There was no reason to believe that any of it would last, this sudden surge of euphoria that swept across the country last weekend. The undercurrents of unrest were less audible for a moment, true, but they were still there; Indochina and student uprisings had not gone away. The stock market had made a dramatic turnaround, but nobody was prepared to bet his bottom dollar—it had almost come to that—that it would not reverse again. Any politician worth his wing collar would insist that the nation was on the brink of one moral disaster or another. And yet, in a sector where one might look for signs of recession and reticence, there it was: sporting America, at least, had a plain, old-fashioned, upbeat, crowded good time.
There were good reasons. One must remember that most places in the northern hemisphere of this particular planet consider the summer solstice to occur on June 22—the day the sun stands still just before it slips off into the zodiac region of Cancer on its way toward Capricorn and winter. But in the United States summer starts on Memorial Day. And almost nothing stands still.
Not the yachtsmen or the horseshoe pitchers or the coon-dog handlers or the Indy 500 drivers or the crazy skiing-sailors who turn out for their own favorite brand of competitions. Not the flag-draped volunteer firemen or the freckled cub scouts or the braless Women's Lib majorettes or the Little League shortstops or the beery Legionnaires who somehow all end up in the same unlikely line to march in God only knows how many thousands of meandering Main Street parades. And certainly not the horse bettors or the major league baseball fans.
The national atmosphere leading to Memorial Day 1970 could scarcely be called entirely festive or totally carefree. There was ample scope for dissent and anxiety, and perhaps at least some of the country's movement on Memorial Day could be defined as a symptom of massive psychic restlessness generated simply to escape the hard issues of the day—as well as to avoid the essence of the holiday itself, which was, of course, conceived as a poignant way of remembering all the people who have died because of war. Nevertheless, the movement was there on this Memorial Day.
Perhaps it was the hope generated by the new luck of the Wall Street draw, or maybe there were things afoot of more cosmic impact—but investors of all callings apparently had decided that the stars were right for this holiday. It was the best in years for the nation's horse tracks.
It all adds up: at Finger Lakes in Canandaigua, N.Y. the day's betting handle from a crowd of 10,480 was $547,524. At Ruidoso Downs outside Roswell, N. Mex. the take was $230,130 from 4,500 customers. At Ak-Sar-Ben in Omaha they gathered in $1,379,339 for the day, with 24,086 in happy attendance. At luscious Seminole Downs in Casselberry, Fla. a group of 2,808 folks came in and bet a grand total of $101,868. And Hollywood Park near Los Angeles rang up a $5,052,868 handle—third highest since the track was built in 1938. The crowd was counted at 54,050. All in all, well over half a million people spent their holiday within investing distance of pari-mutuel windows.
The betting handle for the day in both flat racing and trotting was nearly $39 million. In New York, Belmont Park rang up more than any other U.S. flat-racing track, totaling $5,378,452, while Roosevelt was No. 1 nationally for trotters with $2,630,094.
That was how it was to be No. 1 for horse-racing money on Memorial Day. For No. 1 in downright horse-race hoo-ha, one should have been at the Garden State Park in New Jersey. It was Jersey Derby Day, and Lynn Simross noted that more than 40,000 people turned up, looked at pickles in a wooden barrel, bought genuine rock candy in bags for 20¢, then listened to barbershop quartets and a zingy group in red and white striped blazers called the Quaker City String Band. They watched Joe McNaboe, a Cherry Hill, N.J. blacksmith, put on a horseshoe-making demonstration, and generally tried to pretend that it was 100 years ago or so. Of course, it was not, since the winner of the $128,400 Derby was none other than the 1970 Preakness champion, Personality (page 63).
Naturally, the variety of events for the Memorial Day weekend was as varied as the people who attended. Yet one could count on the usual, the traditional, to come through. Indy drew its usual quarter-of-a-million-plus fans for what turned out to be a rather routine race (page 30). The flannel land of baseball, declared ailing and dormant by many, was well populated, if not exactly overcrowded, in these days of chaos and uncertainty. This is an era when a player is apt to wear three different uniforms in a single week: his home whites on Sunday, his road outfit for midweek games and his khakis on weekends. Last week some two dozen major-leaguers spent time with their Reserve or National Guard groups.
On Memorial Day, the major leagues drew 264,455. Not bad—it may mean brighter days are ahead. For the season thus far, American League crowds are off almost 250,000 from last year, while the National League (thanks largely to a Met attendance rise of 200,000) was about 300,000 over 1969.