Jockeys seldom hear applause. Race track crowds grow noisy enough, it is true, but they generate a peculiar cacophony all their own; they want their money, and as the horses round the final turn into the stretch the bettors grumble, complain and demand. Even the notes of exultation in the uproar have a certain hoarseness of tone; joy at the track is bought on the gray market. But the sound changed one day last week at Aqueduct. That eminent thoroughbred driver, Theodore Frederic Atkinson, banged a Greentree 2-year-old named Devastation home in front in the third race and was rewarded with genuine whistles and genuine cheers. Teddy had just become the fourth man in racing history to ride 3,000 winners (the others: Sir Gordon Richards, Johnny Longden and Eddie Arcaro), and as he went under the wire he had gotten a leg up, as it were, on immortality.
The next day, while shirt-sleeved sports from Flatbush and Avenue A crowded the fence around the winner's circle, the dignitaries of the Queens County Jockey Club hailed the fact with ceremony. Atkinson, a black-haired, handsome little man (5 ft. 2 in., Ill lbs.) dismounted after the sixth race and walked forward, still dirty and sweating from his exertions. Before him reposed a card table with shaky legs. Upon the table reposed a limp caterer's napkin, and upon the napkin a silver bowl. Gray-haired Cyrus Julian, Aqueduct's president, shook the hero's hand, described him aloud as "a model of deportment and a tribute to racing," and presented him with the silverware.
"Comb your hair, Teddy," bawled a voice from the throng. "Less talk?give him a drink!" yelled another. Teddy acknowledged these tributes with a grin, made a short, graceful speech in praise of 1) Aqueduct's officials, 2) its racing strip and 3) its "two-dollar bettors." Then he fled along the track to the jockey house' to change his silks and, as it turned out, to ride winner 3,001. The crowd against the fence?which often takes up its position there simply to catch losing jocks at close range and tell them what larcenous and scurvy bums it considers them?applauded all the way. It was a tribute indeed.
It seemed, however, like little enough. Atkinson was born in Toronto in 1916, was raised in upper New York State (where his father, a glass blower, toiled for the Corning Glass Works) and launched his own career during the depression as an $8-a-week labeler in a Brooklyn bottling works. He was 20 years old before he as much as touched a horse, and then he did so only experimentally at a Bronx riding academy?thus, according to track lore, he was too old to succeed before he started. He rode his first winner, a beast named Musical Jack, on the "leaky-roof circuit" at Beulah Park, Columbus, Ohio at the age of 21. Nevertheless, as of last week, he had ridden no less than 18,112 mounts, had not only racked up his 3,000 victories, but 2,546 seconds and 2,263 thirds as well. In so doing he had earned $12,951,305 for owners and a tenth of that sum for himself.
It was difficult not to wonder what traits of character lay behind these impressive figures. Atkinson, lounging in the jockey house with a cooling can of beer, answered only indirectly?but clearly enough. He is a dignified little man?quiet, courteous, well-read, well-spoken. But a look of real anger crossed his face when the 3,000th victory was mentioned. "Some of the newspapers are saying I lost my job," he said. This seemed like startling news?had Green-tree fired him?
"My job at the bottling works," he went on fiercely. "I didn't get fired at all. I quit?I wanted to try racing because I couldn't stand an indoor life. But I was doing fine there. The Rose Lux Chemical Works. We put up a bleach. I did more than label, too?I worked overtime in the office and they were paying me $35 a week. I could have stayed as long as I wanted."
There are ten excellent reasons why the muzzle-loading rifle should have vanished from the American scene with bear-grease hair lotion and the up-and-down churn. To load one a rifleman must: 1) measure out a charge of black powder; 2) pour it down the barrel; 3) moisten a cloth patch, usually with saliva; 4) place a lead ball on the patch; 5) set patch and ball in the muzzle; 6) drive both tentatively down the bore with a small mallet; 7) trim the patch; 8) push ball and patch down the barrel with a short ramrod; 9) seat them more fully with a long ramrod; and 10) prime the firing mechanism with powder or cap.
Something in the human brain, however, balks at discarding old machinery?particularly old machinery which makes a loud noise?and finds reaffirmation of ancient virtues in polishing up discarded narrow-gauge locomotives, and one-lung touring cars. In the last 20 years, growing thousands of Americans have not only taken to shooting muzzle-loaders (in many cases rifles of their own manufacture) but have done their best to dress up like Daniel Boone on Saturday night before beginning the rites.