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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Fifty what?" C. S. snorted.
"Why $50,000," the man in the Stetson said, and suddenly it was no longer a game.
If C. S. Howard was intensely loyal to his animals, he was also loyal to his wallet. He set the ground rules. Barbra B and Fair Truckle would race 400 yards. There would be a stationary starting gate. There would be stewards and a film patrol, and he would be able to use his regular rider, Johnny Longden. The cowboys agreed. Quarter horses had been running that distance here since the first Spanish settlers had reached Florida. Quarter horses could beat Parnelli Jones's turbine at that distance. And, just so it shouldn't be a total loss, the cowboys had a few hole cards of their own.
The site would be Hollywood Park. Howard, who had a little something to say about what went on at the track in those days, went to the management that afternoon and arranged for its exclusive use the morning after the current meeting had closed. Under no circumstances was the public to be invited. Jimmy Stewart, who is now vice-president of the track, was delegated to supervise the affair.
"The first thing that happened," Stewart recalls, "is that we all went out to see Barbra B work one morning, and right away we knew that Mr. Howard was in a lot of trouble. The second thing was that the press found out about the bet, ran stories on it, and suddenly it seemed like we had half of California in on the thing.
"I had a money truck parked in the infield with the stakes, but it got to be more complicated than that. Those big old cowboys began walking through the stands taking man-to-man bets, and I couldn't begin to guess how much money changed hands that morning. There is, however, one thing I can tell you for sure. I looked out at those cowboys, and I looked at the hustlers they were betting against, and I looked at C. S. Howard, and I remember very well that I said to myself:
" 'Lord, I am a young man. I would like nothing better than to be able to live to be an old one. Please, Lord, do what you want but don't give us a photo finish today.' "
The cowboys themselves had taken a few steps to guard against this possibility. The first was the placing of the starting gate smack on the starting line instead of a few jumps behind it. This took away any breathing room Fair Truckle might have and made it a scrupulously standing start, designed to favor the blinding acceleration that is a quarter horse's stock in trade.
The second became apparent to Stewart and people who worked for the track when the jockeys appeared. Longden, tough, able and racetrack-wise, climbed aboard Fair Truckle wearing the Howard stable's silks. Barbra B, recalled by Stewart as a kind of "stringy-looking animal," showed up with a jockey who had been barred from most American tracks and who rode mainly in Mexico and in the "outlaw" racing plants. And here we come to an area that C. S. Howard had not even considered. He had set the rules, but he had forgotten the matter of spurs. Barbra B's jockey was wearing the longest, sharpest set of spurs Jim Stewart had ever seen. They looked like knitting needles. The ground rules were consulted. Nothing about spurs. C. S. Howard had no comeback.
So they came out onto the track where the Hollywood Park starter got them into the gate. The crowd fell silent. Suddenly, the starter turned them loose. Incredibly, Fair Truckle seemed to break on top. Then the hero of the Arizona Mafia jabbed those two syringes on his heels into Barbra B's flanks and—forget it, C. S. Howard.