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EVERY MAN A KING
In the foregoing sampling of the sports scene, all the games that have been explored depend on the contest alone for their appeal. But the most heavily favored sport (in terms of paid admissions) in the new golden age has a little something added. Not only may the spectator witness an exciting sports drama; he may sit in prior judgment of it as a seer and then may post a cash wager that he has judged correctly.
Horse racing was never more golden than in this new golden age. In 1953, a total of 49,747,992 fans saw all the horses run, trot or pace. There is good reason to expect that 1954 figures will be just as impressive.
Racing has always been popular in America. There was a race track on Long Island in 1665, and a little later Virginia had five tracks operating. Still later George Washington was a Virginia owner, breeder and racing official. The South held a virtual monopoly on racing before the Civil War, but after it racing boomed in the North as well. Before the war one of the greatest of America's running horses was in his prime. His name was Lexington (he set a record for the four-mile track of 7:19? which stood for 19 years) and he belongs in a select company of great American horses, including Man o' War, Exterminator, Seabiscuit, War Admiral, Citation, Whirlaway and the fabulous gray: Native Dancer. The Dancer's record is identical with that of Man o' War.
There were great jockeys to ride America's great horses. Tod Sloan, popularizer of the modern "monkey crouch" seat, so captured the imagination and affections of Americans that George M. Cohan wrote Yankee Doodle Boy about him. Today there are jockeys with the winning ways, if not the personal glamour, of Sloan. Among them: Eddie Arcaro, with 3,352 wins, Ted Atkinson with 2,980, Willie Shoemaker with 1,832, Johnny Longden with 4,426, and Sir Gordon Richards, the jockey knighted in 1953 by Queen Elizabeth, with 4,870.
But if the spotlight were reserved for just one man in the history of running horses in the U.S., it would have to fall on the late Colonel Matt Winn, long president of the American Turf Association. Racing is in debt to Colonel Winn not only for doing so much to build the Kentucky Derby into an American institution, but for saving racing's very life. There was a great reform wave directed against the sport in the early 1900s and it was Colonel Winn who turned back the tide. He installed pari-mutuel machines at Churchill Downs at Louisville, Ky., in 1908, and persuaded two Maryland tracks to do the same. Thus, he kept racing going when tracks in all other states were shut down. The machines had been tried out as far back as 1870, but Colonel Winn made them stick.
Today, in the view of many who have never seen the horses run, it is the machines alone that draw the millions to the tracks. The late Joe Palmer, the college professor who turned racing writer, would have none of that notion. "Racing," Palmer once wrote, "is an athletic contest among horses. If the spectators can whip the totalizator, meanwhile, that's all right, too. But it isn't what people go to see, and it isn't what you pick up a paper to read about. The statement is frequently made that people go to races to bet. This is a half truth (or seven eighths truth) and it is denied in part by the fact that the worst betting race on the card?the steeplechase?inspires the most excitement and interest."
Alben W. Barkley, the former vice president, agrees with Dr. Palmer, the former professor, that "to see a real thoroughbred horse perform is one of the joys of man." And anyone who exposes himself to the color and excitement of the race track, with its ritual and fanfare, with its splendid (the slowest of them) horses, as eager to run as Willie Mays is to get the ball game started, anyone who holds his breath in the agonizing moments before the start and lets himself go with the crowd as it roars in the stretch, anyone so caught up in the racing drama is almost certain to be won to the views of the Palmers and the Barkleys?especially if he has a $2 ticket from the machines riding on the nose of the front-running horse.
THE NEW GOLDEN AGE
In this look around and over the shoulder at the sporting scene in a mid-century world, no attempt has been made to list all the great stars and all the great events that in some way contribute to the richness of this new golden age. The principal point to be made here is that, while we once seemed in grave danger of becoming a world of onlookers, now millions are getting out and participating in sports. And, at the same time, the same millions have time to be spectators at events that for color and excitement and high quality of individual performances make no apologies to any other age.