Not many SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writers travel farther in a year than our turf editor, Whitney Tower, and we're pretty sure that no other turf writer anywhere annually goes such a distance of ground to observe the horses and horsemen he writes about.
Tower's itinerary takes him crisscrossing from New York to Florida and California for the winter racing; to Kentucky for Keeneland and Churchill Downs in April and May; to Maryland for the Preakness in late May; to New York, New Jersey and Illinois in late spring and early summer; to New York's Saratoga and back to Illinois in August; to New York, New Jersey and Maryland again in the fall. He also manages occasional observations of the breed in Canada, England, Ireland, France and Australia.
All this getting about—plus his remarkable speed, wherever he is, in making his way to the winner's circle for first words from jockeys, owners and trainers—has made Tower as familiar a figure to the nationwide TV audience as he is to grandstand and clubhouse spectators and to fellow professionals, who have elected him president of the National Turf Writers Association. Last week, naturally enough, Tower was visibly in California (below) to watch the 27th running of the Santa Anita Derby, one of the significant late-winter races designed to measure 3-year-olds for the kind of heart it will take to win the Kentucky Derby.
Although Tower's grandfather was Harry Payne Whitney, one of the Homeric figures of the sport, and his uncle, C. V. (Sonny) Whitney, and his cousin, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, are Thoroughbred sportsmen, he feels that he must have been disappointing as a juvenile. "After a few falls as a kid, horses scared me to death," Tower admits. "Before drag hunts at Aiken as a youngster I was so terrified I would invariably ride behind a tree and throw up. Besides, horses give me hay fever."
But Tower can hardly remember a time when he didn't want to write about sports. He came to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in our first year, after a career that included Harvard, the U.S. Air Force and six years as a racing writer for the Cincinnati Enquirer. The Air Force discovered something Whit had known all along: he is partly color-blind. In consequence, he wound up flying low-speed, low-altitude jobs on detached duty with Army ground units, spotting enemy targets for the artillery. His color blindness is something of a nuisance in trying to identify racing silks sweeping by at 35 mph. "For that reason I prefer the distinct blocks of the Guggenheim and Chenery horses, the bright yellow of Claiborne and the deep red of Calumet," Tower says.
The secret of Tower's success as a racing reporter and writer is getting to know people as well as horses. He spends countless hours talking to owners and exercise boys, trainers and grooms, and hanging around barns and track kitchens as well as owners' boxes.
As soon as he had wired this week's Santa Anita report (page 16) from California, Tower flew off to Florida to watch the $100,000 Flamingo Stakes, Hialeah's test for Kentucky hopefuls.