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Even before her jumpers Top Bid and Jaunty ran one-three in the $100,000 Colonial Cup steeplechase in Camden, S.C. last Nov. 14, Mrs. Ogden Phipps was forecasting nothing but doom for a sport that she and her trainer, Mike Smith-wick, have dominated for so many years. "I really think that jumping is dying," moaned Lil Phipps. "The jumping people depend on New York and the trouble is that the New York Racing Association has to be economic-minded. New York racing management is not interested in preserving jumping."
The wife of the chairman of the Jockey Club is prophetic indeed. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, newly elected chairman of the NYRA, has stated his intention of proposing at the next board meeting that the number of steeplechase and hurdle races be cut by one-third and the amount of purse money allotted to the jumpers be reduced by one-half in 1971. His contention is that the public shies away from betting on jump races and that the resultant loss in the track's share of the mutuel handle last year was close to $500,000, an amount that he and some of his fellow trustees consider "indefensible" to the New York State legislature.
Not everyone always agrees with Alfred Vanderbilt on racing matters, and in this case we prefer to side with one of his predecessors, John W. Hanes, who is aware that if Vanderbilt's proposal is accepted a great sport will find it hard to survive; the purse money available simply will not support the number of jockeys, trainers and owners necessary to fill the races.
Aside from the grand spectacle steeplechase racing offers track audiences, it would also seem that the jumping sport is one of the best drawing cards racing has to offer the younger generation. Many of our most famous flat owners and trainers came into the sport through steeplechasing, including the breeder, owner and trainer of Hoist the Flag, 1971 Kentucky Derby winter book favorite.
Finally, Mr. Hanes reminds us that the NYRA owes a debt to steeplechasing, whose meetings kept racing alive in New York during the 1911-12 blackout when betting was illegal, and he feels that the present loss in mutuel handle is offset by the admissions paid and money bet on flat races by those who come to see the jumpers during the course of a season. He adds it would be a great shame, as well as a bit hasty, if the NYRA were to initiate a strangulation process just at a moment when a drastic reorganization of steeplechasing's governing body indicates that the sport is fully capable of flourishing once again. We agree with him.
BOXING'S SEA OF INEPTITUDE
When the mob and the International Boxing Club ruled boxing, television supersaturated the channels with dull fights three times a week; as a result, the end of prizefighting as a popular sport was held to be very much in sight. Then the leading mobsters were jailed, the IBC was dissolved and television turned to other entertainment. The more optimistic fans thought then that the small fight clubs would be revived and boxing would once again come back into its own.
It ain't necessarily so. Prizefighting continues to be the most mismanaged of sports. As witness: once a month the World Boxing Association publishes a list of fighters who have been suspended, permanently or indefinitely. Reasons given include injuries, medical causes, broken contracts, police records and the like. But the list is often ignored by promoters, who, with the connivance of local commissions, let such suspended fighters appear on their cards.
And mismatches are common. Thus, George Foreman, No. 3 challenger in the heavyweight division, was permitted to take on one Bob Hazelton, who had had only five bouts professionally. Of these (four four-rounders and one of six rounds) he had won three and lost two, both times by knockouts. It was not surprising that Foreman knocked him out in a single round.