a mutual interest in horses with their husbands or other members of the family. Last year's leading money-winning stable, Hasty House Farm, is officially listed under the name of A. E. Reuben, but it is a rare day when a Reuben horse runs without Mrs. Allie Reuben around to lend encouragement. When Green-tree Stables has a starter in a major stake, you'll usually notice not one owner but two in the stands. They are John H. Whitney and his sister, Mrs. Charles S. Payson, the son and daughter of the late Mrs. Payne Whitney, who, at the time of her death in 1944, was unofficially recognized as the first lady of the American turf.
There are, of course, many women owners today racing at every big and little U.S. track. Some come down from families readily associated with the world of horses—women such as Mrs. John Galbreath, the former Mrs. Russell Firestone (who owns Summer Tan); Mrs. M. duPont Scott (owner of Saratoga); the Wheatley Stables' Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps; Mrs. Richard Lunn, owner of Llangollen Farm; and Mrs. Ogden Phipps, whose Neji was last season's champion steeplechaser. And some comparatively new faces—although most of them are extremely recognizable—have entered the racing picture in recent years. Among them are Mrs. Edward Lasker, the former Jane Greer, and Betty Grable, who, along with husband Harry James, owned the creditable stakes winner James Session. One of the latest westerners to get in the act is the husband-and-wife team of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Women, once they get into racing, are apt, I think, to do a little more lusty cheering for their horses than the average male owner. I say this only because at Hialeah not so long ago I happened to wind up in the middle of a female cheering section. It seems that one day the Murcain-Byars Stable (represented by Mrs. Clint Murchison, Mrs. Wofford Cain and Mrs. Billy Byars) was running a maiden 3-year-old named Bull-Bys in the first race. The three ladies were also giving a luncheon party. After the bets were down (ditto a few cocktails), the guests were invited to step out on the terrace to see what Jockey Steve Brooks could do with Bull-Bys. I don't know how well Brooks can hear the spoken word, but there is no mistaking his ability to detect the shrill screams of interested lady horse players a half mile away on the Hialeah terrace. He rode like a demon, and won—easily. This happy occasion prompted some very astute observations by a lady who is not a horse owner herself, but whose husband is—in a very big way. She said, "Nothing can work you up to such a pitch and then let you down as fast as a horse race. That's why, if you're in the horse business, it doesn't pay to get too sentimental over any one horse."
The speaker's name: Mrs. Dorothy Combs, whose husband Leslie is at the moment very interested—nervously if not sentimentally—in one horse. The horse, Nashua, will try this week at Gulfstream Park to become the richest Thoroughbred in history.