Even before her jumpers Top Bid and Jaunty ran one-three in the $100,000 Colonial Cup steeplechase in Camden, S.C. last Nov. 14, Mrs. Ogden Phipps was forecasting nothing but doom for a sport that she and her trainer, Mike Smith-wick, have dominated for so many years. "I really think that jumping is dying," moaned Lil Phipps. "The jumping people depend on New York and the trouble is that the New York Racing Association has to be economic-minded. New York racing management is not interested in preserving jumping."
The wife of the chairman of the Jockey Club is prophetic indeed. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, newly elected chairman of the NYRA, has stated his intention of proposing at the next board meeting that the number of steeplechase and hurdle races be cut by one-third and the amount of purse money allotted to the jumpers be reduced by one-half in 1971. His contention is that the public shies away from betting on jump races and that the resultant loss in the track's share of the mutuel handle last year was close to $500,000, an amount that he and some of his fellow trustees consider "indefensible" to the New York State legislature.
Not everyone always agrees with Alfred Vanderbilt on racing matters, and in this case we prefer to side with one of his predecessors, John W. Hanes, who is aware that if Vanderbilt's proposal is accepted a great sport will find it hard to survive; the purse money available simply will not support the number of jockeys, trainers and owners necessary to fill the races.
Aside from the grand spectacle steeplechase racing offers track audiences, it would also seem that the jumping sport is one of the best drawing cards racing has to offer the younger generation. Many of our most famous flat owners and trainers came into the sport through steeplechasing, including the breeder, owner and trainer of Hoist the Flag, 1971 Kentucky Derby winter book favorite.
Finally, Mr. Hanes reminds us that the NYRA owes a debt to steeplechasing, whose meetings kept racing alive in New York during the 1911-12 blackout when betting was illegal, and he feels that the present loss in mutuel handle is offset by the admissions paid and money bet on flat races by those who come to see the jumpers during the course of a season. He adds it would be a great shame, as well as a bit hasty, if the NYRA were to initiate a strangulation process just at a moment when a drastic reorganization of steeplechasing's governing body indicates that the sport is fully capable of flourishing once again. We agree with him.
BOXING'S SEA OF INEPTITUDE
When the mob and the International Boxing Club ruled boxing, television supersaturated the channels with dull fights three times a week; as a result, the end of prizefighting as a popular sport was held to be very much in sight. Then the leading mobsters were jailed, the IBC was dissolved and television turned to other entertainment. The more optimistic fans thought then that the small fight clubs would be revived and boxing would once again come back into its own.
It ain't necessarily so. Prizefighting continues to be the most mismanaged of sports. As witness: once a month the World Boxing Association publishes a list of fighters who have been suspended, permanently or indefinitely. Reasons given include injuries, medical causes, broken contracts, police records and the like. But the list is often ignored by promoters, who, with the connivance of local commissions, let such suspended fighters appear on their cards.
And mismatches are common. Thus, George Foreman, No. 3 challenger in the heavyweight division, was permitted to take on one Bob Hazelton, who had had only five bouts professionally. Of these (four four-rounders and one of six rounds) he had won three and lost two, both times by knockouts. It was not surprising that Foreman knocked him out in a single round.
Other absurdities, some of which may yet prove tragic, include a welterweight with a record of 23 bouts but only one win; a heavyweight who was knocked out 16 times in 18 bouts; a heavyweight who was kayoed nine times in 11 fights; a middleweight who in 30 bouts won two, lost by decision in 13 and was knocked out in 15. Many more cases could be cited.
"We have results of five shows from one boxing body (not a WBA member)," the WBA reports, "which resulted in a total of 65 rounds contested or an average of 13 rounds per show. Great matchmaking, don't you think?"
Not really. This averages out to a knockout roughly every 2½ rounds, and any commission worthy of its obligations must consider ineptitude as an excellent reason to deny a so-called professional fighter a license.
NO PROFITS IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY
The Baltimore Orioles, winners of two straight American League championships and a World Series to boot, supporters of all those high-priced star players, have been pitied greatly for their lack of support in their own home town. Fewer than a million went through the turnstiles last season to see them play.
On the road it was different. J. Frank Cashen, Oriole executive vice-president, has announced that at the end of the fiscal year net income for the team was $345,161 and $1.70 per share, as against $232,238 and $1.14 a year ago. The board of directors has declared the largest dividend in the 16-year history of the club, voting to pay $1.40 a share to stockholders of record December 4.
Although ticket sales were 1,057,069 (higher than the turnstile count), it was the road receipts that helped boost the team's profits. The Orioles led the American League in road attendance with 1,311,394 total customers.
HOW ABOUT MUHAMMAD ALI AVENUE?
A quiet little street of small houses in Greensboro, N.C., Joe Lewis Boulevard, was the subject of city hall discussion during a recent street-naming project. It is only two blocks long and the city code says boulevards must be large, long and open.
Furthermore, Mayor Jack Elam wondered, who was the Joe Lewis who was so honored?
It turned out that the street was named by the developer, the late John Hobbs, on April 13, 1940, just two weeks after Joe Louis had knocked out Johnny Paychek in his 10th title defense. Someone just misspelled the name.
No longer a boulevard, it will be renamed later this month as Joe Louis Street.
FREEDOM OF THE MALLET
A few months ago Britain's Croquet Association applied to the government's Department of the Environment for a grant of ¬£1,000 to spread the word that croquet is a fascinating game. The department came through handsomely and now the association has money to spend on starting new clubs throughout England, with ¬£500 going to two sports-minded ladies to tour the country with a "magic lantern" and color slides stressing the beauties of the game.
But not without a certain amount of flak. Bryan Lloyd-Pratt, editor of the Croquet Gazette, official organ of the association, took up his mallet and denounced the organization for accepting "taxpayers' money" from the government.
Further, he protested, the promotional plans include no provision against attracting morons and the unwashed to the gentle game. The program, he noted, offers no assurance that it will bring to croquet "the sort of people, to put the matter bluntly, whom it will be a pleasure to meet at tournaments."
The Croquet Association now has given Editor Lloyd-Pratt the sack.
FOR WHOM THE JUG TOLLS
A dedicated duck hunter, Eben B. Thomas as, guidance director at the Winthrop, Maine high school, has found a way to make decoys without all the labor and fuss of wood carving.
He puts together one of those bleach container jugs, a gallon milk carton, two pieces of wire, a lead weight and a bit of artistic painting. The result, in 15 minutes—a decoy that works.
Now he turns them out by the dozen, but there were difficulties along the way. His first creation flipped over and sank. The second was improved in this respect but a strong wind still made it lie on its side. The lead weight solved that problem.
The final touch was the result of an accident. Thomas' hunting companion stepped on the tail section of a decoy. But Thomas noticed that out on the water the squashed-tail decoy looked more realistic than the others and provided less wind resistance. Since then, success of his sheldrake and whistler tollers has been great.
SPORTING PARSON'S VIEW
During the week before the Texas Long-horns played Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl, the signboard in front of the First Presbyterian Church in Dallas carried this message: GOD IS IMPARTIAL. WE ARE NOT. HOOK 'EM, HORNS.
The Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs has undertaken a one-year study of methods that may be employed to eradicate marijuana in 11 Middle Western states where the weed grows wild. But game management men are concerned that the bureau may wind up eradicating more than marijuana. Any method of destruction so far devised, they say, would destroy nearly all other plants, too—including those that provide cover and food for wildlife.
"Spraying can cause serious problems for pheasants," Glenn Chambers, Missouri biologist, points out. "The birds need cover for nesting in summer and also for protection from the elements in winter."
The dual nature of the problem has already been felt. Two Kansas men caught harvesting marijuana got one year for possession of the drug—and 30 days for destroying wildlife cover.
LADY OF THE FLIES
The British honors list was published with the New Year and contained the usual assortment of business leaders, government officials and artists. The artist we applaud most heartily is Miss Megan Boyd of Brora, Sutherland, Scotland, who won the British Empire medal. Miss Boyd ties salmon flies.
WOMEN'S LIB AGAIN
There is an old law in Auburn, Wash., probably rushed through with the repeal of Prohibition, which forbids music and entertainment, except for radios and jukeboxes, in taverns and cocktail lounges without a special license.
There is also a wife and mother in Auburn who cannot abide watching football games on television, which is what her husband and sons have been doing every weekend and Monday nights, too.
So she flounced angrily out of the house one night and visited four saloons. Every one of them had a football game tuned in.
The lady turned for help to Attorney Alva Long, who dug up the old law and is about to make trouble for the saloonkeepers of Auburn.
HARD LUCK, OLD CHAP
There was an upland gunner in Maine this hunting season who missed a chance at bagging a large pheasant. He had hurriedly slipped a chapstick into the chamber of his .410 shotgun.
THEY SAID IT
•Don Meredith, former Dallas Cowboy quarterback, on his future as a movie actor: "I could play the pilot in a war film who dropped his first bomb and it was incomplete. Or, more likely, intercepted."
•Jim Lindsey, Abilene Christian's record-setting passer, who stands 5'11": "I guess I've talked to 18, maybe 20, pro scouts. They all tell me they wish I were 6'2" or 6'3". So do I, but there's not much I can do about it."