Horses and their handlers began arriving weeks before race day. Visitors came a little later, and they included Stewards François de Brignac (France), Lord Oliver Fingal (Ireland) and Brigadier General Roscoe Harvey (England), plus horsemen of all persuasions, from U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team captain Billy Steinkraus to the skilled children of onetime amateur riding champion Pete Bostwick. Camden was ready for them. Mrs. Scott entertained lavishly at her historic mansion. Mrs. Ogden Phipps received daily on the croquet lawn (where she also played regularly) of her rented house. There was a pigeon shoot Friday morning, a practice polo game that afternoon and that night at the Springdale Club, Auctioneer Humphrey Finney, assisted by Clive Graham of the London Daily Express, sold all 22 Colonial Cup starters in a Calcutta pool that reached about $37,000. Mrs. Phipps bought Jaunty for $2,000—but not Top Bid.
Most of the race participants felt the Americans had an edge and that if Top Bid or Shadow Brook were to be beaten by a runner other than an American, it would probably be Raymond Guest's L'Escargot, who had won in America last year but had really made a name for himself by capturing this spring's Gold Cup over the big jumps at Cheltenham in England. "Your jumps are the kind American horses go through," said British Trainer Toby Balding. "If we send over a true steeplechaser, he'd try and jump over them clean. A good hurdler would have a better chance."
On race day two English bookmakers, Wilfred Sherman and Douggie Wilson, were wandering through the stately pines, eyeing the crowd as it picnicked from the backs of cars. Were they perhaps looking for a bit of action? "Not me," said Douggie Wilson. "I went to study the situation, and a chap comes up to me and says, 'If you get caught, you'll do five years on the inside.' That was enough for me. So I go to have a look at what your American bookmakers are doing with their figures, and it makes me blush. Why, every bloody one of them is 200 or more points over-round [meaning that the bookie has set up at least a 100% profit for himself by manipulating the odds, instead of a reasonable profit of about 15%]. I says to a friend of mine, says I, 'I'll break your leg if I catch you taking any of those prices.' " Camden's visiting American bookmakers were indeed playing the sucker game to the hilt. One of their blackboards on the big race totaled 420 points.
So, after 18 months of preparation, the moment arrived. And with it the rain. Up went the gaudy umbrellas. As the 22 horses went to the post, Jaunty lunged away from his lead pony, losing his bridle and delaying the start 10 minutes. And then off they went—all but Ireland's Herring Gull, that is. He wheeled at the break and refused to run. Peach 2nd and Australia's Crisp led the way over the first few fences, while veteran Jockey Joe Aitcheson Jr. kept Top Bid back in the second group. At the seventh fence Wustenchef became the first and only horse to fall, bothering L'Escargot.
Shadow Brook took the lead when the first pair tired, and the real race began when he was challenged by Jaunty with only three jumps remaining. The two were nearly even over the last fence, but Top Bid came on in the last 16th of a mile and pulled away from Shadow Brook. His length-and-a-half margin was the same as that held by the latter over Jaunty. Six lengths back came L'Escargot, first of the foreigners to finish; he was two lengths ahead of Encarnado. France's Ermitage was sixth, then Crisp and Scotland's Young Ash Leaf. Because of the width of the fences and the skill with which riders handled their mounts, there was no real trouble in the race.
The sporting (if not financial) success of the first Colonial Cup surely emphasizes that jump racing is worth preserving in America. It is beautiful to watch, and it adds variety to any race card. And yet some of jump racing's most fervent partisans are fearful for its existence. "We are the black sheep of the racing fraternity," says young Turney McKnight, amateur rider, grandson of John W. Hanes and one of 15 members of a committee whose purpose is to pump new life into the old sport. "Something has got to be done. We must change the public impression that jump racing is just for the station-wagon set."
On the face of it, there seems no reason why the sport should not be as successful here as in England or France.
One big obstacle is the fact that many flat-race trainers feel they must disassociate themselves from the jumpers to be accepted at most tracks. Yet many of our finest horsemen came up through the hunt meetings. Mike Smithwick, who trained Top Bid and Jaunty and was himself a superior jump rider, also trains this year's stakes winner on the flat, Princess Pout. Sidney Watters Jr., trainer of Shadow Brook, handles the leading 2-year-old colt, Hoist The Flag. Other top flat trainers who once rode jumpers are Jim Maloney, Bowes Bond, Allen Jerkens, Scotty Schulhofer and Evan Jackson. Finally, the horses themselves can be outstanding in both fields: Top Bid and Shadow Brook won stakes on the flat before their achievements in Camden.
Another obstacle is that the betting handle falls off anywhere between 20% and 50% every time a jumping race takes the place of a flat race on a U.S. track. This domestic diffidence ignores the fact that jump racing produces a much higher percentage of winning favorites than flat racing. It has been suggested that fans stay away from the windows before a jump race either because they don't want to try to beat a short-priced favorite or because they want nothing to do with a horse who might not even get around the course.
This is a prejudice that could be overcome if the sponsors of the sport would agree to make the effort. The success of the Colonial Cup is there to provide encouragement and incentive.