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Last May, Mrs. Tankersley persuaded John Schapiro, president of Maryland's Laurel Race Course, that Arabs should race again, and soon had 14 owners committed to bring their steeds to the track. Out in Rock Island, Ill., Mrs. William Hewitt, of the Deere farm equipment family, was personally working a marvelously poised and responsive Arab stallion named Ofir. A Florida businessman, Max Culpepper, was training a dark brown 7-year-old stallion named Michael, periodic winner of 100-mile endurance contests in Florida. Out in Walnut Creek, Calif. there was John Rogers, a retired oil executive who became interested in Arabian horses when he watched them race their classic four-mile distance in Arabia; he was training Ankthor, son of a celebrated Bahrein Island racing mare. On the banks of the Connecticut River in New Hampshire, a hard-working farmer named Nomas Reed was training a gray stallion named Ibn Lwow, pronounced "Wolfie." The reason for all this personal attention was simple. None of the horses had ever raced before, here or anywhere else.
Nor had any of the owners raced horses. True, most of them put their animals in the hands of Jack Mobberley, an experienced Virginia trainer, for final preparations, but Mobberley had never worked with Arabs before. To make sure they could go 2� miles, the Al-Marah Farm's veterinarian, Dr. Steven Lange, checked their respiration, heart action and temperature three times a day, early in the morning, immediately after a workout and two hours later. He accumulated a lot of valuable data on reduced variations in heartbeat and temperature as conditioning progressed; alas, there was no previous accumulation of material to compare it all with.
As a result, Arab owners were in a fine fidget of anxiety by race day. It wasn't at all the usual horseman's fear of not winning; nobody seemed even to think about that. It was more like the tension of a parent at graduation exercises. The Arab race was run as an exhibition (no betting and no purse) before the much-heralded International (see page 56). What if it turned into a fiasco before the unsparing eyes of 32,000 Thoroughbred fans? Suppose it ended with these superb saddle horses and family pets strung out all the way around Laurel's dirt track? At 8:30 on the morning of the race the owners were sternly ordered away from the Arab barn by Trainer Mobberley: they were too nervous and were making their horses nervous
Well, there were Arab race horses before there even were Thoroughbred horses, and if there was one thing this first Arab race demonstrated it was that Arabs know what to do when running in the same direction with a lot of other horses. Ten of them lined up in the fall sunshine, at once composed and high-spirited. They broke well from the starting gate, Ibn Lwow in the lead. All were bunched most of the way in the first time around the track as the first mile was covered in 1 minute 58 seconds. Three lost some of their interest about that point. But the remaining seven were still bunched at two miles, all within five lengths of Ibn Lwow. Michael was a length behind him, and on either side of Michael were Mrs. Hewitt's two horses, an 8-year-old gelding and the tireless, untroubled Ofir. It is rare in a 2� mile race to find the field still together in the last half mile, but seven Arabs were still in contention at that point.
A hundred yards from the finish, Ofir pulled ahead to win by a length and a half. Michael was second, and Beldarra, a 5-year-old gelding, the entry of a Seaside, Ore. breeder, a good third. The time: 5 minutes 5[1/5] seconds. Since the world record for 2 1/2 miles, set by Miss Grillo in 1948 at Pimlico, is 4 minutes 14[3/5] seconds, it was plain that it will be a long time before Arabs can catch their Thoroughbred cousins. But the first Arab race was a thriller—close, clean and composed. Promptly invited to race again, most of them are getting ready for a run at Pimlico on Thanksgiving Day.
This baby tern