They say there is nothing like a good racehorse to bring out the heel in a man. Whoever coined that phrase on the backstretch of another era would have second thoughts if he were wintering at Florida's Hialeah right now.
There are many good horses at Hialeah, but the best is a handsome, deep-rich-chestnut 3-year-old colt with white feet and a star and stripe of the same color in his face. This is Bold Lad, who won eight of 10 races and $387,471 last year, has been the early favorite for the 1965 Kentucky Derby, and so far has miserably failed to bring out the heel in those around him. Not that he hasn't tried. A month ago he reared up in the walking ring and crowned his Irish groom, Dave Sullivan, with his foot. When Sullivan was revived, his first thought was to ask whether Bold Lad's leg had been X-rayed yet. It was all right then, but two weeks later X rays showed that Bold Lad had developed a splint just below the knee on the inside of his right foreleg (SI, Feb. 15). This normally is a minor ailment that merely delays a horse's serious training for about 10 days. However, after Bold Lad was galloped last Friday it was apparent that he had not fully recovered, and getting him ready for the Derby is going to require expert care and superlative horsemanship by his trainer.
Fortunately, that trainer is Bill Winfrey, one of the best in the business, and Winfrey's skill is matched by the devotion of Dave Sullivan, of Bold Lad's exercise boy, Tommy Quinn, of Stable Office Manager John Fitzsimmons, of Foreman and Assistant Trainer Allie Robertson and even by that of Bold Lad's mascot, a 9-month-old police dog named Oliver who is so sweetly disposed that Auric Goldfinger could safely set up headquarters in the next stall to organize a raid on Hialeah's money room.
Despite Bold Lad's temporary infirmity, there is an extra something in the Florida air around Hialeah's Barn C these days—an unusually good morale among stable personnel who know that they are contributing to the success of the country's No. 1 Thoroughbred racing empire. This empire belongs to three generations of Phippses and has been guided by experts like the A. B. Hancocks, father and son, at whose Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. Phipps mares have long been boarded and bred to the finest available stallions. Claiborne Farm is a place, too, where yearlings get the most careful early training.
For 37 years Phipps racing stock was sent from Claiborne to Trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, who retired in 1963 at the age of 88—but not before he had assured many future Phipps runners by developing some top mares. His most notable accomplishment for the Phipps clan was developing a son of the great Nasrullah, who popped up with exactly the right name: Bold Ruler. As a youngster at Claiborne, Bold Ruler suffered a double hernia. He looked so sickly that Bull Hancock sent him to a back pasture so that visitors to the farm office could not see him. Throughout his career Bold Ruler ran with a rheumatic condition and was never entirely sound. Yet he ran with tremendous heart, always eager to be up with the pace, and he had amazing powers of acceleration. "He could beat any horse in the world from six furlongs to a mile-and-an-eighth," Mr. Fitz said recently. In his career (1956-58) Bold Ruler won 23 of 33 races and $764,204.
Considering his speed, it is not surprising that Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps (who races under the name of Wheatley Stable) and her son Ogden shared Bull Hancock's belief that Bold Ruler could be a top stallion. "On his day he was truly great," says Hancock. "And I believed that a free-runner like that had the best chance possible of producing stayers if his offspring came from strong enough families." Out in California Bill Winfrey, who nearly won the 1953 Kentucky Derby with Alfred Vanderbilt's Native Dancer and who since the late '50s had been operating a public stable, was thinking along exactly the same lines. Winfrey took Mr. Fitz's job in June 1963 and admits today: "Sure, I was influenced greatly by the idea of training some Bold Rulers. I always thought he had more potential as a stud than Nashua. So far he's better, anyway."
So far—and how! No stallion, in fact, has ever started his stud career in this country with such fantastic success. Last year alone he had 10 stakes winners, he became the youngest champion sire to repeat as champion, and he is the only two-time champion in the history of U.S. racing who was the leading sire of 2-year-olds in those same two years.
Last year Mrs. Phipps, son Ogden and grandson Ogden Mills (Dinny) Phipps owned 20 of the 40 mares to whom Bold Ruler was bred. Hancock receives a few services to Bold Ruler as his managerial fee, and the others—if you can buy one—are worth a minimum of $35,000 each. So much in demand are Bold Ruler's offspring that the only yearling by him sold at public auction in 1964 was purchased for $170,000. The colt's new name, appropriately enough, is One Bold Bid.
While Bold Ruler's oldest racing crop has just turned 5, his winners up to now are scattered among all the crops: six 4-year-olds, 12 3-year-olds and 11 2-year-olds won in 1964. Bold Ruler helped Wheatley last year to the money-winning-owner's award ($1,073,572) and the 2-year-old colt and filly championships with Bold Lad and Queen Empress. In the course of these pleasant activities, Wheatley joined Calumet Farm, C. V. Whitney and Rex Ellsworth as the only stables ever to earn more than $1 million in purses in a season.
Of the 121 youngsters weighted on the recent Experimental Free Handicap list, eight are by Bold Ruler. Topweighted at 130 pounds by Handicapper Tommy Trotter, Bold Lad is in a select group including (from among 250,000 horses ranked in 31 free handicaps) Bimelech, Alsab and Native Dancer, who also received 130 pounds. Only Count Fleet, at 132, was assigned more weight in the Experimental, which attempts to evaluate the new 3-year-olds on the basis of their 2-year-old form and potential. For those who try to read a Kentucky Derby finish from the Experimental weights, it is worth noting that Count Fleet won his Derby, while Bimelech, Alsab and Native Dancer all ran second.
The Phippses, however, seldom run second—to other people's horses or to anything else. It has been that way most of the years since Henry Phipps was born in 1839, the son of a cobbler. He grew up in Barefoot Square in Allegheny, Pa. and—at 13—while working for $1.25 a week for a Pittsburgh jeweler, made a pal of another poor boy on the block named Andrew Carnegie. Young Phipps's first share in what later became Carnegie Co. cost him a painfully earned $800, but it seems to have been worth it.
In 1901, after the two had been in a steel partnership for many years, Carnegie sold out to J. P. Morgan who then founded U.S. Steel. Henry Phipps's share of the sale was $50 million. Five years ago the $50 million of 1901 was worth $300 million to the more than 70 living Phippses who draw their incomes from what has been described as a "diversified portfolio of real-estate holdings, corporate bonds and stocks, municipals and governments."
In the last few generations the Phippses and their cousins have married into families with names like Grace, Mills, Martin and Bostwick, and they have become one of the most active and successful sporting tribes of our time. Early on the Phippses used to hunt big game in Africa, shoot grouse in Scotland and cast for salmon in Canada. More recently horses and tennis—court tennis, that is—have preoccupied them. Michael Phipps and his cousin, Winston Guest, were 10-goal polo players, while Raymond Guest rode not far behind at eight goals. Ogden Phipps, now 56 and chairman of The Jockey Club, long ago became so enchanted with the old French game of court tennis—and subsequently so good at it—that he was eight times national amateur champion. His cousin, Alastair Martin, was also an eight-time champion. And now Ogden's 24-year-old son Dinny who, like Bold Lad, has never missed an oat in his life (weight, 275 pounds), is defending amateur doubles champ with Northrup Knox, after playing No. 2 on both the tennis and squash teams at Yale.
Ogden's brother-in-law, Pete Bostwick, another high-goal polo player, once rode for John Hay Whitney in England's Grand National Steeplechase. Pete has since become one of the leading jumping trainers in the U.S. Both his older sons are star court tennis and racquets players and top golfers; one of them, Jimmy, is the defending amateur golf champion of France. One of Pete's brothers, A. C. Bostwick, owns a few racehorses, but another one, Dunbar, must be considered a maverick by Phipps standards. He is a harness-horse breeder and owner, an official in the U.S. Trotting Association and treasurer of The Hambletonian Society.
Other Phippses and their in-laws ride to hounds in Maryland and Virginia. Former polo star Mike Phipps, now on Hialeah's Board of Directors, operates a first-class Thoroughbred training center at St. Lucie, Fla., while down the road in Palm Beach (where almost all the Phippses can beg a bed in the house of one relative or another), Mrs. Ogden Phipps's daughter Lilly Lee McKim Pulitzer invented the dress that bears her name—Lilly—and made a business success on her own. Her husband, Peter Pulitzer, a crack shot with rifle and shotgun, was co-driver on the winning boat in the 1964 Miami-to-Nassau powerboat race. Who did it belong to? Why, young Dinny Phipps, of course, who since then has bought a marine company in Miami that specializes in motors rather than hulls. So far those engines are responsible for three finishers in the first six in last fall's Salton City 500 and more recently for the one-two boats in the Orange Bowl Regatta.
One Phipps who certainly will not be distracted from horse racing by boats or anything else is the leader of the clan, the former Gladys Mills, now the 80-year-old widow of Henry Carnegie Phipps and mother of Ogden. Starting with only five horses nearly 40 years ago, she has had amazing success with her stable (called Wheatley for Wheatley Road on Long Island) and has rarely had a losing season. She still makes out her own list each year of which broodmares are to be bred to which stallions and thoroughly enjoys being more successful with her horses than Ogden has been with his. She gets to the races whenever possible. On Long Island, two or three times a week, she drives her Bentley to the stables at Belmont. There, with a passenger cargo of several dogs, she feeds the horses sugar and talks over racing plans with Trainer Winfrey.
No Phipps has ever been a publicity hound. Until Dinny slightly altered the family pattern by hobnobbing in track press boxes and frequenting Toots Shor's, none considered the press anything more than a necessary evil of the modern age. One exception has been Ogden's wife, the former Lillian Bostwick. who has done more than anyone in America to encourage participation in jump racing and continually urges racing writers to give her sport more of a play in print. The owner of Wheatley Stable, however, feels no similar compulsion to grant interviews, even when they pertain to her Bold Lad, and it has been reported by members of her family that she does not exactly roar with laughter at the sight of some cartoons of her that appear from time to time in The Morning Telegraph and Daily Racing Form.
Although she is extremely shy and not given to imperious gestures, Mrs. Phipps must still be considered the grand dame of American racing. Her son, Ogden, has himself been in the game for some 30 years, but it wasn't until the sale of the late Colonel E. R. Bradley's stock in the mid-'40s that the Phipps racing fortunes began their rise to the top. It was then, recalls Bull Hancock, that Ogden wisely concentrated on building up a broodmare band. (Misty Morn, the dam of Bold Lad, was the champion of her sex in 1955.) Because of that, the Phippses today have the best-bred stable in the country. It includes, in addition to 47 horses in training—18 of them Bold Rulers—45 broodmares, some two dozen newly turned yearlings and the expectation of an equal number of new foals this spring. If, for some hard-to-imagine reason, the Phippses decided to sell out everything tomorrow, $15 million would be a reasonable bid. The mares alone would bring around $2.5 million, Bold Ruler would command the same price, and Bold Lad is already worth $2 million. Of course, Ogden and his mother have no intention of selling, either now or in the foreseeable future. As chairman of The Jockey Club and a trustee of the New York Racing Association, Ogden tries to show up at the track every time a Phipps horse runs. He is as shy as his mother—a trait often mistaken for aloofness—and unbends only with close racing friends or when golfing with nonracing friends. One of the latter, Grumman Test Pilot Tom LeBoutillier, says of him, "He claims he's a 10-handicap player but he plays to a four, and if you let your guard down for a minute he'll empty your pockets. His croquet-style putting is murderous." Ogden's friends also know him to be a top bridge player and a whiz at backgammon.
It surprised no one when the Phippses wound up with Bill Winfrey as their trainer. Ogden says of the appointment, "Bill can train fillies as well as he can train colts—and we find that equally important." Adviser Bull Hancock adds, "Bill can take good horses or bad horses and do well with them. His horses look well, he uses good judgment, he has good help, and his horses are relaxed and settled and are never rushed along."
Nobody in racehorse training got a better education in his trade than Bill Winfrey, and no trainer today has won more friends and respect. Winfrey was born 48 years ago in Detroit. His father died when he was 3, and two years later his mother married Trainer Carey Winfrey, whom Bill called Pop until his death a few years ago. Carey was one of his generation's great horsemen, in the tradition of Preston Burch and the late George Odom and Ben Jones. He used to work the New York circuit in the summer and go down to New Orleans in the winter. "Sometimes, when I was only 6 or 7," says Bill, "I used to sleep in Pop's bed, and I'd put a leg lock on him so he couldn't go to the track in the morning without me."
After only two months in high school, Bill persuaded Pop that the racetrack was for him, and in 1932, weighing only 95 pounds, he became a jockey. "I went to 110 pounds in seven months," he says, "and that was the end of that. I turned to training and got a license at 16. They said I was the youngest in the country at the time."
Winfrey's first noticeable success came in 1939 with a mare he claimed, named Dini, who won 27 races for him. Two years later, when a trainer working for Cleve Putnam was put under suspension, Putnam asked Winfrey to take his horse, Swain, to Louisville and run in the Kentucky Derby, especially if it came up mud. "It didn't come up mud," Winfrey recalls now, "and the horse was so sore he could hardly move, but my orders were to run anyway. We did and were last all the way to Whirlaway in an 11-horse field." Winfrey has a special reason to remember that 1941 Derby now. "My next Derby was 12 years later with Native Dancer," he says, "and now it's 1965, another 12 years later. If I have to wait until 1977, it may be too late!" This undoubtedly contributes to Winfrey's determination that Bold Lad will run in Louisville. He plans to give the colt his first start in the Gotham at Aqueduct on April 3 and then race in the Wood Memorial on April 17.
After a couple of wartime years with the Marines, Winfrey returned to train for Royce Martin's Woodvale Farm, and in the spring of 1949 he started a 10-year hitch as private trainer for Alfred Vanderbilt. For the most part they were productive years. Bill quickly hit the big time with the development of some top stock from Vanderbilt's Sagamore Farm. He and Vanderbilt had the fine race mares Next Move and Bed o' Roses and a sulking critter named Cousin, who actually beat Tom Fool in the Hopeful. But real fame came with the 1950 crop, which included Find, Social Outcast and the gray named Native Dancer. Everything the Dancer did was dramatic, and because he made his appearance during the early days of televised sports, he became a hero overnight. According to Winfrey, Native Dancer had one failing. "When he'd go by horses he'd relax instead of pouring it on. He didn't have the killer instinct, though he got the job done. Even against poorer horses he wouldn't look good because he'd just win. But he'd win when he had to."
One time he had to, however, and couldn't quite get the job done was in the historic Kentucky Derby of 1953. Native Dancer lost the only race of his career and in so doing gained more fame than if he had breezed home by 10 lengths. Winfrey has had 12 years to think about the race, and it is fresh in his memory. "There's no race like the Derby," he said outside Bold Lad's stall at Hialeah on a recent sunny morning. "It keys everyone up, the riders included. Eric Guerin took Native Dancer into the clubhouse turn far back. There Money Broker shut him off—perhaps intentionally, but I have no reason to believe it was. Now, being keyed up, Eric might have had his judgment affected. Anyway, down the backstretch Native Dancer ran like a wild horse, and he got position going into that far turn. There Eric dropped down onto the rail, and they were third turning for home. Dark Star was two lengths in front and about 15 feet out from the rail. Correspondent was a length in front of us, and Native Dancer was on the inside. If every horse had held position it would have been one thing, but as Dark Star came over to the rail Eric pulled Native Dancer out and had to start his run all over again. He missed Dark Star by a head. The point is this: being shut off by Money Broker didn't in itself mean defeat, but it led to subsequent events. If we hadn't been shut off, Native Dancer might have won by four or five lengths. I was crestfallen, not for me, because the game owed me nothing, but I felt sorry for Mr. Vanderbilt and for the horse—and for everyone else."
Naturally enough, Winfrey is constantly being asked to compare Bold Lad with Native Dancer. "Comparisons are ridiculous," he says. "Could Joe Louis tell you if he could beat Jack Dempsey? But I will say this. Bold Lad has the same potential that Native Dancer had at the same time in his career. Now I never saw Man o' War, but Citation was the best horse I ever saw. He proved himself, and he had that killer instinct. In my heart I think Native Dancer might have been the equal of Citation, and I only wish that a weakness in his feet hadn't forced his retirement at 4 and prevented him from proving the real greatness that I suspect was in him."
The days ahead are not going to be easy for Winfrey any more than they will be for Bold Lad. The handsome chestnut is a high-withered individual with a fine head. Says Winfrey, "His right knee has a slight prominence and has never been quite as cold as the other one, but so far this is more or less like a ballplayer with a spur in his heel, only the spur doesn't bother him." Winfrey is confident the colt will be ready for the Derby, and then, "the only way they'll beat him is with bad racing luck."
A young man who will have something to say about Bold Lad's racing fortunes is his regular jockey, stone-faced Braulio Baeza, who will never bore an audience by talking too much. "This horse," he says, looking the chestnut in the eye, "is intelligent, because he knows when you want him to relax. He's as kind as can be. Also [here he grinned like a statue cracking at the seams] he can run a little bit faster than the rest."
GRANDE DAME of racing, Mrs. Phipps is the head of the most active sporting clan.
POPPED SPLINT that cut Bold Lad's activity is shown by Assistant Trainer Robertson.