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The last of the great Kentucky colonels, still in vigorous action at 81, conducts a tour of the Bluegrass country and recalls his own great and gaudy days as a top U.S. horseman

The Kentucky colonel, as an institution, is as dead as Daniel Boone. He flourished in a day long gone and finished with. He moved in a world populated by "fine, game gentlemen" and "lovely, charming, gracious ladies" and servants loyal and true. He rode to hounds and owned a string of race horses and sometimes tucked a .45 caliber revolver in his belt against the chance of a remark casting aspersions on Kentucky womanhood. The stage setting he created for himself survives him: the white fences enclosing the pastures and the broad verandas of the old mansions. But now the stage is occupied by the colonel's modern countertype: a more efficient fellow but certainly colorless by comparison. However, there is at least one authentic specimen of the old Kentucky colonel around, and what follows is an account of a visit with him.

In a private dining room of the Thoroughbred Club of America on the parlor floor of the Phoenix Hotel in Lexington, Philip Thompson Chinn, last of the oldtime Kentucky colonels and certainly the most respectable rascal in the history of horse racing, cut into his steak, peered at it and laid down his knife and fork.

"John," he said to John Smallwood, the waiter, standing by expectantly, "this appears to me to be as fine a piece of sirloin as I've seen in my 81 years upon this earth. But please be good enough to take it back to the kitchen, give my compliments to the chef and ask him to give it a little more fire. Get the idea?"

"Yes, Colonel," said John Smallwood, taking the platter with the air of a man who had acted out the ritual many times before.

"Now then," said Colonel Chinn, easing his big, broad-shouldered frame back into his chair and running a hand through his thinning mane of white hair, "we were talking about great race horses. Well, when you talk about great race horses, you start with Man o' War and put him in a class all by himself and go on from there. Then, if you ask my opinion, I will say that I consider Swaps to be as great a horse as I have ever seen. If he had been a whole horse at Chicago and not a cripple, I believe he would have beaten Nashua by five lengths."

This highly controversial declaration was received with respect by the others at the table. For in Lexington, Colonel Chinn is considered to be as competent a judge of horseflesh as any man alive and as much an institution of the Bluegrass country as mint juleps and the white fences around the horse farms. He has lived all his years entirely in the world of the Thoroughbreds. His father and his uncle owned Leonatus, the Kentucky Derby winner of 1883. His wife, the late Elsie Ferguson Chinn, was a grand-niece of Price McGrath, owner of Aristides, the first Derby winner.

As Colonel Phil grew up, he was a boy jockey, a trainer, a breeder. But he was to make his great reputation as a supersalesman of horses. For years, back in the '20s, he dominated the yearling sales at Saratoga and Keeneland and set records for prices (he got $70,000 for Hustle On as a yearling) and averages that stood up until the horse boom after World War II.

This day, as he lunched at the Thoroughbred Club, the Colonel was savoring another special occasion. He had agreed to conduct a visitor on a tour of the countryside and reminisce along the way. The notion appealed to him and he had proposed the luncheon as a good way to begin.

Now, John Smallwood, the waiter, re-entered the room and again placed the platter before the Colonel who promptly complimented him not only on the appearance of the steak, but upon his own character and personal integrity as well.

As the luncheon proceeded, the name of Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, whose portrait hangs on the wall as one of the Thoroughbred Club's Honor Guests, came up. The Colonel put down his knife and fork and said carefully:

"I can see absolutely no improvement that any man could make in the way Jim Fitzsimmons trains a horse. Or in the way Ben Jones and Preston Burch and Max Hirsch train a horse."

"How about yourself, Colonel," said a guest. "I mean when you were training horses like Night Stick and Torchbearer for the big betting races in the old days, I guess that must have been pretty nerve-wracking?"

The Colonel thought a moment, chewing his steak.

"You know," he said after a moment, "I never did care much for steak. The only reason I eat it is that the doctors at Mayo's told me to—for protein, to build up my blood. Now I'll tell you why I quit training excessively. I found myself commencing to sit down heavy."

He looked at his mystified questioner. "That was exactly it, boss," said the Colonel. "I was the big coup trainer, there'd be bets of $30 and $40 and $50,000 on my horses. I'd have a big side bet of my own. Get the idea? Well, one day Torchbearer was running and Earl Sande was riding him. I went to Earl when he was getting on the horse and I said, 'Earl, this horse has human intelligence. He prejudges the start and you have got to be on the alert. He will sense the start coming before you do. Be very careful.' Well, the start came and Torchbearer broke with Earl and threw his feet right out of the stirrups. Earl was hanging on to keep from being thrown entirely. I couldn't tell what in the world was happening. But then Earl managed to right himself and go on to finish second, only got beat by a couple of lengths for all the trouble at the start. But I had $10,000 straight on that horse, and after the race was over I sat down awful heavy. Now I was a devotee of boxing and I'd noticed that when a boxer came back to his corner and sat down heavy on that stool, he was on the way out. Get the idea? So that day it struck me that the same thing had happened to me. And that's why I quit training for the big betting races."

"Speaking of big betting," a luncheon guest said, "I guess bettors didn't come any bigger than Harry Sinclair, the oil man?"

"Boss," said Colonel Chinn, "Mr. Harry Sinclair bet in stupendous figures. He was a lovely man, a lovely friend of mine. I always advised him when I believed a certain horse would warrant his interest.

"So one time when Minto II was running, I called up his man, name of Wahlberg, and said, 'Kindly tell Mr. Sinclair that I am going to bet $10,000 on Minto II straight and $10,000 to place.' Wahlberg said, 'I'll give him the message, but he's coming to the races today and will look you up.'

"Well, Mr. Sinclair looked me up and the first thing he said was, 'Colonel, how come you are betting on this horse to place?" I told him that Fitzsimmons has a first class mare in the race and she had won three straight. I said our horse would practically have to break the track record to beat her." The Colonel took a piece of steak and chewed it slowly.

"Well," he said, "to make a long story short, Minto II did break the track record and won easily. Afterward I was in the bar and Mr. Sinclair stormed in. He was fit to be tied. 'What was the big idea of touting me off that horse, Chinn!' he shouted. I asked him what he meant. 'Why,' he says, 'You steered me off with that place bet of yours! All I had on her was $25,000 straight! If you hadn't played her down, I would have bet $500,000!'

" 'Wait a minute, Mr. Sinclair,' I said, 'the race is over, the horse is being cooled out. You can't do anything about it now.'

"He stormed out, mad as a hatter. That ended our very pleasant financial association."

He chuckled. "I remember Al Jolson was always coming to me. 'Colonel,' he'd say, 'don't bother about those kind of fellows. You just let me know when you got a horse ready and old Al will do the betting for both of us!' "

Suddenly in the doorway of the dining room there stood a slender, gray-haired woman. She was Miss Florence Elam, the Colonel's secretary from his Phoenix Hotel office across the hall.

"Excuse me, Colonel," she said, "but there's a man at the office who has three tons of straw to sell."

"Thank the man, Miss Elam," said the Colonel, "and tell him no."

"Colonel, he only wants $15 a ton!"

"Thank the man, Miss Elam," said the Colonel, "and grab all you can get at that price."

"I thought you'd want it!" cried Miss Elam, happily, hurrying away.

"That's a very good price for straw," the Colonel said.

"You're in action all right, Colonel," said a man at the table.

The Colonel turned and beamed at the magic word of the horse world.

"Well, boss," said the Colonel, "I'll tell you something about that, and I don't intend this in the spirit of braggadocio. When I flew out to California in January, I completed arrangements for the disposal of $100,000 worth of horses." He looked around and nodded his head. "Yes, I am in action, and on the day I feel I'm out of action permanently, that's the day I'll be willing to lie down and croak."

The Colonel pushed his chair back from the table. He reached for his stout walking stick and pulled himself up. "Well," he said, shaking hands all around, "we've got places to go now and things to see." He turned to the waiter who handed him his broad-brimmed Stetson hat. Then he started out, stopping every few steps to exchange a word with fellow club members.

(Meanwhile, in the Colonel's office across the hall, Miss Elam's joy over the bargain in straw was short-lived. A man named T. M. Rose had come in and announced that the Colonel was buying a colt from him. Miss Elam wailed in despair at all that was going on under the colors of Colonel Chinn's Old Hickory Farm, which is a name that covers the 20-acre homestead on the Paris Pike outside Lexington and three other acreages the Colonel leases for the horses he owns outright or in partnership with others. In addition, there were horses running in California and at New Orleans and Hot Springs—far too much activity, in Miss Elam's view, for a man who should be taking life easy.)

Passing the office on his way to the elevator, Colonel Chinn glanced in its direction with apprehension. "Miss Elam," he said, "is a most loyal and efficient secretary and a charming and gracious lady. I could not get along without her. But sometimes I suspect that Miss Elam would prefer that I own just one old horse and sit in the sun petting it all day long."

He shuddered. "I've got to be in action or croak!"

At the curb outside the hotel, the Colonel's black Cadillac—a trademark through the years—was waiting for him. At the wheel was Bill Settlemayer who, at 30, had given up his salesman's job and jumped at the chance to drive the Colonel and learn about the horse business from him. Already, under the Colonel's guidance, he had become the owner of a 2-year-old filly.

"Bill," said the Colonel, "let's stop and see Willie Meehan for a minute and then we'll drop by Mereworth Farm and say hello to Mr. Wright."

"Yes, sir," said Bill, as the Colonel settled himself up front. "I'm getting that pedigree on my filly, Colonel."

"Good," said the Colonel. "You told them you wanted a selling pedigree, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did, Colonel," said Bill.

"That's fine," said the Colonel. "They'll leave out the weak points then."

The car left the town behind and as it rolled along the highway, Colonel Chinn pointed out a faded barn behind a garage and filling station.

"Domino was once stabled there by his owner, Major B. J. Thomas," he said. "I recall one time, years ago, Mr. Joseph E. Widener had me to lunch. Afterward, he suggested we look at the horses, and when we came to the mare Ormonda, he said, 'I have been wondering what horse to breed her to. Have you any suggestions, Colonel?' Well, sir, I said, 'Boss, when in doubt, breed to a Domino horse. One of our best stallions is Sweep and he has that Domino and Ben Brush cross, you know.' So Mr. Widener bred Ormonda to Sweep and got Dustwhirl. She became the dam of Whirlaway and Reaping Reward."

A little later he pointed to a field. "Man o' War was raised there, boss."

He chuckled.

"Everybody could have had Man o' War to hear them tell it, but I'll tell you how close I came. There was a fellow named Bob Allen came down here from Iowa. He was a horseman but he wanted to get a job on one of the farms and see how we handled horses in Kentucky. Well, to make a long story short, he was the man who brought Man o' War to the yearling sale at Saratoga and he told me, 'Colonel, this is absolutely the greatest colt I've ever had my hands on.' Well, I saw the colt and I felt the same way. When the bidding started, I was right in there and I was still in there when it got to $4,000. Now I had a partner at that time and we were accustomed to buying yearlings in the hundreds of dollars or maybe the low thousands. When I got to $4,000 on Man o' War, this partner of mine started pulling at my coattail. 'Phil,' he whispered in my ear, 'we didn't make ours at these prices.' The spell was broken and I dropped out. Later, Mr. Riddle's man told me he was under orders not to go above $5,000." He sighed at the memory. "That's the way it goes."

After a while the car stopped, and Bill Settlemayer went into a barn and came out with a weather-beaten little man wearing a cap with the peak turned up. This was Willie Meehan, a former jockey.

"Willie," said the Colonel, "I've decided to sell Atomic Bomb [a 4-year-old colt running in New Orleans], and if you find anybody interested at $3,000, you're in for $250."

"Yes, sir, Colonel," replied Willie Meehan, touching his cap.

As the car rolled on, Colonel Chinn began to laugh. "The biggest bunch of horses I ever sold," he said, "was 30,000 artillery and cavalry horses to England, France and Belgium in the First World War. The way that came about, I was racing in England when the war broke out, and one morning I was having breakfast with my friend, Ed Simms, in the Cecil Hotel. I mentioned the fact that I'd like to contact the government about buying horses for them in the United States and he offered to provide me with a letter from our ambassador, Mr. Walter Page. He did, too, but the letter didn't cut any ice with the English bobbies who had all the streets blocked off around 10 Downing Street. I said to myself, T better take the Chinn route if I want to get into No. 10.' So I had some fancy cards printed, very dignified, reading 'Colonel Philip T. Chinn, Horseman.' That worked like magic. The bobbies thought I was a big man in the army. Next thing I knew I was passed into No. 10 Downing Street and left standing in a hallway. I opened a door and there were some men at the table inside. They looked around and I recognized Mr. David Lloyd George, Mr. Stanley Baldwin and Lord Jellicoe. 'Oh,' I said, 'excuse me, gentlemen, I must have the wrong room here.' They all mumbled something and I backed out. An usher was coming along and I told him who I was and what I was there for. He shooed me into another room and pretty soon another celebrity came in, and he was the man to talk horses. Well, to make a long story short, I eventually got a contract and financial backing. We set up inspection points at Cincinnati, Lexington, Atlanta, Savannah and Galveston and advertised in the papers. I was handling the situation at Cincinnati and I had trouble with the French and Belgian agents. They wanted a kickback. So I rolled up the equivalent of $3 a head in copies of the Cincinnati Enquirer and passed it to them in the hotel lobby and let it be known that that was my top price. I had no further trouble. The British agents were fine. They just wanted horses—no kickbacks."

The Colonel caught his breath.

"Oh, yes," he went on, "I used to cross the Atlantic like you'd cross the street. One time, I remember, I had to get over in a hurry and I didn't have time to get my passport. So I backed up the gangplank, waving and calling to people on the pier, although there wasn't anybody there I knew, and managed to get aboard. A couple of days later the captain sent for me and I tried to beat him to the punch. 'Sir,' I said, I wonder if you are acquainted with Mr. William Jennings Bryan, the Secretary of State?' He said he did not know Mr. Bryan, so I said, 'Well, he is a great friend of my father and has been a dinner guest at our home in Harrodsburg, Ky. many times.' The captain was a cold customer. He looked at me and said, 'Colonel Chinn, regardless of your close friendship with Mr. Bryan, you are not going to get off this boat when we get to England.' But he finally let me go ashore long enough to transact my business."

Bill Settlemayer pulled up before Mereworth Farm.

"Bill," said the Colonel, "run in and ask Mr. Wright if he'll be good enough to step out."

In a moment, Ward Wright of the Mereworth Farm office came out of the house and down the walk.

"Well, Colonel," he cried, "you've certainly come through the winter just fine."

"Oh, yes," said the Colonel. They exchanged further pleasantries for a few moments and then Colonel Chinn said:

"What have you got around here that might interest me?"

"Let me see," said Ward Wright. "Well, Colonel, I believe there's just one 3-year-old colt you might be interested in. You can't fault him because he's never run a race."

"What's the price on him?" asked the Colonel.

"$2,000," said Ward Wright.

"Pretty steep," said the Colonel.

"Oh, it was $3,000," said Wright. "But we knocked off a thousand as soon as we heard you were outside."

"Let's go, Bill," chuckled the Colonel, waving goodby.

There was still time for a visit to Calumet Farm. In the office, Colonel Chinn swept off his Stetson before Margaret Glass, secretary of Calumet, bowed and thanked her for the letter she had written him on the occasion of the testimonial dinner. She laughed as he paid her a courtly Kentucky compliment.

He took his companions on a walk through the Calumet stallion barn and pointed with his walking stick as the groom opened up the stalls of Citation and Mark-Ye-Well and Ponder and the great sire, Bull Lea, whose sons and daughters have won more than $10 million.

Now it was dusk. The big black car pointed back toward Lexington.

Next day, another young man was at the wheel of the Colonel's black Cadillac. He was Joe Graves Jr., a young businessman of Lexington still in his 20s, and—like Bill Settlemayer—learning the horse business from the Colonel. But Joe was a senior student and now had horses of his own and several in partnership with the Colonel.

The tour left Old Hickory Farm, where the Colonel breakfasted late on sausage and eggs, biscuits and pear salad, and touched down at Keeneland where Joe and the Colonel looked at his colt, Julep Boy. The Colonel noted ribs showing on the colt and directed Tom Brown, his manager, to call the vet and have some tests run.

Tom opened the stall to bring the colt out for a closer look and Julep Boy reared and backed away.

"Ho," laughed Tom, "he thinks I got medicine for him. Hey, boy, I got no medicine!"

Baker Price, Tom's assistant, elbowed past him. "Let me in there, Tom," he cried. "He knows I don't give him medicine. Let me have him there. Watch him now, he be all right."

As Baker took the rein, Julep Boy calmed down and was led out.

Tom took the rein and the colt lurched forward.

"Ho, ho!" laughed Baker. "Look at 'im! He's a bullet!"

The Colonel grinned and turned back to the car.

At the Fairgrounds, the Colonel stopped for a look at a 45-day-old bay filly by John's Joy out of Kind Gesture and descended, on the dam's side, from one of the Colonel's best known horses, High Time (leading U.S. sire in 1928). Somebody asked the Colonel's opinion of the filly.

"I don't pay any attention to foals as such," said the Colonel. "She's got a good mother and a very promising sire. That's what counts."

Joe Graves turned the Cadillac in the direction of Harrodsburg, 35 miles away. The plan was to have dinner there, in the town where the Colonel was born and raised. "We'll get to Beaumont Inn," said the Colonel. "They have some of the best food in Kentucky. We'll have fried chicken and old country ham, if that's agreeable."

Now Joe Graves settled down to the steady, slow speed the Colonel likes. He had agreed to remind the Colonel to tell a few stories about his father.

"Colonel," said Joe, "your father was a truly fabulous man."

"Joe," said the Colonel, "my father, Colonel Jack Chinn, was a hard man, but he was fair. He was kind. Why, no child in Mercer County went without a pair of shoes if he knew about it. Some people got the idea he was a killer. He wasn't a killer. He carried a gun like everybody else. But he never killed anybody. Never shot anybody to my knowledge except my uncle—and that was an accident. My uncle jumped in the way when my father was trying to shoot somebody else. It was only a flesh wound. My uncle recovered."

"Colonel," said Joe, "didn't Irvin Cobb write up the time they had to call out the state militia to disperse your father?"

The Colonel nodded.

"That was true. My father was a Democratic sergeant at arms of the state senate and the election of a Republican governor was being contested. There was a big argument over seating some senators and the upshot was this Republican governor called out the militia to force my father to do things his way. My father sent out word from his hotel, 'I'm coming out. You keep those soldiers on the other side of the street, back 'em on over there now or there'll be trouble.' They backed up and my father walked out and nobody dared lay a hand on him."

"He was truly courageous," said Joe Graves.

"My father had the same attitude when he was officiating as starter for a race. He was in great demand as a starter. He wouldn't pussyfoot around. He'd take a club and shake it under the noses of the jockeys and tell them, 'You start when I tell you or I'll kill every one of you.' "

Joe Graves waited a while. Finally he turned to the Colonel.

"How about the time you were getting out a book in the betting ring down at Juarez when Pancho Villa was running things in Mexico?"

The Colonel nodded.

"That was a rough meeting for me, Joe," he said, "I'd win maybe $139 one day and lose $560 the next. I wasn't getting anywhere. But I did strike up a close friendship with some of the men who were running things for Villa in Chihuahua. One of these men was a former German army officer named Sommerfeld and the other was a fellow named Mac who was part Irish, part Mexican, part Indian and part several other things. This Mac, I believe, was the toughest man I ever met in my life. He had killed, I was told, about 3,500 people—personally. Very rough and tough, but affable. We got to be great friends.

"These friendships proved valuable to me when I backed a certain horse and he won running away like a thief in the night. There were repercussions, so to speak. As a matter of fact, I was suspended pending the outcome of a hearing."

The Colonel drew the back of his hand across his mouth and his big frame shook with silent laughter. With a sidelong glance, he calculated the effect of his tale and then went on:

"Well, I confided my predicament to my friends and they were pretty indignant. 'Why,' Mac said, 'we'll just back Villa's army on in here, take over the track and put you in charge. Then you tell Matt Winn when he can open the gates and when he can't.'

"I told him I wouldn't want to go quite that far. I said Colonel Matt—he was steward of the meeting—was a decent fellow. But I didn't protest when they said they'd have a man at the hearing.

"Well, the morning of the hearing, 10,000 soldiers marched into town and one of Villa's men, a handsome but ferocious-looking fellow, came to the hearing. Now when I say he came to the hearing I don't mean he knocked on the door and walked in. He broke it down, walked up to the table and said, 'Reinstate!'

"Judge Charlie Price, who was presiding, tried to say something about it being necessary to hear the evidence, and this big fellow whipped out a bowie knife and rammed it into the table. 'Reinstate,' he yells, 'or I keel everybody here!' I put up my hand and hollered, 'Hey, this is Chinn speaking! Don't kill me!'

"Judge Price turned white as a sheet and called on Matt Winn for an opinion. Matt got up and said, 'Judge, I do not believe there is a scintilla of evidence against our good friend, Colonel Phil Chinn.' Judge Price banged his hammer and declared the case closed."

The car rolled to a stop in front of the Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg.

"I believe you dropped about $38,000 there in Juarez, Colonel," said Joe.

"Thirty-eight five, Joe," said the Colonel, getting out of the car. "I had to talk the hotel into letting me pay my bill after I got back to Kentucky."

A little later, Colonel Chinn was settled at his favorite table in the dining room of the inn (his mother had gone to school in this building which was once known as Daughters College) and signaling for the waiter.

"Yes, Colonel Chinn, sir," said the waiter hurrying over.

"Leon," said Colonel Chinn. "I wonder if you'll be so kind as to take these biscuits back to the kitchen, have them split open and toasted."

"Certainly, Colonel," said Leon, picking up the plate and starting away.

The Colonel began eating his salad.

"I expect Sarazen was about as game a horse as you ever owned, Colonel," said Joe Graves.

"Let me tell you about Sarazen, Joe," said the Colonel. "But I've got to start with High Time. My first dealings with High Time were as trainer for Admiral Cary T. Grayson. The horse was a bleeder. One morning I finally got him to the track for a work and he burned it up. I thought we had a cinch. I planned to work him easily and then drop him into a race before anyone caught on. Well, I did just that and I never saw a horse beat so badly. He led into the stretch and then finished 10th.

"I told Admiral Grayson, Joe," the Colonel went on, pushing away his salad and starting on his chicken and ham. "I said, 'Admiral, please be good enough to take the horse out of my stable. I've got other things to do.' Well, the Admiral agreed and retired High Time to stud."

The waiter placed a plate of toasted biscuits before the Colonel.

"Thank you, Leon," said the Colonel, "and you can remove the butter. I'm not allowed to have any."

"Too bad, Colonel," said Leon.

"Oh, I don't miss it," said the Colonel. "A man can't have everything at my age. I've got all my own teeth. So, Joe, getting back to High Time, that closed the case until some years later, Hiram Steele asked me to go look at two yearlings out at Dr. Marius Johnston's farm. He told me they were by High Time. I said, 'In that case, no thank you.' But I agreed to have a look at them. Well, I did and one look was enough. I went to the house and asked to have Dr. Johnston awakened. He was taking a nap. When he came downstairs in his bathrobe, I asked the price of the two yearlings. 'Colonel,' he said, 'I've had a price of $2,500 on each of them, but maybe I could shave that.' I said, 'Not at all, Doctor, no need to shave the price at all; $2,500 is perfectly satisfactory.' "

"And those two yearlings," said Joe, "were Sarazen and Time Exposure."

The Colonel signaled to Leon and nodded to Joe. "Now you're talking, Joe."

"Yes, Colonel?" said Leon.

"Leon," said the Colonel, "take this piece of' chicken and credit it to my account and let me have some more ham instead."

"All right, Colonel," said Leon.

"Now, Joe," said the Colonel, "I had to get High Time back to Kentucky. So I succeeded in buying a half interest in him from Admiral Grayson. Later I sold a half of my half to Senator Joseph W. Bailey of Texas. Then some time later, Admiral Grayson advised me that he was proceeding to California in the private car of Mr. Barney Baruch who would like to see me in Miami later on to discuss High Time. Well, in due course, we met at the Miami Biltmore and the Admiral came right to the point. 'Colonel Chinn,' he said, 'I have reason to believe that I can dispose of my half interest in High Time for approximately $50,000.' "

Joe Graves whistled.

"I was a little short on change, Joe," said the Colonel, trimming a piece of ham, "but I didn't hesitate a minute. 'Admiral Grayson, sir,' I said, 'you have sold a horse. Now when would you desire payment?' The Admiral replied, 'Take your time, Colonel, take 10 days if you want.' "

"You had to raise $50,000 in 10 days, Colonel?" asked Joe.

"Correct," said the Colonel. "But I had reason to believe that my good friend, W. T. Anderson, a big operator, one of the great characters of racing, could provide me with half that amount. I sold him Calaris and many another horse. He was in California and so I sent him a wire and said, 'Proceeding to Lexington. Could use $25,000. Regards.'

"Well, when I got back to Lexington, there was the wire from Anderson. It was a Western Union money order and the message with it said, 'Any man who can use $25,000 can use $50,000. Regards.' "

"Boy, he was a true friend," said Joe.

"A true friend and a game man, Joe," said Colonel Chinn. "He could lose $100,000 in an afternoon and sit down and relish the biggest dinner ever eaten by mortal man."

"His death was very touching, Colonel," prompted Joe.

The Colonel leaned back in his chair and was silent a moment. Then he raised his head and said:

"He was scalded while taking a bath in a New York City hotel and contracted pneumonia. He died a few days later. His last words were, 'Sprinkle my ashes on the finish line at Belmont. That's where they broke me.' "

"I believe the wish was carried out," said Joe.

"That is my understanding, Joe," said the Colonel. "They chartered an airplane. Get the idea?"

After dinner, Joe and the Colonel sat for a while in one of the parlors of the inn. People walking through the room stopped and greeted them and complimented the Colonel on coming through the winter so well.

There was a full moon riding the cloud-flecked sky when the ride home began. Now the talk turned from the old days to the present and the future and the horses Joe and the Colonel had together and separately and the others that the Colonel's grandson, Hal Steele, had in training in Hot Springs. They talked of horses that might be bought and the prices that were being asked for them.

"Never pay a man the bottom price, Joe," admonished the Colonel. "Never chisel a man if you can help it. Not unless he's trying to chisel you."

Joe nodded.

It was almost 11 o'clock when the big black car turned off the Paris Pike and into the drive that led up to the big house of Old Hickory Farm.

This is not the mansion that was the scene of some of the Colonel's greatest triumphs. That one went with the crash of his fortunes in Depression days. It is now the property of Leslie Combs II and John W. Hanes of the syndicate that owns the horse named Nashua.

But this was a house that any man could be proud of, with the white fences and the tall, old trees framing it. As Colonel Chinn stood in the doorway and waved to his young friend, Joe Graves, it looked brave and shining in the light of the full Kentucky moon.




A YOUTHFUL COLONEL PHIL visits Churchill Downs with friend William Applegate, Shakespearean scholar and bookie.



P. T. Chinn did for the horse business in Kentucky what P. T. Barnum did for the circus. It's a moot question as to which came first, the traditional Kentucky colonel caricature or the Colonel himself. Certainly, he was the first of the big-time promoters. He raised private and public selling from a backwoods hunt for a likely racing prospect into a pleasureful experience colored with southern hospitality and plausible stories, all glossing over any flaws in the merchandise.

Colonel Chinn and his contemporaries were first cousins to carnival characters and close kin to circus travelers. They firmly believe their game is the greatest on earth and are anxious to recruit newcomers for the sheer pleasure of their company and so they also may share in the fun.

In the fox and hare world in which the Colonel moved, the pursuer and the pursued often got their roles reversed. But when a great operator like Colonel Chinn himself was taken, he could laugh, shrug and tell with high glee the story of how he had been had.

His principal objects are the game and selling methods which are to him a fascinating, ever-changing end in themselves. His constant aim is the "big coup," with the world a stage set of charming, unmalicious gentlemanly folk akin in colorfulness to Damon Runyon's Broadway characters.


For real racing, the thing to do is to run down to Keeneland. It lasts only 10 days and you will see why, because racing has a social side in Lexington, and 10 days are about all a man of middle age can stand. This tourist's recollections of Keeneland go back to...a May morning in 1935...the Thoroughbred Club was having a breakfast there, and when this wanderer stepped through the door the first thing he encountered was what appeared to be a lilac bush. There was a sudden disturbance among the branches and a full moon rose over it, a round, reddish, benevolent moon, wearing spectacles. Closer inspection proved it was Colonel Phil T. Chinn with a mint julep.

—JOE PALMER in This Was Racing


Colonel Chinn owned and raced some important horses of his own: Sarazen, High Time, Black Maria, Silver Fox II, Bracadale, Calaris, In Memoriam, Time Exposure, among others. During his heyday, in an era gone, never to return, the Colonel scrupulously observed the prevailing code of ethics—which happened to be about the same on the turf as they were in the Wall Street of the robber barons. It was the day when some owners of "hideout horses" would prepare so minutely for a coup, do such zealous "missionary work" among the jockeys that the word would go out to a very few favored associates: "Bet all you can get on!"

Colonel Chinn's specialty was the big buildup for prospective buyers of horses. This included entertaining them royally the night before inspection of the merchandise and then—at least once—the Colonel's early appearance at the training track to move the quarter poles a bit closer together so that a colt would turn in a record-breaking performance by the prospect's own stopwatch.

But that was long ago, and as times changed, the Colonel conformed—perhaps not completely but certainly enough to get a large share of the credit for making Lexington the capital of the horse breeding industry. One night last winter the town demonstrated its appreciation by tendering him a testimonial dinner. There were 250 of the leading citizens on hand, and practically every leading figure in the horse world (including Secretary of the Treasury George Humphrey) sent affectionate greetings.