One of those big afternoons in American racing came last Saturday as the best-known horses in the country competed in five stake events for purses that totaled more than half a million dollars. In California, Prove It galloped off with the $162,100 Hollywood Gold Cup; sweet little Cicada got an unladylike beating in the $57,763 Delaware Oaks and Crimson Satan lost the $84,550 Dwyer at Aqueduct. But by far the most intriguing races produced powerful victories by two horses who had seen little of the winner's circle in recent months, Ridan and Carry Back. Ridan, resting since being beaten in the Preakness last May, won the $102,250 Arlington Classic (see below) and Carry Back, far from his best in recent months, took the $109,150 Monmouth Handicap.
In the paddock before the handicap, Carry Back was so full of himself and ready to go that he was bucking, snorting and fractiously pawing the ground. He worked off some of his energy beating Kelso by three lengths and Beau Purple by nearly four in a strategically sound and beautifully executed performance that set a new Monmouth track record for a mile and a quarter of 2:00[2/5] But he still had enough ginger left to come back to the winner's circle, toss his head bossily and throw Jockey Johnny Rotz right out of the saddle.
Carry Back could hardly have picked a nicer time for his energetic performance. One of his most loyal followers, a 16-year-old miss from Glen Rock, N.J., was there to see him win. The young girl was Kathy Dietz, the daughter of a hardware store owner. She arrived that morning at the gates of Monmouth Park with a watercolor painting of Carry Back under her arm. She had finished the painting the day before, and wanted to give it to Katherine and Jack Price, the owners of Carry Back. Kathy Dietz had read everything she could find about Carry Back, had seen him many times on television and written scores of letters both to the Prices and to him. But she had never been to the races.
"When I was told that there was a girl named Kathy Dietz to see me," said Katherine Price, "I knew exactly who she was. We have gotten thousands of letters about Carry Back, lots of them requesting his picture and his horseshoes. But this girl had sent us two paintings of the horse. Jack and I liked them very much. She had sent letters direct to Carry Back, too, wishing him well when he was injured, or just telling him to forget his defeats and win again."
Mrs. Price thanked Kathy Dietz for the new painting and had her sit with the Prices while Carry Back ran. When Carry Back crossed the finish line first, Kathy was jumping up and down and screaming as loudly and proudly as Mrs. Price herself. The Prices took Kathy to the winner's circle, and then to a victory celebration where champagne was served in paper cups. There she met Johnny Rotz. "I don't drink champagne too often. I don't like it," Rotz told her.
"If you don't want it you can pour it in the water fountain and fill the cup with water. No one will know the difference."
"I wouldn't do that," said Kathy. "If I don't drink it, I'm going to save it. Forever."
"Why do you like Carry Back so much?" asked Rotz.
"Because," said Kathy, "he's such a terribly down-to-earth horse."
Carry Back, of course, is just that. Not since Stymie was running in the late 1940s has any horse elicited the special kind of affection which is now being heaped on him. Like Stymie, Carry Back is unfashionably bred, and, like Stymie too, he slugs it out Saturday after bitter Saturday against only the best. When he loses, the people in the exclusive turf clubs say, "There, I told you so. Breeding shows in the end," and go back to the difficult business of debunking his past victories. When he wins, however, the voices in the grandstand rise to a deafening pitch, and one can almost see the raising of thousands of tiny banners for "the people's horse." He has the color and the magic, and now he is at the top of the handicap division.