By Warren Eves
Horse racing historians are sure to enjoy Bill Hartack the book.
For those of us who have been on this earth longer than most, Bill Christine’s recount of thoroughbred racing’s past is a must.
We lost the great Phil Georgeff recently, the voice of Chicago racetracks during their best years. “Here they come, spinning out of the turn,” was one of his pet phrases writes Bill Christine, my friend who wrote for the Los Angeles Times for many years.
Here’s a tidbit from chapter 12, The Bittersweet Life of a Hall of Fame Jockey. ”With 549 wins, Hartack ranks far down on the list of all-time leading jockeys at Arlington Park, but when Phil Georgeff wrote his memoir, there were only three chapters devoted exclusively to jockeys–Hartack, Eddie Arcaro and Bill Shoemaker. During his early years, Hartack and Shoemaker were the kingpins at Arlington, with the New York-based Arcaro dropping in intermittently to ride in an important stakes race.
“They had three different riding styles. But nobody knew the shortest route to the winner’s circle any better than those three. They each deserved a chapter, because for my money they’re the three greatest of all time.”
Coming from Georgeff, that’s a prolific statement!
What we can tell you from our personal experience is former Daily Racing Form columnist Joe Hirsch was the only guy who got up close and personal with Hartack on a day to day basis. “Hartack told Hirsch everything he wanted to know,” writes Christine. “Their trust was so great that Hirsch knew what to omit and what to use when he wrote his columns. Hartack didn’t have to tell him what was on and off the record.”
My association with former jockey Larry Gilligan got me within earshot of ‘Tack who despised members of the press. Gilligan was closer to Hartack than most. I was foolish enough to think I had an avenue to get quotes most of my colleagues could not get from ‘Tack. Churchill Downs hired me to work the Derby one year because of my association with Gilligan and Hartack. When I went down the elevator to the jockey’s room for quotes? Hartack told me he was not talking. That was Willie, er….ah….boy did he hate those who called him that.
Not even my good friend Bill Leggett of Sports I could get close to Hartack, a guy who had rapport with most prominent members of horse racing’s elite.
Bill Nack of Sports Illustrated was a young buck when Hartack and Shoemaker were vying for the country’s preeminent rider.
“One of the advantages of growing up in Chicago in the 1950s,” Nack writes on page 101, “was that the tracks offered a front-row seat to witness the greatest show in all the Windy City–the hammer and tong battles fought there every summer between Hartack and Shoemaker. Heady Eddie Arcaro often said that Shoemaker was the guy who would take his place as the premiere reinsman in America. Ultimately, Arcaro may have been right, but I must add there was no smarter, tougher, or more competitive race rider in America than Bill Hartack.”
Christine covers the many issues Hartack had with owners and trainers. His reputation for taking ouchy horses to the gate and scratching them was widely known.
I’ll forever remember the year 1962. I had gone to Agua Caliente to place a significant future wager on Sir Gaylord at odds of 50-to-1. It was tough to beat the bookies, but things were looking great. Sir Gaylord ended Ridan’s win streak in the Everglades. He was the morning line favorite to win the Derby. Then came the devastating news. Sir Gaylord came back from a breeze favoring his right foreleg. “X-rays showed that he had fractured a bone, and he was immediately retired,” writes Christine on page 113. That news still hurts.
Chapter 25 tittled “Iberia” covers the sad ending to the life of Hartack.
This writer enjoyed Christine’s recollection of the Majestic Prince story. The California colt trained by former jockey Johnny Longden was a great segment in horse racing history.
You can order your copy of Bill Hartack by going to www.mcfarlandpub.com. Or…..you can go via there ordering line 1-800-253-2187. The soft cover version is $35. Shipping and handling is $5.
Notes scribbled across my official program–The more we hope things will change in these ineffective racing commissions, the more things seem to stay the same. Take for instance the recent review of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission regarding a ruling handed to trainer Graham Motion. He was cited for an overage of methocarbamol in Kitten’s Choice after winning the Bewitch Stakes. On review the KHRC reversed the five-day suspension but stayed the original order of a $500 fine and loss of the purse. Just why Motion was not allowed to speak on his behalf, seems totally unfair. “I’m a member of a medication committee and in Kentucky I’m not even allowed to speak,” said Motion in a Frank Angst story which appeared in Bloodhorse Magazine. “It’s frustrating and upsetting that I was not allowed to tell my side of the story.” And……..Motion adds the hearing officer would not consider a published paper by Dr. Heather Knych that points to problems with the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium withdrawal guidelines and threshold levels for methocarbarnol. Seems like it’s hard to find a horse racing commission that is held in high regard. In SoCal, for instance, the CHRB should have been disbanded long ago for it’s complete failure to uphold outdated statutes………..Sure liked the effort of Clampdown when second and dropping down to the maiden $8K level at Woodbine on Oct., 7. Wide early, Clampdown responded with grit late and was closing at the wire……………….Bill Finley penned an interesting story for TDN recently about famed Hialeah. Guess well known owner John Brunetti Sr. is fed up with many of the well known horsemen factions we have. Poor language in the rules(now where have wee seen this before–maybe in SoCal) could find “flag drop races” being run at little known racetracks like Oxford Downs. Some of these so called races are merely match races, but it still falls under the wide umbrella known as horse racing. These races were described by Finley as follows: “oftentimes nothing more than two Quarter Horses starting at the drop of a flag and running at slow speeds until reaching the finish line some 100 yards from the start.” Finley goes on to write: “They are parimutuel races, but during the meet at Hamilton Downs during the 2015-16 fiscal year the handle was zero. Not one bet on one race was placed. And one race at Hamilton included a 20-year-old horse.” Florida Quarter Horse Racing president Ron Smith calls it “fake horse racing.” Finley’s story reveals how Brunetti has severed ties with the AQHA and the FQHRA. Brunetti has not ruled out flag-drop racing at Hialeah in 2017. “I’ve always wanted this to be a Thoroughbred track but the other tracks ganged up on me and basically shut me down.” So who knows what the future holds at Hialeah?………..Jerry Hollandorfer does a good job with just about any level of horse. Proof of the pudding was the winning run of $3,200 claimer I’m Not Gray on Oct., 21, at Golden Gate. Away straight in a wide path, the 6YO was allowed to settle out. He drafted well with Juan Hernandez, then once in the straight he responded to spanking to finish running hard…………..I hate to be critical, but I have to ask who is the lady who babbles on prior to each Santa Anita race and says nothing of value? Get someone on the air like Carolyn Conley who actually brought something to the table for the prospective player…………….After watching the maiden first time starter Bourbon Empire absolutely romp in the ninth at Belmont on Oct., 26, I had to take a look at the connections. The $120,000 purchase is by Majestic Warrior out of a mare named Wittenberg Miss. He’s trained by Mark Hennig and who knows what kind of a colt he may turn out to be……….If I were a bettor looking for some insight into the outcome of a race, I would not pay much attention to Katie Mikolay who somehow got a job giving out picks at Keeneland. First saw her when she was doing commentary from the Fairgrounds in New Orleans……………I’m certain this will be called bashing by a horse racing guy. But I must ask Santa Anita what purpose does it serve to have this lady with an accent rant………..Thinking out loud. Has Bob Neumeier ever picked a winner during these Breeders Cup assignments. It seems to this observer he was much more serious about his gaming years ago and he’s become more of a comic which is not what horse racing is all about……………..How about the late surge of Om in the Turf Sprint? He blew past the eventual winner after the wire………One last take. Pat Valenzuela, who was riding in New Mexico, has resurfaced in New Orleans. He’s named to ride opening day and that’s a shame. New Mexico and Louisiana are the only two domains who still allow this chronic rule-breaker to ride. As most of you know I have maintained for years Valenzuela should have been handed a lifetime ban. He’s broke every rule in the book and that is simply not acceptable in this writer’s opinion. Oh yeah, the last time we looked Roy C. “Do Nothing” Wood, the worst executive director of the California Horse Racing Board, was still employed as state steward at the Fair Grounds. Just goes to show you that anything goes in Louisiana.