Around the world the people who go to racetracks are often more fascinating to observe than the horses. Whether they go simply to savor a sporting spectacle, to take delight in the fluid grace of a running Thoroughbred or in the hope of winning a bet, they have long attracted the skilled attention of Photographer Jerry Cooke as he has traveled the globe on assignment for Sports Illustrated. Representative of the 100 million who attend races at a thousand racetracks are those in the striking photographs that we present here and on the following pages. Next week, at the Washington, D.C. International at Laurel, horses—and horse fanciers—from many of these countries will compete with the best of the U.S. in one of the sport's premier events.
The French racegoer remains clothes-consciously French. Matching, in her gingham, the holiday air of the track at Deauville, this lissome miss studies her program, while two well-turned-out gentlemen (opposite) reflect the elegance and sophistication of the private owners' enclosure at Longchamp.
U.S. racing fans are far less concerned with proper dress than with making a propitious choice of a winner. Lined up five deep on the grandstand side of the walking ring at old Belmont Park, their faces mirror the moods of horseplayers: confidence, uncertainty, scorn, even total distrust.
The universal pull of racing is well illustrated by crowds that often exceed 50,000 at luxurious and functional tracks in the Far East. In cosmopolitan Hong Kong (above and left), Cooke found the same tense absorption in a stretch drive as can be seen at Aqueduct and a well-tailored pulchritude to match that of Paris. At a turf course in Tokyo (opposite), the stance of the student of form may vary from the global norm, but the object of the between-races effort—to pick the winner next time—is still the same.
Time was when racing in Russia presented a glorious spectacle of richly jeweled nobles and elaborate pomp, but if the scene has changed, the enthusiasm of the racegoing comrade has not, and one occasionally still sees (opposite) a full, luxuriant prerevolutionary-style beard. Betting is extraordinarily heavy at Moscow's Hippodrome, possibly because earning a ruble is hard, and much of it is man-to-man, away from the windows; odds are not posted before races, but after. If racing thrives despite that hazard, no bureaucracy of Big Brothers can ever keep the Little Brothers away from the rail.