In the murky gloom of a late and smoggy Los Angeles afternoon the big bay stallion's silken coat gleamed softly. He shifted in his paddock stall and nuzzled the dapper figure standing before him. Jean Riaud, a fine figure of a Frenchman in his crimson and navy-blue jacket, his black cap, his white breeches and his knee-length boots, smiled at Jamin and gently rubbed the big bay's nose. "Soon, mon ami," he crooned, "soon."
Three months before, the 28-year-old Riaud, probably France's finest trotting-horse trainer-driver, had brought this horse to America. Jamin was the stallion's name, and in France—in fact, throughout much of Europe—he was as much of a celebrity as, say, Native Dancer or Whirlaway or Swaps ever was in his U.S. heyday. Now, after winning The International and the American Trotting Championship at Roosevelt Raceway in Westbury, N.Y., after ambling through the year's best mile against the clock (1:58 4/5) at Du Quoin, Ill., Jamin faced his toughest test since coming to the U.S. "Do not," Jean Riaud's father had admonished him, "take this horse to America. If you do, you will regret it—for both you and he will fall into the sea."
If ever there was a time in the big bay's six years when falling into a figurative sea seemed possible, it was this gray afternoon at Hollywood Park, before a record Western Harness Racing Association crowd of 20,563. In the days before the race, Riaud had worked Jamin only lightly—outrageously on the light side by American standards. After moving the muscular trotter west from New York early in October, Riaud had exercised him only twice a week, and then strictly at his own pace. As a matter of fact, the first thing Jamin did after taking temporary residence at Hollywood Park was to indulge his prodigious appetite for artichokes, which, given his head, he would undoubtedly consume by the bushel. In the East protein-rich artichokes are expensive horse feed indeed, but in California, where they thrive like oranges, they are not. For the first week or so of his visit Jamin gorged on them at the rate of four a day; thereafter, as a matter of dietary discretion, Riaud cut the intake in half. In between these orgies, he let the bay amble around Hollywood Park's lush mile track at approximately whatever pace he chose to set. "He would do 2:15, 2:20," shrugged Riaud. "If this is what he wants to trot in a workout, this is what he trots. We are so grateful to be away from that tight little half-mile track at Roosevelt and onto a real mile track that he can be indulged in his practice trots."
The field against which the big Frenchman raced at Hollywood Park last Saturday seemed hardly tailored for this leisurely approach to a dead-serious sport. In its fifth year, the American Trotting Classic is an invitational which has attracted such an embarrassment of talent that the track management has had to create a second race, the Golden West Classic, to accommodate the classy overflow of entries.
JAMIN NO FAVORITE
Despite his unblemished American record and despite his lifetime record of 36 victories in 56 races under Riaud's firm hand, Jamin was not the favorite. Occupying that role—largely by dint of his world-record 2:05[3/5] mile and one-sixteenth in the Long Beach Trot the week before—was Senator Frost, who would be driven by brilliant young Dick Buxton. Also rated ahead of Jamin in the nine-horse field were Charming Barbara, winner of the 1958 American Classic under Billy Haughton's skillful hand, and Haughton's charge once more; Trader Horn, driven by the shrewd Californian, Joe O'Brien; and Jean Laird, the durable 10-year-old whom Eddie Cobb would pilot in this race. Behind the favorites was a distinguished cast: Darn Safe, top money winner of all time among the trotters; Jariolain, the Italian who was making his first American start; Steamin' Demon, driven by George Phalen; and Silver Song, a strong but underrated outsider.
Jamin, his sensitive psyche protected from the roar of the crowd by his usual red ear muffs, drew the No. 9 position, a situation which disturbed Riaud not in the least. As the field surged from the gate, Riaud simply eased up a little on the reins, and Jamin moved quickly into the third lane, behind Darn Safe—the fastest away from the barrier—and Silver Song. Eating up the hard Hollywood track with his powerful, high stride, Jamin drifted into the soft turns with accustomed ease and moved into the lead just past the quarter-mile post. In the next 100 yards Dick Buxton and Senator Frost made their bid, obviously hoping to duplicate the hard-driving race they had run in the Long Beach Trot the week before. But this time, as the Senator swung wide to shake the pack, Riaud picked up the threat "from the corner of my eye, so I let Jamin out just a little more." It was enough; unable to take over, Senator Frost broke into a gallop, and the race, for all practical purposes, was over.
Still, as they pounded into the stretch, Riaud leaned far back in his sulky and flicked his whip twice against the sulky shaft, "lightly like, you might say, killing a fly. This you must do—this and tightening up on the reins a little—to let this big fellow know that the race is not yet won." So Jamin flitted across the finish line in 1:59[4/5], three-quarters of a length ahead of the surprising Silver Song and a length and a half in front of Joe O'Brien's fast-closing Trader Horn. Far back in the ruck were the Italian, Jariolain, and the favorite, Senator Frost.
The time—one second off Jamin's against-the-clock mark at Du Quoin—didn't particularly impress Riaud. "We can do better," he murmured, looking ahead to the second leg of the classic at Hollywood Park this Saturday, October 31. "Remember, this horse had not raced in more than a month. Now that he has tasted competition again, he will be much sharper. Perhaps, then, we can go home to France after next Saturday's race. But understand me, I am not complaining. The time wasn't sensational, but Jamin won, and every race we win is a good race, non?"