"Of course," said Jonny Rivers, taking off his 10-gallon white Stetson.
Late that afternoon, with the air conditioner humming its own race against the humid Florida heat, Joe Tanenbaum, Gulfstream's energetic information director, sat in his office and took all the blame for the madness of racing bears and such on a thoroughbred racetrack. "The only bad thing," he said sadly, "is that instead of bears this year, I thought we'd have hippopotamuses. I've always wanted hippos."
The whole thing began 12 years ago when Tanenbaum moved from racing editor at the Miami News to his post at the track. He wanted to put on something really spectacular for Derby Day, but he was not sure just what. He went to see a friend, the late Herb Kelly, then the amusement editor of the News and once an ardent $2 horse bettor.
"Herb," Tanenbaum said, "when are you coming back to the track?"
"When you run elephants instead of horses," Kelly said.
Tanenbaum blinked behind his glasses. "That's it," he said. "Elephants! We'll race elephants. And zebras. And, and, well, all sorts of things." He frowned. "But where will we get them?"
"Are you serious?"
Tanenbaum assured Kelly he was.
"O.K.," said Kelly. "Let me make a few calls." Half an hour later he had a name—Jonny Rivers. "He's some kind of cowboy out of Missouri who puts on acts with diving mules," he told Tanenbaum. "Find him and maybe you have your man."
Jonny Rivers entered the world an orphan of sorts. He was born in 1917, the year his father was killed by a German machine gunner in France. Without funds or family, his mother moved from Dodge City, where his grandfather, Frank Culbert, had once been a marshal, to Omaha, and when he was six he was sent to Father Flanagan's Boys' Town. The practice at the time was to hire out the home's larger boys to work on farms in the summer. When he was 12, Rivers was 6' and weighed 165 pounds, which was considered more than big enough. A farmer came and took him to a cornfield, where he handed Rivers a hoe. He worked 16 hours a day and made $15 a month. The first time they handed him $15 he took off. He did not even stop to say goodby. For the next four years he took any job he could get, eating when he could. At the age of 16 he talked a finance company into putting him into a car, a 2-year-old canary yellow Ford, and, ignoring one of the company's strict rules, immediately started for California. He ran out of both money and gas in Lords-burg, N. Mex. where a marshal found him sleeping in the car and arrested him for vagrancy.