Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt might be called a well-triangulated man. In Thoroughbred racing, a sport that has been the preoccupation of his life, Vanderbilt has at one time or other been an enthusiastic follower, a successful breeder-owner and a highly respected racetrack operator. In the wider spectrum of life, be has been a patron of the arts, a businessman and a philanthropist. At the moment it is the breeder-owner side of Vanderbilt (see cover) that is dominant, and all horsemen who are not sympathetic to the cause of breeders and owners are advised to man the barricades.
It is not that Vanderbilt is unusually contentious. Actually, at the lively age of 50, he has a friendly, easygoing air about him, although there is enough acid in the mixture to have once caused him to refer to himself as "a Fred Allen without jokes." Part of this may be attributed to the fact that after only a year and a half at Yale University, Vanderbilt abandoned his education to devote himself entirely to the raising and running of Thoroughbreds. What George Santayana once said of Philosopher William James, another nonconformist with an irregular formal education, applies equally to Vanderbilt: "He never acquired...those safe ways of feeling and judging which are fostered in great schools and universities. In consequence, he showed an almost physical horror of club sentiment and of the stifling atmosphere of all officialdom."
Vanderbilt describes himself in somewhat different terms, although the general principle is the same. "I have never learned," he has said, "how to keep my mouth shut. I have always felt that the fellow who cares ought to speak up and not shut up."
Right now Vanderbilt cares a great deal about the current trends in Thoroughbred racing. While gratefully conceding that there have been a number of improvements in the ways and means of racing through the years, he is speaking up in no uncertain terms about what he feels are some of the harmful trends that prevail. As president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, a group that represents exactly what the name suggests, he has some heartfelt words of warning and advice for the Establishment of racing, not just in his own New York state but throughout the rest of the country as well.
The major points in Vanderbilt's immediate bill of particulars are:
1) Thoroughbred racing is now much too concerned with the betting dollar.
2) Management is not putting on a good show for the customers.
3) The heavy emphasis on sprints and claiming races overvalues the cheap horse and discourages the breeding and training of classic Thoroughbreds.
4) The officiating at racetracks is uneven, sometimes uninformed and occasionally unfair.
It probably seems like a paradox to find the name of Alfred Vanderbilt lined up opposite the Establishment, for in the eyes of the grandstand punter he is a part of this Establishment just as surely as the $2 window is a gate to riches. On most days at Aqueduct or Saratoga, the railbird can look up from his trackside perch and see the still youthful-looking Vanderbilt sitting hatless in his front-row box at the finish line in solid phalanx with the historic old names of racing—the Whitneys, Bostwicks, Sanfords, Phippses and Wideners. He has been there for three decades, watching his cerise-and-white silks become famous aboard such unforgettable horses as Discovery, Find, Bed o' Roses, Next Move and Native Dancer.