The ingenious device of collecting the best trotting horses in the world and pitting them in a championship race should be enough to make the Roosevelt International a rousing success—which is exactly what it was last Saturday night. But no promoter worthy of the name would settle for such an artless gamble, and in the weeks before each International, Roosevelt produces—and newspapers gleefully pick up—the hokiest publicity stunts since Brody went off the bridge. On these pages are a collector's treasure of purest puff proving that Americans have not yet grown too cool for corn. For a further report on races past and present, and the men behind all this wonderful bunk, see the following pages.
MIDSUMMER FAIRY TALE FOR OLD FOLKS
Between you and me and the lamppost," confided the promoter of the most razzle-dazzle harness race of them all, "as a horse race this often doesn't amount to much. What you've got to realize is that artichokes can be more interesting than a horse's record." Forget the records. In eight years New York's Roosevelt Raceway has parlayed pumpernickel, a goat, a revolution in Argentina, the Baron Andreas von Beess und Chrostin ("Call me Andy"), the lord's third horse and, of course, artichokes, into a big-time sports event.
What Roosevelt's President Alvin Weil was talking about last week was the $100,000 International Trot. It is a harness race, and often an exciting one. It certainly was on Saturday night. But what good is a good race if nobody knows about it?
They know now. Since it staged the first race in 1959, Roosevelt has been weaving what it soberly refers to as "The Legend of the International," a sort of midsummer fairy tale for older folks.
The Roosevelt formula began, perhaps by accident, with the crisis every press agent dreams of.
There was Jamin, deprived by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of his ration of Normandy artichokes. The French trotter languished in his stall. The supply of artichokes imported from France with the horse had been impounded and, according to Roosevelt officials, Jamin's temperature had begun to rise.
Veterinarians prescribed other foods, but to no avail. Hourly bulletins reported Jamin's condition. Newspapers began to take notice.
The New York Times
put a man on the artichoke beat.
Meanwhile, Trainer Jean Riaud cancelled Jamin's workout because the trotter was too sick. Jack Paar appealed nationally for artichokes. First, a hothouse owner in the Bronx came up with some. But Jamin turned them down (and the man was later turned over to the police when a crop of marijuana was found among his vegetables). Finally, according to the very words in this year's International brochure, "investigators, working in the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade and Hercule Poirot" found the right kind of artichokes in California. Girl scouts harvested the crop and the artichokes were jetted to Jamin, who immediately recovered and went on to win the race.
All this Roosevelt managed with a completely straight face. The track has been hard pressed to keep it straight since. Joey Goldstein, Roosevelt's current publicity boss, did not invent the legend. That man, Nick Grande, has gone on to become a vice-president. Joey did not invent it—he topped it. Goldstein was hurt last week at the mere thought that the public might have gotten the wrong idea about the ill Jamin. "We never said Jamin needed artichokes to survive," he protested. "We simply said the horse liked them."