The richest horse race in the world will be run at that newly plush and certainly pleasing Chicago track, Arlington Park, on September 8. It is a seven-furlong dash for 2-year-olds known as the Arlington-Washington Futurity; its gross purse will be about $350,000 and it is merely one of the achievements of a youthful, imperious, chocolate-soda-eating woman who has turned Chicago racing into a kind of seven-furlong dash of her own. Her name is Marjorie Lindheimer Everett, and if her $350,000 sprint is one of the biggest developments in horse racing, so is she.
Marjorie Everett is the only woman in America who owns and operates racetracks—and around Chicago you will sometimes hear it said that one is plenty. She heads Chicago Thoroughbred Enterprises, Inc., a company that owns three tracks: Arlington Park, Washington Park and Balmoral. Mrs. Everett owns 70% of the company's 300.000 shares, so from the moment in 1960 that she took over most of the holdings of her late father, B. F. Lindheimer, there has been no question about who is boss. Not that the question would ever have arisen in her mind, certainly, for she is singularly free of self-doubt. It is this very trait that has enabled her to achieve her considerable accomplishments for Chicago racing.
Chicago is an island of Thoroughbred sport between the glamour of California and the functional commercialism of some major eastern plants. In Mrs. Everett's eyes it is an island of some potential—like, say, Manhattan. Since 1960 she has gone to her "partner" (which is how she refers to the First National Bank of Chicago) and borrowed $7.5 million to gamble on the future of Midwest racing.
"For years our tracks could be considered country tracks, not for lack of conveniences but because they were inaccessible," she says. "It used to take an hour and a quarter from the Loop to Arlington and an hour to Washington. With new toll roads the driving time has been cut to 35 minutes and 25 minutes respectively. Because of this—and because of what we have done at our plants—we believe the Chicago tracks have more chance to increase business than any others in the country."
Those Chicagoans who have seen Mrs. Everett's plants this year know where the $7.5 million has gone. Excellent accommodations, a Lindheimer trademark long before Aqueduct was even on the drawing boards, have been expanded to the point where today's grandstand customer is as well off as most clubhouse patrons at other tracks. Both Arlington and Washington are air-conditioned by a reverse blower system that also provides heating in cold weather, and their Classic Club and Derby Room provide track-facing dining facilities for more than 1,500 at a time.
Two and a half million dollars has gone into Washington, which, with its ugly, top-heavy superstructure, has always looked more like an about-to-be-sunk Japanese World War II battleship than a grandstand. The Everett empire is getting into a new business there. This fall, for 42 nights (September 3—October 20) it will rent to a new group known as the Washington Park Trotting Association, which will bring major trotting to Chicago for the first time.
Nor has Balmoral been forgotten. Although racing hasn't been conducted there since 1954 (when it was called Lincoln Fields), Chicago Thoroughbred Enterprises intends to use the one-mile track as a year-round training center. It is Mrs. Everett's plan that Balmoral will house several stallions as an impetus for Illinois' growing breeding business (in 1957, 37 stallions, 360 mares; in 1961, 238 stallions, 1,654 mares).
Most people admire busy Mrs. Everett, though some prefer to do this from a distance, and many also regard her with the sort of nervousness James Thurber exploited in his drawings and prose sketches of ferocious ladies. Mrs. Everett takes naturally to the catbird seat.
Her appearance is certainly disarming enough. Forty-one years old, she is brunette and has blue-green eyes. She is tall (5 feet 9 inches) and has the build of a sportswoman. She doesn't drink or smoke, but she does worry about her weight—140 pounds. With a slight lisp she says: "I find I've got a bad habit of eating things like sodas and candy to get rid of nervous energy." Some of the 1,500 people who work for her in her $35 million business suggest that she gets rid of the energy not by chewing on chocolates but by chewing out the help. Ex-employees, of whom there are a lot, criticize her furtively, somewhat like fugitive slaves. "For a few years," said a Chicago writer, "paddock judges flew through Arlington faster than a field of horses." To that, Mrs. Everett might answer, "So what!"
"A person at fault should be made to feel that he did wrong—and should be made aware of it now, not called in and lectured tomorrow," she explains.