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A filly's heart defeated a mathematician's calculations in the richest match race in turf history—$250,000 winner-take-all—at Hollywood Park last weekend. The heart belongs to a 4-year-old filly, Convenience, owned by Leonard Lavin of Chicago. The mathematician whose figuring did not quite pan out is Fletcher Jones, owner of Typecast, the 6-year-old mare pitted against Convenience. But Jones, president of the Computer Sciences Corporation, was only a matter of inches off in figuring the outcome of one of the finest match races ever run.
Historically, such events come on with a buildup that would make a fight promoter blush and then end as a bust. Sea-biscuit beat War Admiral by four lengths, Armed trounced Assault by eight, and in 1955, Nashua finished 6� lengths ahead of Swaps, ridden by Bill Shoemaker, who was again aboard the loser on Saturday.
But this match race was different. It almost died aborning, the promotion was spotty and the contest was spectacular. The basic idea originated with Jones after his Typecast, bottled up in traffic and carrying five pounds more than Convenience, finished second by half a length to that filly in the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 3. The next day Jones was in the game room of his Los Angeles mansion reading an account of the race in the Sunday paper when his sporting instincts were stirred by a statement of Willard Proctor, the trainer of Convenience. Proctor said his filly was as good as Typecast and Turkish Trousers, another very good filly who had finished in the money in the Vanity. Jones thought to himself, "If Convenience is that good, let's see her pick up the weight and race against us." On Monday morning Jones called James Stewart, general manager of Hollywood Park, to suggest a special race involving the three from the Vanity and possibly Chou Croute, the top filly in the East. Each owner, Jones proposed, would put up $25,000, and the race would show which was the best filly or mare in the country.
Stewart started phoning around. The owners of Turkish Trousers and Chou Croute were not interested. Well, said Fletcher Jones, how about a $25,000 deal between Convenience and Typecast. "He put it as a challenge," recalled Lavin on the eve of the match. As the phone calls went back and forth the ante kept increasing. Finally it was decided the owners would each put up $100,000 and the track $50,000. The race was to be at a mile and an eighth at level weights, 120 pounds. The only conditions Lavin insisted on were that it be a fast track and that if either horse were not fit, the race would not go.
The 52-year-old Lavin could afford the $100,000 gamble on Convenience. He is the president and largest stockholder in the Alberto-Culver Company, a giant in mass toiletries, household products and foods with interests in 62 countries. He got into racing in 1966. Three years later he bought Convenience for $32,000. A big filly with a massive rear end, or "power house," as one trainer put it, she was too fat to race at two. At three she had nine starts, four wins and finished in the money every time. At four she has gotten better. Prior to the match, she had six victories in nine starts, a second and a third. The one time Convenience was unplaced she pulled up in the stretch when she shied at the sight of the starting gate. At the time she was leading by 1� lengths; she finished fifth.
By contrast to Lavin, Jones has a reputation in racing circles for being aloof if not arrogant. A very private person, he collects paintings and Georgian silver, buying at auction under a different name "to keep a low profile." As handsome and mod-attired as a TV private eye, he regards comments about his personal appearance or life-style as not being pertinent. He does not suffer a fool gladly and the press rarely.
A Texan by birth, he worked his way through Duke, and then, after studying statistics and probabilities, headed for California. In 1959 he and a partner formed Computer Sciences, which now has 8,000 employees and has put together computer systems for such disparate clients as the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Panama Canal and New York's Off-Track Betting Corporation.
In 1964 Jones bought his first racehorses. "My stimulus for getting involved was the intellectual aspect of breeding and racing," Jones says. "Certainly one can't get into it for the emotional appeal, because there have to be more losers than winners in a race. One must play quality and numbers so that the probabilities work for you."
Jones purchased Typecast for $22,000 as a yearling, and she won her first race at three, coming from off the pace. She seemed to lack early speed and did not win her first stakes race until last year as a 5-year-old. But she gained consistency thereafter under Tommy Doyle, the latest trainer retained by Jones. Going into the match race, Typecast had earned almost $300,000 and was becoming known for her belated rushes.
For a Hollywood extravaganza, the Typecast-Convenience duel stirred up surprisingly little fuss, except on Saturday when a crowd of 53,515 showed up. Indeed, the grand opening of a used-car dealer's lot out on La Brea Boulevard would have gotten more ink. The principles in the race either weren't around or were keeping their mouths shut. Lavin spent most of the preceding week in Mexico and Chicago on business and flew into town only the night before. Relaxing in his suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel with his wife and daughter, Lavin said, "I happen to think we have the best filly in the country, and that's why we're running." However, he would say nothing about strategy for the match. Convenience's jockey, Jerry Lambert, a quiet Kansan, made himself scarce. The only one of the filly's clan who would allude to any strategy at all was Proctor, who on Friday allowed that the horse that took the lead "would have the best of it. I'd rather be in charge than not be, but for God's sake don't print that now." Proctor added, "The filly's doing fine. So far, I'm satisfied. If she gets beat, it's my fault—Mr. Lavin hasn't been training her."