LITzIE's Up'

G. H. LASH September 15 1934

LITzIE's Up'

G. H. LASH September 15 1934

LITzIE's Up'


THERE ARE only ninety-two pounds of him. But every pound is muscle, and every muscle is as delicately attuned as a watch spring and as lissom as a finely tempered fencing foil.

He stands only four feet ten and one-half inches in his stockinged feet. But in achievement he towers head and shoulders above all rivals in his chosen field.

In years he has just passed his seventeenth birthday. But he is old in experience, and the wisdom of the ages slumbers gravely in his light blue eyes.

When his name goes upon the jockey board, the fortunes of racetrack followers from Toronto to Texas and from Pasadena to Pimlico go down on him. It doesn’t matter much what his mount may be called. I f he is in the saddle, the hopes of thousands of fans ride with him.

His name is Eddie Litzenberger. And because of him, the Maple Leaf flies at the masthead of the American turf today. As this is being written, he is the leading jockey in North America in jx>int of races won this year, and the chances are g;xxl that he will add to his lead.

South of the border where sports writers aren't over fond of loud-pedalling any but the homebrews, they don’t stress the fact that Eddie, or Litzie as he is generally called, grew up in the cow country around Calgary, where a lx>y knows a lot alxuit horses even Ix'fore he can recite his A.B.C. But it is difficult to ignore entirely a record that, from January 1 to July 25 of this year, comprises 120 firsts,

111 seconds and 91 thirds out of a total of 583 mounts. So they have to talk alxuit Litzie.

And they do. But when it comes to defining his place of origin they gesture grandiloquently in the general direction of the Pacific and say that he’s from “out West somewhere.” That, of course, leaves plenty of space to choose from and lets the “native sons” down easy.

But being something of an unknown is part and parcel of Litzie’s career. Indeed, it seems to lx* an element of his character. For an individual who has sprung with meteoric suddenness into stardom, he conducts himself with astonishing reserve. That, in itself, is strange. There isn’t a trace of braggadixio in his makeup, and when one talks to him he seems to be a grave-faced, solemn gnome until some humorous remark or recollection causes his mouth to break into a wide grin and reveals the boy.

A year ago last May he was entirely unknown to the racing world, except as an exercise boy who had to be chased away from the jockey house because he was so tiny and looked so young. Up around the Empire City track at Mount Vernon, N.Y., they can’t quite believe yet that he is the leading rider of the turf, and they still think of him in terms of a youngster who ought to lx? kept out of sight of the Children’s Aid Society. But on May 24, 1933, out in Calgary, he was put up on Mount Glen and he flashed home the winner. It was his first victory. Since then it has become something of a habit.

It’s a hab t all right, as the records prove, but the railbirds can’t quite fathom it. “He’s so darned small,” they com-

plain, “that he’s hard to pick out even with the glasses. Coming into the stretch the field will be bunched and there will be no sign of Litzie. Then suddenly, just when somebody else seems to have the race in the bag, a pair of orange sleeves, green blouse and cap—colors of the stable for which he rides - will jx>ke out in front of the herd and Litzie will be past the post to win again by a nose.”

There is a lot more about Litzie that is mysterious. Take his Christian name for instance. He tells everyone that it’s Edward, and oil the track he is generally called “Eddie.” But out in Eatonia, Saskatchewan, where he was bom, he was christened Manuel. He didn’t have that name for long. When his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Feter Litzen-

berger, gave up fanning and moved to East Calgary, the boys in the new neighborhood kicked the name Manuel out of the window and promptly dubbed the future champion jockey of America, “Fuggy.” It suits him a lot better than Manuel ever would.

Just why young Litzenberger should have selected the race track as a vocation is another mystery. At least it is to those who must dig under the roots of the genealogical tree for the whys and the wherefores in the things that offspring think and do. It would require a tremendous amount of digging under Litzie’s family tree to account for his desire to dress up in gaudy silks and, precariously perched on the neck of temperamental horseflesh, to go tearing around a track at a rate of close to forty miles per hour. Litzie’s father and mother had no such ambitions for their son. They are sound, solid Germans who asked nothing more of life than an opportunity to make an honest living and who showed their good sense by migrating to Canada to do it. They knew something about horses because they were farmers. But only the patient horses that pull a plow across a field, and, when the crop is harvested, haul the grain to the elevator. That’s the kind of horse they knew and, as long as they could, they held out against their son’s desire to become a jockey.

But Western Canada is nothing if not different. It has a habit of upsetting theories and of kicking age-old traditions into the ashcan. And nowhere is the West so western as around Calgary, where ten-gallon hats are always in style and a fine piece of horseflesh is as much to be admired as a pretty woman and a good deal more to be trusted. Into the atmosphere of this happy-go-lucky city, where in spite of efforts to kill it the spirit of the Old West still flames brightly, the midget form of Litzie was transplanted at an early and impressionable age. And Litzie was caught up by the glamor of the place.

When other youngsters were naming the makes of cars that sped along the streets and noting the models of planes soaring about the new airport, Litzie was hanging around the haunts where the cowboys congregated, carrying water for the bronchos that were brought in for the July Stampede; and, during the racing season, he was down at the stables by the track. When he didn’t show up at school, and that was as often as he could get away with it, the truant officer always knew where to find him. Out at somebody’s ranch or down by someone’s stable. And Litzie went back to school. Generally by the ear. But his mother never knew of his hookey playing. Litzie has the sort of grin that can melt even the heart of a truant officer. But by 1932, Litzie was beyond the age when the law demanded that he continue at school. So he promptly took advantage of the law and, despite the pleadings of his parents, got himself a job as exercise boy with the Rocky Mountain Polo Ranch, a few miles out of Calgary.

From then on . . . Well, let Litzie tell you the story himself.

It was down at Saratoga Springs that Litzie told the story. The opening of the August meeting was still several days off, and Litzie, in exercise clothes, had Kievex, one of the pick of the Maemere Farm Stables, out to graze. Litzie was on one end of a long chain and Kievex was on the other. Every once in a while Kievex would toss his head and almost sweep his escort ofT his feet.

“Durn you,” would threaten America’s leading jockey in a fierce treble, “if you do that again I’ll stave your ribs in.” Horse and master, mountain and midget, would regard each other in silence for a moment and then, with as close to a snicker as a horse could come, Kievex would renew his nibbling of the grass.

22 Winners in 21 Days

'-THERE WAS little of the glamor of the turf about 4 Saratoga or Litzie that morning. The great stands yawned vacantly and the infield was cluttered with a litter of material waiting to be put in place. A couple of negro boys sauntered lazily by on bay horses. Instead of green and orange silks flashing in the sun, Litzie wore a dark blue working shirt open at the neck. Since almost daylight he had been cantering horses around a rain-drenched track. Greywhite mud caked his breeches and shirt, and had dried on his cheeks in circular flakes that stood out like overgrown freckles.

“For about a year,” explained Litzie, “I walked horses around the track. I slept with them, ate with them and talked to them. But it was a long time before the trainers would let me ride any of them. I was so small they were afraid I would fall off and get hurt.”

Kievex pulled on the chain and yanked Litzie six feet Continued on page 56

Continued from page 16

across the meadow. Litzie gave Kievex a scowl and threatened him with the loose tnd of the chain. Kievex gave him a calm look and proceeded unconcernedly with his meal.

“But, "continued the ace riderof America, "I learned to get up on a horse myself, and, pretty soon they let me do some riding. We went around the country quite a lot. Out West, you know. Mostly small tracks. But I didn’t do any racing.”

He turned a grave stare toward the empty stands across the infield as if reliving those days when the light of ambition was burning SÍ» brightly beneath a dark glass.

“When did you get your first chance?” His mouth broke inti) a grin that lit his whole face, and the enthusiasm of boyhood filled his eyes until they fairly danced with excitement.

“On May 23, last year, sir,” he replied. “Did you win?”

“No, sir,” he answered, but added quickly: “I did the next day on Mount


“After that you started to win pretty regularly, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir.” He said it without a tinge of boastfulness. “A little while after that I went east. I was leading rider at Long Branch and Dufferin Park, and second leading rider at the Woodbine in the fall. I also rode at Fort Erie and Hamilton, but I didn’t do so well there.”

“And then?”

“After that I went to Florida. I rode ten winners at Tropical Park, and at Hialeah I won thirty-one races in forty-five days. After that, at Arlington Downs in Texas I ride twenty-two winners in twenty-one days. Then we came north. 1 had four winners in four days at I lavre cle Grace, and 1 was leading jockey at Pimlico, where I won twenty-one races in twelve days.”

“What do you consider is the secret o successful rifling?”

He thought that over for a minute. “Getting away from the gate, I guess,” he replied. “That’s important in the short races when you haven’t got a chance to watch the other jockeys.” He paused for a moment. "In short race's, you see, sir,” he explained, “it’s just a case of go as fast as you can from start to finish. All you got time to think about is breaking fast and covering as short a distance as yen can. Like this, see." He took ix'ncil and paper and traced half of an oval on the sheet. “See. if you keep close to the rail, you go only about half as far as the fellow that runs on the outside.”

“How about the long races?”

“1 like them, sir,” he answered and j grinned happilv.


“Well, you get more riding and you can ! sit hack and watch the other jockeys. When you see your chance you take it.”

“Are you ever afraid when you’re riding?” "Not any more, sir.” j “You used to be?”

“At first. sir. But now it’s just a chore.” “But I'd think you’d be a bit scared riding ■ on a slippery track like this is today, for instance. You might get a bad fall.”

"You can fall on dry tracks just as easy ! as on wet ones,” he answered gravely.

“Did you ever have a tumble?”

, "A few, sir.”


"Well, the worst one was at Arlington ! Downs. Texas, last April. We were rounding I the first tum and 1 went down right in the ; middle of a bunch of seven horses.”

"What did you do?”

HK GRINNED at the question. But he was not scornful of its ignorance.

“There isn’t anything you can do,” he jsaid. “You just go.”

“But you might get trampled on by the other horses.”

“Mebbe,” he replied, “but if you lie

where you land the chances are the other horses will jump you. It’s when you try to get up that you are liable to be knocked down.”

“Did you ride again the day you had your fall?”

“Yes, sir. I won the next two races.” “What tracks do you like to ride on best?” “I like it up here in New York and in Eastern Canada,” he answered without hesitation.


“Because they run them pretty good. There’s no bumping or crowding allowed on those tracks. Not like some of the small tracks I’ve been on.” He grinned broadly at the recollection.

“How do you get along with the other jockeys? Are they jealous of you?”

“No, sir,” he said emphatically. “They help me and they’re glad to see me win.” “What do you do for amusement?”

His mouth broke into another wide grin. “There isn’t much time for anything, sir,” he answered. “I got to be out at the track at five-thirty every morning to exercise the horses, and I go to bed at nine-thirty every night. Once in a while I go to a movie but not often. We’re not allowed to play cards or anything except in Maryland, where they let us play a little rummy in the jockey house between races.”

“For money?”

“No, sir. just for fun.”

“Do you ever bet on your races?”

“No, sir. I don’t bet on any races. It’s not allowed, and besides I don’t care about betting.”

“But on your afternoons off, don’t you do something to amuse yourself?”

“Yes, sir,” he said as though surprised that the question should require either asking or answering. "I come out to the track and watch the other jockeys.”

“But haven’t you got a sweetheart?” "No, sir.” Under the coating of grevwhite mud, a flush glowed in his cheeks. “Who’s your best friend?”

“Next to my mother, my kid brother, I guess?”

“How old is he?”

“Fourteen, sir.”

“Does he want to be a jockey, too?”

“I don’t know, sir. Sometimes I think he’d like to be.”

Kievex began to grow restless and Litzie was having some difficulty to hold him.

“I guess I got to be going, sir,” he remarked.

“Just one more thing. What is your greatest ambition?”

Once more his gaze sought the empty stands across the cluttered infield. Into his eyes there stole a light of excitement as though in imagination he saw those stands filled and heard the roar of the crowd as thudding hoofs thundered down the home stretch toward the judges’ stand. Then he turned and looked toward tire stables, where George Phillips, owner of the Maemere Farm string, was standing contemplating us with thoughtful, keen regard.

“I’d like to win the Kentucky Derby for Mr. Phillips, sir.” Then he added very softly and very quietly: “He’s been good

to me.”

For perhaps a minute he stood looking toward the man for whom he rides, and it was easy to see that more than a paper contract binds him to this fine gentleman of the turf. For there was the warm glow of filial affection in his eyes. He turned and held out a friendly hand.

“So long, sir.” he said.

“Good luck to you, and lots more winners, Litzie.”

"Thank you, sir. The same to you.”

He grinned again and moved toward the stables. Kievex. ambling placidly in his wake, made him look even more diminutive than ever. Into the shadows of the stalls the two of them disappeared. A fine race horse and a Lilliputian with a warrior’s soul.