John Wesley Hanes, 62, of North Carolina and New York, is a deceptively soft-spoken man of action who believes in seeing things with his own eyes. As a horse owner and a member of thoroughbred racing's eminent Jockey Club, Hanes knew in a general way that New York's race fans 1) shell out more money than devotees anywhere else and 2) are remorselessly packed into some of the oldest and most inadequate racing plants on the face of the earth. In the ordinary course of things, John Hanes is driven to such tracks as Jamaica, Aqueduct and Belmont in a chauffeured limousine and sits in a private box. A year ago he decided to take a closer look.
WHAT JOHN HANES LEARNED
Instead of a limousine he took the Long Island Rail Road—and rarelyeven got a seat on that railroad's race-track specials: "It was like standing in a cattle car." He decided to skip lunch in town and try the hot dogs in the grandstand.
"It was useless. I never once got to a hot-dog stand, or to a $2 window, or close to a horse—or within range of a comfortable seat."
What John Hanes learned was something nobody had to tell New York's average long-suffering $2 bettor. At the state's four flat-racing tracks last year, 4,501,555 people wagered $374,-479,656 during 196 days of racing, and spent most of their time in masses of fellow horse-players suffering from tired and aching feet, empty stomachs and short tempers. Discontent drove many of them to the parimutuel windows in New Jersey.
John Hanes gave that trip a try, too. "I went down to Monmouth Park one day and made a big discovery: racing fans will put up with an insufferable train ride if they can enjoy the surroundings and conveniences at the other end. Monmouth Park offered comfortable facilities and plenty of room for everybody. No track in New York did."
John Hanes was not the only man concerned over New York racing. Ashley Trimble Cole, chairman of the state Racing Commission, had become as fed up as the sports columnists and turf writers who for years have panned New York's setup in terms that would look scathing even in a prison-reform report. (One name for Aqueduct is Footsore Downs.) Speaking to members of The Jockey Club at Saratoga 13 months ago, Cole threw something of a jolt into America's oldest racing administrative body.
JOCKEY CLUB PRESCRIPTION
Cole told the club, whose members are well aware that theirs is the responsibility for the future of flat racing in New York, to prescribe a quick-healing remedy for local racing ills. "If you gentlemen can't do something about it," warned Cole, "the Racing Commission will find men who can."
This week The Jockey Club gave its sanction to what it hopes will eventually prove to be a guaranteed cure-all—if properly administered by Jockey Club doctors. The men who had made the diagnosis also prescribed the cure. A committee of three appointed by The Jockey Club, they were: John Wesley Hanes, onetime Under Secretary of the Treasury, director of Olin Industries, Inc., the Bankers Trust Co. and Johns-Manville Corp.; Christopher T. Chenery, 68, chairman of the board of Southern Natural Gas Co. and a trustee of Washington and Lee University, and Harry F. Guggenheim, 64, who, though he may never be remembered by railbirds as a director of Kennecott Copper Co. and as president of two family foundations, will take his place in American turf lore as the owner of Dark Star, the only horse to win a race from Native Dancer—the 1953 Kentucky Derby.