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Willie Hartack had won the first race and all the way back to the riders' quarters behind the paddock at Chicago's Washington Park had kept up a lively tattoo of wisecracks with the valets and the other jockeys who trudged beside him. Twenty-five minutes later it was a different boy who slammed the door to the riders' room behind him and scowled his way to his locker. He had just been beaten on an odds-on favorite and didn't care for it a single bit.
A newspaper photographer walked up to him as he began to peel off his silks, asked him to keep them on for a moment.
"No pictures," Willie barked.
"Give the guy a break, Bill," a veteran rider and close friend called from across the room.
"Mind your own business," Hartack stormed back and stalked off, minus his silks, in the direction of a nearby ping-pong table.
This Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hartack performance is not entirely unfamiliar to Willie's friends and colleagues. Nor should one jump to the conclusion that Bill is a sore loser. It's simply that it is doubtful if there has ever been another athlete in any sport who hates to be beaten as much as this 23-year-old Pennsylvanian who was our national riding champion last year with 417 victories and who gives every promise of succeeding Eddie Arcaro as America's premier jockey when The Master gets ready to hang up his tack.
Like Ty Cobb, who wanted to win all the ball games, the colorful, dashing Hartack wants to win all the races and actually feels bad when he doesn't. It is this intense desire to win that makes him a standout among our younger riders and frequently a problem to his intimates. Off the race track Billy can outcharm a head waiter with a heavy tipper in tow. When he feels he should have won a race, or if a horse runs poorly for him, he's a tough guy to live with.
Hartack is a remarkably complex person, shaped by his environment, his upbringing, his profession and his meteoric success. And what success it's been! No rider in modern times, not even the amazing Willie Shoemaker, who in seven years of campaigning has blazed his way to seventh ranking on the alltime jockey list, has averaged more wins per season than Hartack, who has never had a serious slump.
Consider this record: in 1953, his first full season, Hartack won a phenomenal 350 races. The following year he won 323, and last year he added another 417 to give him 1,090 victories or an average of 363 a year. At that rate, in seven seasons he will have had 2,541 winners or some 200 more than Shoemaker's 2,351. As of Labor Day Hartack had already accounted for over 260 winners this year and seems a cinch to equal or surpass his average by the end of the season. Incidentally, he is one of only two boys to ride 400 winners in a year; Shoemaker holds the record with 485.
On April 25, 1955 at Laurel Race Course in Maryland, Hartack rode six winners out of seven mounts and went six for eight again at Laurel last November 5. He has ridden five winners in one afternoon on countless occasions, and this summer at Arlington Park in Chicago he registered 75 victories in 30 days of competition. He has never faltered since he rode his first winner, Nickleby, on October 14, 1952 at Waterford Park in West Virginia, three days after he accepted his first mount. Even when, one year later, he lost his "bug," the five-pound apprentice allowance which often separates the men from the boys, he continued to grind out winners in a fashion unmatched in American turf history.