Eventually we arrived at a large barn, where Whitney stopped the car and got out to show me some of the 500 head of Black Angus cattle he maintains. "These are the ones we are getting ready for the shows," he said, nodding toward a number of very black and very fat animals, who were being entertained by rock 'n' roll from a radio and cooled by electric fans the size of airplane propellers.
"We've had great success with this herd, and some people rate it among the top five in the country," Whitney said later as we sat on the front porch of one of the guest cottages and looked across the fields at the gray mares and their foals and the black cattle and the rolling bluegrass countryside and the three-quarter-mile training track, and beyond to the enormous barn, where such distinguished racers as Dotted Swiss and Tompion were living.
"It was through Ivor Balding's influence, you know, that I went into cattle. In fact, I couldn't emphasize too strongly the tremendous part he has played in the renovation and success of this establishment—in both horses and cattle."
Ivor Balding is the manager of the eastern division of Whitney's racing string and a general consultant on all phases of the C. V. Whitney Farm and the Thoroughbred operation. Twenty-five years ago Whitney hired Balding, then a young Englishman scarcely out of his teens, to manage his polo ponies and serve as a substitute on the polo team, and Balding has been a friend and employee ever since.
In 1939, the year Whitney decided to re-enter Thoroughbred racing after a one-year hiatus, young Balding was the man he selected to head the entire enterprise. He sent Balding to Cornell for a course in agronomy and then put him in complete charge of Whitney Farm. One of Balding's first moves was to start the Black Angus herd as a means of naturally fertilizing the pastureland. His other major decision that year was the purchase of Mahmoud.
In the '50s Mahmoud's daughters showed they could not only run but could also produce winners. In 1959 one Whitney filly, Silver Spoon, who was by Citation out of a Mahmoud mare, beat all the best colts in California during the winter meeting at Santa Anita. Sentimentalists everywhere were pulling for her to be the second filly in history to win the Kentucky Derby (she finished a respectable fifth). The sentiment was fanned by the fact that Regret, the filly who won in 1915, had belonged to Whitney's father.
In 1960 Whitney's long and patient rehabilitation of his racing stock hit the jackpot. Tompion, his temperamental 3-year-old colt, looked, after a successful winter season in California, as if he might bring Whitney his first victory in the Kentucky Derby. He ran a disappointing fourth in that race, but even so, he won more than a quarter of a million dollars during the year. Dotted Swiss, a 4-year-old, did most of his racing in California and led the Whitney money winners with $296,900. And Silver Spoon, as a 4-year-old, won more than $130,000. All told, 34 Whitney Thoroughbreds, racing mainly in California under Trainer Bob Wheeler and in New York and Kentucky under Bud Greely, contributed to the winning total of more than a million dollars.
"It is, of course, very satisfying to win all that money," Whitney said one afternoon as he relaxed in a rocking chair and looked over his peaceful acres. "But the real success of this farm was reached in the fall of 1960, when we had 30 yearlings, all of whom were sound. Most people don't realize that only about half of the Thoroughbreds that are foaled each year are actually sound horses. In both our 1960 and 1961 crops all the foals were sound. This is our great achievement. Unspectacular statistics like that are the true measure of the success that Ivor and I have had here.
"Racing has changed a great deal in recent years. A lot of the oldtimers who loved horses and rode them and hunted them and played polo on them are disappearing. Now you get a great many people who just like to win a trophy or a big purse and have a box at Belmont but don't really give a damn about the horses themselves.
"When you watch a horse you've raised and trained and brought to the races, when you watch him run in an important race like The Belmont, it's just like watching one of your own children do something important.