"We always make up special helmets for the International," said Lew Barasch. "But when the Russians sent Mosienkov's size, they sent it in centimeters, 18 centimeters. One of our geniuses at the track figured that out to be 6?. It sat on Mosienkov's head like an egg. He wears a 7?."
The Russian asked for a helmet that fit. "Oh, no," Barasch groaned. Then he remembered that a special helmet had been made for George Levy for publicity pictures. It was a size 7?.
"Would you mind using a helmet with the name Levy on it?" Barasch asked. "It looks very nice."
Mosienkov said he'd rather have one with his own name; Levy isn't one of the more popular names in Russia. It was Saturday morning, but Barasch said he would figure out something. He left. An hour later he returned, his shirt and hands covered with white paint. "It's done," he sighed. "I had to kick in the door of our paint room and I painted it myself. It's the most God-awful, worst-looking helmet you've ever seen. But at least it will fit, and I'll just tell Levy somebody stole his."
"Yeah," someone said. "Tell him Howie the Horse snatched it."
Howie the Horse is Howard Samuels, the head of New York City's Off-Track Betting Corp. and a long and bitter Levy antagonist. But when the track landed the Russians, Samuels decided the race could be a financial bonanza for both sides. He went to Levy with an offer of $50,000 to help promote and televise the race. Stunned, Levy said yes. For a nice big slice of OTB's action, of course. "Of course," smiled Samuels. But on the day of the race OTB's computers broke down for three crucial midday hours, and an estimated $80,000 was lost.
"Just think, if Bill Hopkins had kept on singing that day in Moscow," Barasch said with a grin, "this might have been a nice dull race."
Lou Miller, a former trainer who had been assigned by the track to handle the Soviet group's requests, shook his head. "You kidding us, Lou? What song?"
"We had been inviting them over for a couple of years," Barasch said. "They kept saying no and we figured they'd say no again this year. Then I get this telegram that says come to Moscow. Right now. We went to Moscow. Right then. And, bam! they agree to come."
To celebrate, the Roosevelt group, which included Barasch and Bill Hopkins, the track's vice-president and treasurer, took a group of Russians to dinner at a Georgian restaurant in downtown Moscow. Hopkins began to sing. He opened with an old Irish song, dazzled the crowd with two quick George M. Cohan numbers and then decided he should close with the University of Pennsylvania's alma mater. "Hail! Pennsylvania! noble and strong." Hopkins felt a Russian interpreter's elbow dig deep into his ribs. "Nyet. Nyet. No more," she said.