Horse racing in this country achieved its most spectacular international flourish last week on two widely different American fronts. Happily for the home team, if not for the multitude of foreigners on hand, the two big events—in Laurel, Md. and in Camden, S.C.—were both won by American horses. And the visitors had so much fun that they didn't seem to mind. Well, not too much, anyway.
At Laurel, where the mile-and-a-half Washington, D.C. International was having its 19th go-round, Paul Mellon's gutsy 6-year-old gelding Fort Marcy became a strong candidate for Horse of the Year honors by winning for the second time in three tries. He held off the French filly Miss Dan II by one length, defeating a field of 10 which included runners from Europe and South America. Three days later, in the piney pulp-wood country of South Carolina—where racing down the main street was a sport of sorts in 1734—22 jumpers (nine from abroad) sallied forth in a colorful procession to participate in the richest steeplechase ever held in the United States. The $100,000 Colonial Cup was won by Mrs. Ogden Phipps' favored Top Bid, while her other entry, Jaunty, was third, beaten only a length and a half by Stephen Clark Jr.'s Shadow Brook.
Both races were run in the rain. At Laurel, the crowd of 28,764 simply huddled protectively into the packed stands and dumped damp money into the mutuels. At Mrs. Marion duPont Scott's Springdale Course in Camden things were quite different. There are no covered stands and no bars. Even more frustrating for the dedicated punter is the fact that South Carolina does not permit pari-mutuel betting. But racegoers the world over have a way of packing their traditions along with them. The estimated throng of 18,000 at Camden may have been wet on the outside, but it was careful to bring its own guarantees against internal aridity. And betting was amply available, though of the caliber that made suckers out of most of the customers. The half dozen bookmakers who set up their blackboard betting stands behind the jockeys' tent could not have failed to enjoy themselves.
Laurel's International was less exhilarating than most of its predecessors, but produced a creditable performance by a very fine horse. Fort Marcy has been trained so patiently and efficiently by Elliott Burch that he has managed to race for five seasons. His International victory this time (he upset Damascus in a thriller in 1967) was his fifth triumph of the season, and the $100,000 he won enabled him to join racing's exclusive millionaire's club, which is limited to 10 members. His purses now add up to $1,043,280, good enough to push him past Native Diver and Dr. Fager, into eighth place on the alltime earnings list. If Burch brings him back next season, which seems likely, he could easily move past Citation, Damascus and Carry Back—in that order—and into fifth place.
Laurel's keenest drama was off track. Fort Marcy's jockey, Jorge Velasquez, was delayed on his flight from New York; he checked in just one minute before the Laurel stewards would have decreed a substitute rider. But even with Velasquez safely aboard his bay gelding, Burch was dubious about Fort Marcy's ability to handle the turf made uncomfortably soft by two days of rain. He needn't have worried. After Senador (Venezuela) and the filly Fanfreluche (Canada) set a dismally slow pace, Fort Marcy moved from his fourth position on the far turn, and that just about settled matters. Miss Dan II, who had been third behind Sassafras and Nijinsky in the recent Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, threatened from sixth place in the stretch, but just wasn't good enough to catch the old boy. Fiddle Isle, who finished fourth, was licked from the start by the soft going, and England's Lorenzaccio, who was fifth, could not handle the distance. "I knew he was beat when he came out of the gate," said his rider, Lester Piggott. "And as for the turf, it was the worst I've ever seen—a bloody mud bath." Bill Shoemaker, on Fiddle Isle, didn't think much of the running surface either, but he summed up the race more graciously: "It may have been the worst turf I ever saw, but it was the same for all the horses. And at least I know we got beat by the best. He's something."
It isn't all that easy to get from Laurel to Camden, although few made the pilgrimage and regretted it. But why Camden? Well, it's a horsy sort of place 32 miles from the capital city of Columbia, where Mrs. Marion duPont Scott's training center provides an ideal off-season hideaway in which to freshen thoroughbreds for the next year's grind. The center, managed by former jumping rider and trainer Ray Woolfe, comprises some 1,000 acres, with stalls for nearly 300 horses and enough tracks and schooling courses to satisfy everyone. Flat Trainers Frank Whiteley, Ivor Balding and Tom Waller winter in Camden regularly, while the jumping trainers' list is headed by W. Burling Cocks, Charlie Cushman and Bobby Davis.
About 18 months ago, when South Carolinians were mulling over ways to celebrate 1970 as their state's 300th birthday, Ray Woolfe came up with the idea that ultimately resulted in last week's Colonial Cup. He envisioned an international $100,000 steeplechase, run for 4-year-olds and up at a distance of 2 miles 6½ furlongs and over a special 17-jump course laid out so that no fence would be taken more than once. In order to attract the largest possible number of good horses, he decided to construct a special 4'8" jump of treated pine and pine brush as a compromise obstacle somewhere between the standard hurdle and the larger and more difficult brush fences that make up a typical steeplechase course.
Woolfe took his idea to his patron, Mrs. Scott, who adopted it wholeheartedly, and then to some of his colleagues in the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association. The ruling members of this body are august souls who have never been renowned for grappling with new ideas at lightning speed. "For 40 years we've been looking for ways to popularize jump racing," says owner Mrs. Theo Randolph, an august soul in her own right, "and we are still looking." Nonetheless, when Ray Woolfe needed help most he got the backing of the big names in the sport. South Carolina Governor Robert E. McNair consented to be honorary chairman of what came to be known as the Colonial Cup Executive Committee. He was joined by Mrs. Scott, Raymond Guest, John W. Hanes and Paul Mellon, none of them apprentices at getting things done.
Since South Carolina lies in the Bible Belt, which frowns on pari-mutuel betting, and wouldn't hear of legalizing a special Colonial Cup lottery, the next problem was to find the money to put on a five-race card and still give away $100,000 for one event. Woolfe budgeted the project at $200,000. The committee sent out a call for sponsors willing to underwrite any loss, and 77 were rounded up. They ranged from members of the regular hunt-and-jump fraternity to local merchants and companies (among them duPont, whose orlon and nylon plant in Camden is one of the world's largest). Each was asked to guarantee $3,000 if and when called upon. If the paying crowd on Colonial Cup day would top 25,000, all would be well. (Finally, sponsors will probably be tapped for underwriting fees of close to $1,500 each.)
Camden girded itself for the expected invasion. Houses in the quiet little town of 9,600 were rented for as much as $3,000 for Colonial Cup week. The local chamber of commerce unveiled a special restoration of British Revolutionary fortifications on the eve of the race. At the Holiday Inn the customary roadside stand proudly announced "Welcome, foreign racing correspondents." And Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, a longtime devotee of jump racing, dispatched a personal representative eminently suitable to the occasion: Viscount Cobham, the Lord Steward of England.