SI Vault
 
A MUDDY HORSE OF THE YEAR
Whitney Tower
October 10, 1966
Buckpasser clinched that title in the slop of the Woodward with a brilliant run against the top field of the season on the same afternoon that sportsman Raymond Guest received racing's newest high honor
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
October 10, 1966

A Muddy Horse Of The Year

Buckpasser clinched that title in the slop of the Woodward with a brilliant run against the top field of the season on the same afternoon that sportsman Raymond Guest received racing's newest high honor

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

A few hours before the Woodward, Guest was honored for this kind of sportsmanship, which often is missing from the American racing scene. Had he kept Tom Rolfe at home last fall it is quite possible his colt would have beaten out Roman Brother for Horse of the Year honors. Instead he went to a sporting defeat in Paris, and last week Guest became the first recipient of the Ralph Lowe Award for Sportsmanship, donated and presented by Shoemaker in memory of the owner of Gallant Man, loser of the 1957 Kentucky Derby when Shoe misjudged the finish line. (Shoemaker, after such an unpardonable miscue, considered it sporting of Ralph Lowe not to shoot him between the eyes.) In his short acceptance speech Guest soft-pedaled his own accomplishments. "I'm not at all sure I deserve this award," he said. "It could easily go to thousands of owners who don't win many races. They stay in the game, uncomplaining, and keep the sport going. I wish we could peel $10,000 off the top of a lot of these rich stakes and spread it around to those owners who need and deserve it to keep going." Then Guest looked his audience over and quietly added, "If I lose today I hope I lose gracefully, and if I win I hope I win gratefully."

Raymond Richard Guest has been doing things with grace and style for a long time. He was born 58 years ago, the second of three children of Captain the Right Honorable Frederick E. Guest, an Englishman, and American heiress Amy Phipps Guest. Captain Guest, a Member of Parliament and Air Secretary in the Lloyd George cabinet, served for a time as personal secretary to his first cousin, a rising young man named Winston Churchill. He named his eldest son—Winston Frederick Churchill Guest—after his cousin, who was also the child's godfather. Winston and his younger sister Diana, now the Countess de la Valdene (and owner of a small but first-class string of racehorses in France), were born in England. Raymond was not, and he tells a story that reflects both his instinct for diplomacy and his sense of humor: "One of my uncles, Baron Wimborne, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during the first war, when Ireland was still under British rule. His home in Phoenix Park, Dublin, is now the official residence of Ireland's President Eamon de Valera. Well, when I went to present my credentials to Mr. de Valera when I became Ambassador a year and a half ago, he naturally kidded me about my English ancestors. Then he noticed my interest in his historic residence, and he said, 'This place should be familiar to you, Mr. Guest.' I laughed, and then I think I got in the last line. 'Sir,' I said, 'like your distinguished self, I was born in New York.' " (The relationship between Guest and De Valera has been close since that meeting. "Just a few days ago," said Guest recently, "I killed a nine-pound salmon and delivered it to the President's residence on my way home. In a matter of minutes he picked up the phone himself to thank me and to say that he had ordered it for dinner that very night.")

Winston and Raymond Guest were graduated from Yale, and in the '30s both became star polo players in the era when the sport reached its peak in this country. Raymond bred and raised his own Thoroughbreds in Virginia and became a director of Bessemer Securities, the holding company for the enormous Phipps family trust. After serving as a commander in the Navy during World War II, Guest was a Virginia state senator from 1947 to 1953. If it seems a little incongruous that Raymond Guest, a member of one of the country's wealthiest families, is a Democrat, he explains it this way: "For one thing, most of my friends in Virginia were Democrats, and that must have had something to do with it a long time ago. Then when Franklin D. Roosevelt was governor of New York I really thought he'd make a damn fine President. But what really solidified my thinking was that I wanted desperately for England to win the war, and I really think F.D.R. wanted to help them. I don't know if the others would have gone in that deep."

A massive, broad-shouldered, white-haired man, Guest stands 6 feet 1� inches and weighs 215 pounds, 20 pounds less than he did a year ago. "I've got the secret now," he said. "Quit bread and butter, that's all. And I guess riding that old cob of mine around took off a few pounds and inches, too." Guest was referring to his performance last August when his place in the affection of the Irish, whose love for the horse is legendary, was sealed by his participation in the famous Dublin Horse Show. He became the first member of the diplomatic corps to win an equestrian event, riding his 8-year-old gray gelding, Shaun, to a blue in the class for light- or medium-weight cobs. The onetime eight-goal polo player described it: "Not very dangerous, you know—just walk, trot and canter."

Compared to the racing empire of his Phipps cousins, Raymond Guest has a peanut operation. In this country he has only Tom Rolfe in training with Frank Whitely. But his overseas operation is of considerable stature even if it is not enormously successful. Four trainers—Vincent O'Brien, David Ainsworth, Paddy Kearns and Dan Moore—have 23 of Guest's horses-in-training, but even the combined skill of this crack quartet has failed to turn 1966 into a banner year. "I haven't won a race since January—and that was over the jumps," said Guest. "I just don't seem to have any luck, but that's the way it goes, isn't it?"

Luck should turn in the not too distant future, for on Guest's 335-acre farm a few miles out of Dublin at Ballygoran (which is found by turning right at Brady's saloon in the village of Maynooth), there is a growing band of well-bred broodmares and Guest's own stallion, Larkspur, winner of the 1962 Epsom Derby. Guest tries to visit his able farm managers Tom and Valerie Cooper at Ballygoran for a part of each day, often in the three-place helicopter he recently bought for easy commuting. As a noncommercial breeder, Guest is only trying to produce horses to race in his own chocolate-and-light-blue silks. "I have a feeling," he explains, "that the best way to breed a racehorse is to breed American mares to foreign stallions and foreign mares to American stallions. For that reason I have shipped nearly all of my mares to Ireland to be bred to Larkspur."

Diplomats in Dublin, as elsewhere, tend to move in a restricted circle. In the Irish capital this consists of the civil service and what remains of the Irish landed gentry, basically Anglo-Irish in background. Guest, however, gets around more than most ambassadors, though his friends are largely in the horsy crowd. His impact on the man in the street is therefore negligible, and those who know him as a racehorse owner often are unaware that he is also the American Ambassador. He has tried hard to avoid the image of a rich man and is proud of his strict devotion to duty. "I have been back in the States only three times in my 17 months," he said, "and not until the Woodward did I come to see one of my horses run."

The days before Guest's visit to Aqueduct were hectic. "I've never had two weeks of work quite like it," he said. "I mean to say, I haven't got any great ambassadorial problems, but it isn't all tea-drinking either." On the Thursday before the Woodward, Guest flew to London where, on Friday morning, he paid a hurried call on his tailors, Stovel & Mason on Old Burlington Street, to have his natty brown pinstripe suit taken in a bit following the results of no bread, no butter and lots of walk, trot and canter at the Dublin Horse Show. Then he went to Wilton's for a dozen oysters and a grouse before boarding Pan American's Flight 103 to New York. Guest plucked his suitcase off the rack at Kennedy Airport, went through customs like any tourist and drove to his East Side apartment. Half an hour and one Scotch later he looked at his watch. "It's 8 o'clock," he said with a smile. "Just perfect. Now I can walk five blocks up the street, buy tomorrow's Morning Telegraph and read myself to sleep. You know, I'm really looking forward to my first glimpse of Buckpasser, and I just hope that my little Tom can give him a bit of a race."

Later, when Guest had congratulated his cousin, Ogden Phipps, and everybody had deserted the wet stands for the comfort of the Trustees Room, Shoemaker turned up to tell the Ambassador that little Tom had never quit trying. As he towered over his jockey, his hands firmly on his hips, Guest broke out in a broad grin. "You know," he said, "that Buckpasser is some horse, isn't he!" He put one enormous hand on Shoemaker's shoulder and added, "But I still think. Bill, that we should try him again. That's what this game is all about, isn't it?"

An hour later Guest was aboard an Air France jet to Paris for a week's vacation with his wife. (She is the Princess Caroline Murat, a descendant of Marshal Joachim Murat, who married the youngest sister of Napoleon I and later became King of Naples.) And then Guest would be back at Phoenix Park, at Ballygoran, races at Leopardstown and visits at the home of a good friend who was also born in New York.

1 2