THE YANKS HAVE LANDED
Sooner or later some member of the British parliament will leap to his feet and demand to know why American owners arc dominating English horse racing. If, as a result, there is a tremor in Anglo-American relations, blame Gregory Peck, film star and race lover.
Peck has wanted for years to win England's most glorious steeplechase, the Grand National, to be run on March 30 this year. Recently he bought, for �7,000 and sight unseen, a 10-year-old horse named Owens Sedge. At that time Owens Sedge was quoted at 33 to 1. Then he won an important warmup to the big event, Ireland's Leopardstown 'Chase, and immediately shot to third favorite at 12 to 1, a most comfortable position. All well and good, but it also made the English take a second look at the lists for other big races.
"This year," thundered Clive Graham in the London Daily Express, "American-owned horses are already named as favorites for all our classic races." He was right, too, except that, of the five flat race classics, St. Leger is so far off (Sept. 11) that betting has not yet opened on it.
The Stars and Stripes lineup is dazzling. For a magnificent start there is Crocket, owned by Danny Van Clief of Virginia. The colt was unbeaten as a 2-year-old last year. He now shares the top slot with two other colts for the English Derby.
The wife of a chemical company executive, Mrs. Evelyn Olin, owns the Epsom Oaks race favorite, Noblesse, a filly who equaled the Doncaster mile record in 1962 against a field of colts. Another woman owner, Mrs. Gertie Widener of Maine, is behind Hula Dancer, who at 2 broke the Longchamp all-ages mile record and, if she does well in the Prix Imprudence at Maisons-Lafitte, will be sent to England for the 1,000 Guineas. Her result in that will determine whether she runs in the Oaks.
Well, after all, one of the best steeplechasers ever to run in Britain was a diminutive horse named Battleship, son of Man o' War and owned by Mrs. Marion duPont Scott of Virginia. But why, as Clive Graham puts it, are Americans "gradually supplanting the century-old domination of the rich, hereditary peers as racehorse owners?" Graham suggests that "these new American owners are tired of the super-efficient commercialism of American race-tracks." He may be right, though a more positive approach would be to point to the infinite variety of the English tracks and the graciousness and color with which the English have invested the sport.
THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SLOPE
This has been a disastrous year for skiing in California's Sierras, where the snow forgot to fall. Still, in a way, it's been fun. Despite absence of snow in all but the very high reaches, California resorts were jampacked for the Washington's Birthday weekend. The new tramway at Heavenly Valley had a long waiting line for three days.
The fun wasn't so much in the skiing as in jokes about the nonskiing. Heavenly Valley's president, Chris Kuriasa, reported a "10,000% higher use" of the coin-operated shoeshine machine, attributed to the fact that skiers were getting their boots dirty walking around in the dust near the lodge. And a group organized Skiers Anonymous. The gag: When you feel like skiing call up Anonymous and they'll send a man over to break your leg for you.