The majority of the owners and trainers of jumping horses have lately been content to put most of the blame for their troubles on what they consider to be bad publicity. Their feelings are bruised when sports editors, looking for action photographs, print pictures of falling horses and cartwheeling jockeys instead of a staid winner's-circle presentation. Pete Bostwick, former amateur champion rider and one of the leading jump trainers of 1961 (he owns one of the season's best steeplechasers, Tuscarora), says, "The top flat jocks get millions of dollars' worth of publicity every day, but the only time you ever hear of a jump rider is when he gets busted up. It's not right."
This, however, is hardly a creditable excuse. Accident pictures haven't reduced interest in the Indianapolis "500." The essential problem, and the one that must be faced up to by racing leaders, is that there are too few jumpers in the hands of too few owners and trainers. There is a chain reaction of sorts involved here. If more owners were attracted to the sport of jump racing there would be more horses to turn over to more trainers. Then races would be easy to fill with individual entries, eliminating today's tiresome sight of double and triple entries in small fields. Consequently, bigger betting would in turn stimulate management into promoting jumping.
Thus the primary responsibility for restoring jump racing belongs to the largest and wealthiest stables, those owned by men and women whose sporting instincts are supposed to outweigh their regard for making money.
Many of the great stables in this country first entered racing by participating in events over hurdles and brush. Among them were those of Mrs. Isabel Dodge Sloane, F. Ambrose Clark, Paul Mellon, J. H. Whitney, Mrs. Charles S. Payson, George D. Widener, Stephen Sanford and the late Thomas Hitchcock Sr.
Following World War II many owners gave up on the jumps. Some decided that their stables must pay for themselves, and limited their activity to flat racing because more money could be won there. Others, like Ambrose Clark, concentrated on flat racing because, as he put it, "the emphasis in jumping was turning into an emphasis on speed alone. Nobody was teaching horses to jump properly and nobody was bothering to take time to train new jumping riders."
Now, happily, Mr. Clark has reentered the jumping field on a small scale, and the names of a few owners quite new to the sport (three: Alfred Vanderbilt, Louis Wolfson and Travis Kerr) are starting to appear on the entry lists. Furthermore, the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association (which, along with a group known as the United Hunts, governs all U.S. jump racing) has recently begun thinking along promotional lines. A three-man Trainers Committee has been appointed to spread the word among trainers of flat horses who may be considering future races over jumps. The committee, for example, points out to trainers that many flat horses—such as Nala, Rythminhim, Flying Fury and Our Jeep—who never did make it on dirt or turf became money-making jumpers.
But the few leading horsemen who support jumping, along with the small number of wealthy landowners who gladly allow their farmed estates to be used for hunt meetings each year, cannot rebuild the sport by themselves. The other important owners who pretend it is such a shame to see jump racing disappear must get back into this game or it will disappear.