Everything is just fine with Octave Blake, one of those elder statesmen of harness racing who are pointed to with pride by track press agents as "images" of the grand old days when the sport was pure sport and didn't make any money.
White-haired Ock Blake (nobody calls him Octave) is everything an image should be. Physically, he is as slight as when he was Princeton's 150-pound quarterback back in 1914 and 1915. In other ways, he stands tall with a distinguished career in business behind him and a proud record of racing horses that have won The Hambletonian, the Little Brown Jug and a score of other big stakes while carrying the blue-and-gold colors of Newport Stock Farm, founded by his father at the turn of the century.
Everything is just fine. Ock Blake has just passed his 71st birthday in good health and high spirits. He recently celebrated the anniversary of his marriage to Joan Johnston, whose six children by a previous marriage could not delight him more if they were his very own. He is enjoying his first year of retirement from the presidency of the Cornell-Dubilier Electric Corporation, the multimillion-dollar electronics manufacturing firm that he continues to serve as consultant. He is rounding out his 19th year as president of harness racing's Grand Circuit and is described by E. Roland Harriman, another great "image," as the most energetic president the Circuit ever had. He continues to have a hand in a bottled-water company in New York, a business in which his father, I. O. (for Israel Octave) Blake, built part of the fortune that enabled him to indulge a rich man's fancy for old-time harness racing and to found the Newport stable at Newport, Vt.
Relieved of his more pressing business obligations, Ock Blake does not now require Cornell-Dubilier's DC-3, but he has a six-place, twin-engine Beechcraft to fly him to Grand Circuit meetings from coast to coast as well as to his home in Pinehurst, N.C., his summer place in Canada and his penthouse in Pompano Beach, Fla., where he makes his headquarters during the 109-day meeting at Pompano Park. It is possible that Ock Blake could fly the Beechcraft himself if he wanted to, for he was a Navy flyer in World War I, just as he could (as a licensed owner-driver) work horses in the mornings. But Ock leaves the flying to a young pilot and the training of horses to Del Cameron.
Even so, Ock Blake does a lot of flitting about for a man who has theoretically retired, and friends who have not seen him recently will want a report on the state of his tan gabardine suit. As observed along the rail at Pompano Park's training track this spring, it appeared to be in splendid condition. In fact, it looked like it might have at least another 100,000 miles in it. (Frances Van Lennep of Castleton Farm dubbed it the "100,000-mile suit.") It seems as resistant as ever to cigarette ashes, coffee and gravy stains, ice-cream-cone drippings and the dust kicked up by the trotters and pacers at the morning workouts.
Ock Blake's tan gabardine is the most famous suit in harness racing. There are all sorts of theories about it. There are people who profess to believe that he bought it sometime after his graduation from Princeton and has been wearing it ever since. Others scoff at that idea and declare that the tan gabardine Ock wore in the 1920s had a belt in the back. Today's suit has no belt. Phil Pines, director of the Hall of Fame of the Trotter in Goshen, N.Y., is convinced that the current suit is the same he painted in oils after Blake's Newport Dream won The Hambletonian in 1954. Furthermore, Pines is willing to go on record as stating that the suit was then at least 10 years old. Pines feels very strongly about the suit. He has urged Ock Blake to donate it to the Hall of Fame so it may hang there with the Newport colors.
Del Cameron, who drove Newport Dream to victory in the 1954 Hambletonian (as well as Egyptian Candor for Mrs. Stanley Dancer last year), said recently at the Newport stables in Pinehurst that he knows for a fact there are at least half a dozen identical gabardine suits—all complete with vests—which Ock Blake wears winter and summer. The vest is an important detail, because it adds pockets and enables Ock Blake to store an amazing variety of pencils, scraps of paper, buttons, cigarette holders and lighters, stopwatches, spectacles, an unfailing supply of Viceroys and more miscellaneous gimmicks and gadgets than the Man from U.N.C.L.E. can produce in a tight spot.
E. Roland Harriman, seated in his office at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York, skirted the question of the suit with the skill you would expect from one of the most celebrated investment bankers in Wall Street. He appeared to be thinking hard for a moment before he said, finally: "Let me say that Ock Blake always stays with us when he is in Goshen. Now, he always has a tan gabardine suit with him. Whether he has more than one, I would not want to say. I will say this. Ock Blake has a blue suit. Quote me on that. When he married Joan, she insisted he buy one for the wedding."
Harriman chuckled. "That reminds me of something. Before the wedding Ock paid me a visit. When he was leaving, he gave me an envelope for Wood, our butler, and asked me to express his thanks for the nice things Wood had done for him. I delivered the message to Wood. He said, 'Mr. Blake is a very fine gentleman and I enjoyed being of service to him. I like to take good care of elderly people."
Harriman threw back his head and laughed. "Wood suddenly mumbled some apology and bowed out of the room. Apparently he had just realized two things. One was that 'elderly' Ock Blake was a bridegroom-to-be. The other thing was that Ock and I are exactly the same age."