In the sometimes frantic world of Thoroughbred racing nobody moved with a more magisterial calm or exercised his great power more ruthlessly—or more tactfully—than Benjamin Franklin Lindheimer. When he died a fortnight ago of a heart attack at 69, he had parlayed these paradoxical talents into control of the two principal tracks between the coasts: Arlington and Washington parks in Chicago. Now the Lindheimer legacy falls to his adopted daughter Marjorie (right, above), a shy, tough-minded perfectionist, who thus assumes one of the most influential posts in the sport.
At 38, Marjorie Lindheimer Everett (she is married to Webb Everett, long the general manager of Golden Gate Fields in California) moves into a job for which she has been preparing nearly all her life. She started going to the races at an age when most little girls are furnishing dollhouses. "I was never a particularly popular girl," she says, "so I was always thrown in with older people. In my teens I was a wallflower, while my sister was counting the times she was proposed to." Before she was 20 she had held a number of jobs at both tracks, including the switchboard—an assignment she was obliged to give up because of a faint lisp.
After Ben Lindheimer suffered his first heart attack in 1949, Marjorie became his chief assistant. Actually, she functioned as the behind-the-scenes boss. As she took over the tracks' administrative details, it became clear that Marjorie had all of her father's competence and firm purpose but little of his tact, and she made a number of enemies. ("She can be as tough as a marine sergeant," says one track employee.) To her credit, she recognizes this special problem. "I'm not as diplomatic as I might be," she says, "and I have a very quick temper. It's a very unbecoming trait for a woman."
Most racing people, however, minimize this failing. They see in her devotion to racing and firm grasp of its problems the assurance that Ben Lindheimer's tracks will continue to be among the sport's strongest. "Dad had a lot of plans for these tracks," Marjorie Lindheimer says.
Certainly Ben Lindheimer was the busiest of planners and schemers all of his life. He was a small, well-burnished man of great charm and great ambition. "I can remember when I was 12 or 13 years old," he once said. "I saw a terrible-looking bum—I can see him now, it was awful—and I can remember the fear that came into me, the fear of not making a success of myself." Lindheimer won success in three diverse fields: business, politics and sports.
In business, he acquired large pieces of real estate in Chicago and Los Angeles. While still in his 30s he received an offer of $1 million and a $100,000-a-year job for his holdings, and turned it down. In politics, he managed the 1932 campaign of the late Henry Horner, who became the second Democratic governor of Illinois in the 20th century. In sports, he financed the Los Angeles Dons of the abortive All-America Conference and, it was generally suspected, several other teams in the same pro football league. But for the last quarter century he chose to devote almost all of his time to racing.
Throughout those 25 years Lindheimer worked to change the "nowhere" feeling many horsemen had about racing in the Midwest. "We're an island here, between California in the West and New York in the East," he said. To lure horsemen away from Hollywood Park and Aqueduct-Belmont, he used every possible device, from building a 97-day coordinated meeting to developing large grazing areas for the horses. Jimmy Jones of Calumet Farms can remember the pre-Lindheimer days, when he had the first barn at Arlington Park and "we had to water the horses out of the ditches on the first night." Lindheimer, says Jones, "was the savior of Chicago racing. I'd hate to say how far down the ladder it might have gone without him. Arlington Park became the finest track in the world—certainly the finest I've ever been on."
The great match race
The climax of Lindheimer's efforts to make his tracks the focal point of the racing world came in September 1955, when he staged the match race between Nashua and Swaps. "I worked on Rex Ellsworth [owner of Swaps] and Dad worked on Woodward [the late William Woodward, owner of Nashua]," Marge says. "Every track in the country was after the race." Lindheimer moved to put the race on television, even in the Chicago area. He encountered opposition from state officials, who feared the state would lose tens of thousands of dollars in mutuel taxes if fans stayed home to watch the race. "I told them it was worth it just to stimulate racing," said Lindheimer. The race attracted 36,000 people—despite television—and a handle of $175,000.
Lindheimer made his tracks the most comfortable places in the nation in which to grow poor. He was the first to install escalators—16 at a time in Arlington Park. He put in air conditioning. He offered shuttle service from the far reaches of the parking lots to the gates of the track. He had mechanics roam the parking area to spot flat tires and repair them while the owners were at the races or to help the owners get started if cars broke down after the races. He tried to give the bettors a clearer view of the race, finally installed huge TV screens so that they could watch the races on closed-circuit TV without stirring from the air-conditioned rooms. "At baseball and football games everybody has a chance to see all of the game," he said. "At most race tracks probably 35% of the people don't see the race because the sight lines are imperfect."