Despite the $2 bettor and the daily double, horse racing is still the sport of kings—or at any rate of queens and khans and Vanderbilts and Whitneys and Phippses and Guggenheims. They are the people whose wealth underwrites racing and whose love of tradition lends a patina of grace to what is essentially a gambler's game. Yet a week from Sunday, when horse racing reaches its most distinguished moment in 1962—the running of the famous Prix del' Arc de Triomphe in Paris—the often saluted but usually drooping banner of international racing will be held highest and waved most vigorously by no king, no khan, no Phipps, but by a chunky little ex-bookmaker from the wrong side of town named Jack Price.
Jack Price owns a 4-year-old horse named Carry Back, a glamour horse of the first class, a tremendously exciting competitor who has become a genuine celebrity. Carry Back usually lags behind the pace until the bettors scream with pain, and then he comes on with a tremendous rush through the stretch. He won the richest race in the world in 1960, when he was a 2-year-old, and last year he took both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, both with come-from-behind finishes. This year he became the fourth horse in history to win more than $1 million in purses. He is the most famous horse in America at the moment, and possibly in the world, and Jack Price has flown him to Paris to run him in the Arc de Triomphe against the best horses Europe has to offer. Other American horses have raced abroad and others have raced in the Arc—and lost—but this is the first time an American horse of Carry Back's high reputation has gone over at the top of his form to put that reputation right on the line. It's quite a thing, and it has given a substantial boost in prestige and publicity to the cause of international racing. And what do American horsemen think of Jack Price for doing this? They think he's crazy.
"I don't know why he's doing it," said a man who has followed the horses in England and in France as well as in the U.S. "I don't see how Carry Back can possibly win. Look. The Arc de Triomphe is run on grass, rather than dirt. Carry Back has had only one race on grass in his career, and that was a year ago and he finished seventh. That's significant, because he's finished worse than fourth only twice in his last 32 races—once was in the Belmont Stakes, when he hurt himself, and the other was in that grass race. He isn't at home on grass. Secondly, the distance of the Arc is 2,400 meters, which is about a mile and a half. Carry Back has run 51 times in his career and only twice has he been in races longer than a mile and a quarter. He finished seventh in one, the Belmont, and a very bad third, nine lengths behind the winner, in the other. He doesn't like the distance.
"On top of that, in the Arc they don't start the race from a gate, as we do here. They use a net stretched across the track in front of the horses which springs up when they're ready to start. Let's see how he starts from that. They run the race clockwise around the course, instead of counterclockwise, as we do here. In other words, he's got to run in the wrong direction. He has to carry 132 pounds, which is an awful lot of weight in a race that long. The Longchamp course, where the Arc is run, isn't flat. It undulates. It goes uphill during the first part of the race, then downhill around a curve into the homestretch. He'll feel that weight. Beyond all this, he has the problems of running on a strange track under a strange jockey. And in a strange country. It's too much. It would be a miracle if he won."
Even the press jumped on Price. " Jack Price is doing his best to knock Carry Back out of the running for Horse of the Year honors," wrote Mannie Kalish, the able racing writer of the
New York Post
. "As an admirer of the lean, long-striding colt I shudder to think how unfavorable his chances are in the Arc.... It is a question whether Carry Back will retain his form for late fall racing after the trans-Atlantic round trip."
"Price has gone about it all wrong, too," said the veteran of European racing. "He waited until the end of August before he did anything about a jockey. Then Liz Whitney Tippett phoned England and got Scobie Breasley for him. Breasley is good—he even won the Arc one year—but Price is having trouble getting him over from England to work the horse. Carry Back should have a French rider, one who is there and who knows the course and the horses and the other jockeys. He could have had Neville Sellwood, one of the best riders in France. Price is stabling Carry Back with Alec Head, a highly respected French trainer, and Sellwood usually rides for him, but Alec doesn't have anything going in the Arc.
"Then there's the thing about the shoes. Carry Back's regular racing plates have a high toe and blocks. A week or so before he left for Paris, Price heard that he'd have to use flat French shoes in the Arc. So he charged ahead and had them put on. Then he decided to ask permission to use the old shoes and had the Jockey Club's Marshall Cassidy phone Paris. The French said O.K. if the shoes weren't dangerous to other horses and that Carry Back's sounded all right. Off came the French shoes, on went the regular ones. But when Price got to France the American shoes were examined and declared unacceptable, and now he'll either have to file Carry Back's down flat or put French shoes on. It's a bit late to get the horse used to strange shoes.
"Price should have planned things. It's a year since he first talked of going over. He could have had someone like Godolphin Darley act as his agent. Darley is bilingual and knows everything about French racing. A man like that would have foreseen the problems and had everything straightened out well ahead of time. Really, it's a shame. If Carry Back finishes better than 10th he's a wonder horse."
The man didn't say so, but the feeling persisted that the bluebloods in racing will not cry themselves to sleep if Carry Back and Price fail in France. Old-line horse people have never held Jack Price in very high esteem, though they do like him personally—it would be difficult not to like this humorous, quick-witted, considerate man. But some of them resent what might be called his usurpation of the position as chief spokesman for horse racing. Price and Carry Back have dominated racing news for two years now, partly because of Carry Back's remarkable success but just as much because Price is delightfully refreshing copy in a sport wallowing in its own clich�s. ("Hell," said a pro-Price man, "Jack has got more good publicity for racing in the past two years than those so-called sportsmen have in their lifetime.")
The older, more conservative racing people feel that it is really not quite fair that Price and Carry Back have had so much success. Price entered racing full time only seven years ago, although he has had at least a part ownership in racehorses through most of his adult life. He took over training of his own horses, a sacrilegious step to those who feel a trainer must undergo a long apprenticeship before he can possibly know enough to be successful. The bloodlines people feel that Carry Back is badly bred for a championship horse, and they seem to imply that this somehow is inexcusable. Carry Back's dam, Joppy, raced seven times and was beaten seven times, and his sire, Saggy, was a cheap and unfashionable stallion, though in truth he wasn't a bad horse at all. He won eight of his 14 races, earned over $60,000, set a world record for 4� furlongs, beat Citation in the only race that superb animal lost during his 3-year-old season and has a fairly good record as a stud. "He gets winners," Price said. "And that's all I was looking for. I wasn't trying to breed a classic horse." Even so, Carry Back has more classic blood in him than the extremists would have you believe. His four great-grandsires were Equipoise, Hyperion, Blenheim II and a son of Teddy, and you can't do much better than that. The trouble is, the combination of Saggy and Joppy sounds so awful that it's been accepted as gospel that Carry Back was bred like a cart horse. And Joppy didn't help much to dispel that belief when just a month before her famous son won the Kentucky Derby she died in Florida after being kicked in the head by another mare, a marvelously rowdy death to add to the wrong-side-of-the-tracks legend.