Tiajuana was the
creation of the late Jim Coffroth, the erudite, eccentric, cynical Californian
who got rich promoting the Jeffries-Corbett and Jeffries-Fitzsimmons fights.
Coffroth built the track solely to make money; he had no interest in horses and
seldom even watched a race, preferring to sit in his office sipping champagne
and listening to the chatter of the beautiful young women by whom he was always
surrounded. With the help of the Judge, however, Coffroth and Tiajuana made
considerable racing history. Their chief problem was getting horses. There was
no racing in California at the time and indeed no track of any real consequence
west of Hot Springs. Coffroth decided to put on a $5,000 handicap to attract
good horses, but Schilling had much bigger visions. "I've got an idea I
think you'll like," he told Coffroth. "Add $10,000 to the race each
year until you've hit the magic number of $100,000—then you'll really have
something." Coffroth winced, as the Judge had expected. "And what we'll
do," he added, playing his trump card, "is call it the Coffroth
Coffroth, one of
the vainest men in all the egomaniac history of sports, said, "George, you
embarrass me—but I like it." Thus, for better or worse, the $100,000 purse
was born. It brought horses like Exterminator and Phar Lap to the West and
contributed to the start of big-time racing in California in 1934.
One day in the
'20s a movie director named Al Rogell arrived at Tiajuana to film a horse-race
picture. To help get his directions to the extras in the crowd scenes, he
strung up an apparatus such as nobody on a racetrack had ever before seen—a
series of old-fashioned loudspeaker horns connected to a primitive version of
the carbon microphone. Schilling looked and listened and knew that he was in on
another horse-racing first.
Rogell to let him borrow the apparatus, then popped into Coffroth's office.
"Jim," he said, "I'd like to have you come out and watch the next
race. I've got a surprise for you."
Busy with his
champagne and his girls, Coffroth said, "George, go away. You know I never
watch a race."
listen to it," said Schilling.
said the Judge. "That's the surprise."
And he thereupon
made the world's first call of a race over a public-address system—an
innovation that has been an important factor in the racing boom of the past
quarter century. The late Clem McCarthy broke into the announcing game under
Judge Schilling at Tiajuana and took the idea east to Pimlico and to the Aurora
track in Chicago. Soon all tracks were using it. Some purists still object to
the public-address call, and dyed-in-the-wool fans prefer the evidence of their
own binoculars to anything an announcer can tell them. But for the average
spectator it has changed horse racing from a blur to a spectacle.
also made possible another innovation by the Judge. One day a horse was kicked
on the way to the post and, with blood streaming down its leg, it had to be
excused. The rule had always been that a horse was a starter the minute it
stepped on the track. But the Judge decided that the old rule was foolish; it
may have been a necessary evil in the old days when bookmakers set the odds and
when there was no way of announcing a late scratch to the crowd, but it made no
sense at all in an era of pari-mutuel betting and public-address systems. In
total defiance of tradition, the Judge announced that all bets on the injured
horse would be refunded. The track management, foreseeing all kinds of trouble
with the public if any of the Rules of Racing were relaxed, was furious, but
the Judge insisted that it is Rule A of wagering that if you can't win you
shouldn't lose. Before long all tracks had adopted his spur-of-the-moment