Minutes before post time for last year's Breeders' Cup Distaff, Louie was frantically searching for the burgundy and silver colors of Frank E. Whitham, owner of defending champ Bayakoa. Whitham does most of his racing in California, and his silks hadn't arrived at Belmont. With no time to spare, Olah instinctively handed a set of subs to Bayakoa's jockey, Laffit Pincay Jr. He was soon photographed carrying Belmont's own nondescript gray and white colors to victory past the doomed filly Go for Wand, who shattered her right foreleg a little more than 100 yards from the finish line.
In his 22 years as a jockey, Olah saw his share of mishaps. One April afternoon in 1952, while riding at Lincoln Downs in Rhode Island, he glanced over his shoulder at 16-year-old apprentice Tony DeSpirito, whose saddle had slipped beneath his horse's belly. DeSpirito was caught in a tangle of iron and leather. Quickly, Olah steered his mount alongside the stricken rider and grasped him, holding fast until the youngster regained his balance. They crossed the wire inches apart, DeSpirito finishing sixth, Olah seventh and last.
That day Olah was acclaimed as a hero, but it was DeSpirito who rode on to greater glory, setting an American record for races won in a single year (390 in 1952). Olah was less successful, picking up mounts at small tracks along the East Coast until injuries forced him to retire in 1967. Soon afterward, he accepted the job of color man, taking care of many of the silks in which he had competed.
In a quiet moment at the end of a busy afternoon, Olah pulls down a blue and white checked jacket with striped sleeves, and he reminisces. "These are the colors Ron Turcotte used when he rode Secretariat. He had such broad shoulders, sometimes he'd slit open the armholes just so he could ride the horse right."
Asked which colors in his collection are the oldest, Olah zips down a red aisle and without hesitation unearths a solid scarlet jacket and cap. " Mrs. John A. Morris," he says, smoothing the wrinkles. "Registered back in 1894. She took them over after her husband died."
And the most outlandish? " Jack Klugman's," he says, locating the actor's silks. The powder blue jacket is emblazoned with a man in a large sombrero taking a siesta, his chin resting on his knees.
" The Jockey Club won't let him run here in these colors," he says. "They have kind of a rule about tasteful-ness of the design. I keep it around for laughs."
Olah may have more in common with Klugman than the silks. Around the house he's more Oscar Madison than Felix Unger, according to his wife of 42 years, Clare.
"His closet? Forget it," Clare sighs. "He never throws anything away. And if I send him to the store for something, he never gets it right. He must only remember things when he's at work."
It's apparently not a job these men bring home with them.