My world, the race track
Today, at 48, Longden is rich, respected and famous. Why doesn’t lie retire? Here are his reasons —horseplay in the jockeys’ room, colts that may become great, and a special "feel" unknown to outsiders. For Longden this is
At five-thirty every morning something stirs in my head and I’m wide awake and sometimes I even grin there in the dark. After all these years I still feel a tingle as I climb into my clothes to go to the track where I'll get on a horse and we'll have a little gallop. I don’t eat. A race track is a world in itsell and il it happens to be your world you can really accept no other.
JOHNNY LONGDEN TELLS HIS OWN STORY • CONCLUSION
BY JOHNNY LONGDEN
TRENT FRAY NE
At five-thirty every morning something stirs in my head and I’m wide awake and sometimes 1 even grin there in the dark. After all these years I still feel a tingle as I climb into my clothes to go to the track where I'll get on a horse and we 11 have a little gallop. 1 don’t eat.
A race track is a world in itsell and il it happens to be your world you can really accept no other. This is where you'll find men of all ages, sonic of whom don't seem to have a dime to their names. They want no other life. There’s an informality and a language and an atmosphere at this place that you'll find nowhere else, and it doesn’t matter whether it's at Santa Anita in California or at the old Woodbine track in Toronto or even the long-gone little park called Whittier in Winnipeg. They all have known this unique melding of men and horses.
When the dawn comes up at Santa Anita a thin veil of mist begins to lilt as the sun starts beaming through. There is the tresh clean smell of early morning, and oil in the distance the hazy green bulge of the San Gabriel Mountains looms beyond the backstretch. Dew is now glistening on the flowers in the paddock gardens back ot the grandstand, thousands and thousands ot yellow and orange and violet islands in the green lawns.
In the stabling area along the neat rows ot barns there’s the smell of race tracks everywhere —a blend of fresh hay and straw and manure and grass and horses. You can hear birds chirping and horses clop-clopping toward the training track. Boys in black turtleneck sweaters and caps turned backwards down their necks perch high on the prancing thoroughbreds. The boys cluck at their mounts or murmur softly to them or run a hand down their long glistening necks. A man is whistling as he pitchforks straw into a stall and somewhere a radio is sending out a lilting tune.
When I get to the track I wave to the cop on the gate leading to the stabling area, drive down a bumpy dirt road between the long low rectangular barns to the one where my horses are stabled. I call them “my’' horses but they really aren’t. I just mean that I ride them. Any horse you ride in a race becomes “your” horse. These horses belong to three Calgary businessmen. Wilder Ripley, Frank McMahon and Max Bell, who formed a stable seven years ago and called it Alberta Ranches. My son Vance trains their horses and I ride them at the winter meetings in California. Max Bell is an old friend of mine.
I knew his father, George Bell, back in Calgary in the late 1920s when I was just starting out. Max Bell has looked after a number of investments for me and there have been rumors that I own a piece of Alberta Ranches. I don't. Maybe I will some day, I don't know. There’s a rule in racing that says a jockey can t be an owner, and I'm a jockey. There’s no point in breaking the rules.
Alberta Ranches has some good stock and is slowly becoming an important stable. But breeding and training horses to be winners takes time. The stable owns about a hundred horses—broodmares, stallions, yearlings and weanlings. Roughly thirty horses are in training at any given time, meaning that they’re actively racing. Vance trains these and we talk continued on page 39
Johnny Longden tells his own story
Continued from page 27
about them every morning, mapping their routine. I think Vance is a fine trainer. He’s twenty-eight and a graduate veterinarian. A year ago Vance and his wife had a little girl, Rhody. which must make me the only grandfather jockey in racing. When 1 go to the barn I might ask Vance about a three-year-old named Disdainful for whom we’ve got high hopes, a big tough black colt which Vance says he wouldn’t sell for a hunIred thousand dollars.
"How’s the big feller?” I'll ask Vance.
"He’s all right. Went a half in fortyseven yesterday.”
"With his tongue hanging out?”
"No,” Vance will grin, “he went pretty handy.”
"What you gonna do tomorrow?”
"1 was thinking I’d try him threequarters.”
Some jockeys don't like getting up early to work horses when they have to ride them in the afternoon. But I’m not one of them. I like working three or four a morning. You can find out a lot about a horse in the morning, whether he goes wide on the turns or tends to lug in toward the rail or likes the whip or doesn't like to go between horses when he’s got the speed to pass them. What you find out in the morning you can often win with in the afternoon.
When I was in Toronto in June to ride a filly. Stole the Ring, in the Queen’s Plate I went out to the Woodbine track first thing Saturday morning to see my mount. I was hoping I could gallop her and maybe find out something about her. But the trouble was that Stole the Ring had developed a cough a couple of weeks before the race and for awhile it looked like they'd have to scratch her. But she came around and although Willie Morrissey, who bred her, had to keep her out of the Plate Trials he decided to start her in the Plate.
She was painfully short on condition and it was decided that a gallop on the morning of the Plate could do her no good. Even if we could have gone for a ride I doubt that, in these conditions.
I could have learned much that would have helped. The whole question with Stole the Ring wasn’t her speed but her stamina. As the race was run. we led for nearly a mile and then I could feel her start to sag. She was a good game filly though, and hung on to be third. But, as I say. you can often find out about a horse in the mornings, and that's what 1 do before eight o’clock.
Around eight o'clock or eight-thirty Vance and I and Herbie Lindberg, an old friend of mine who rides the Ontario circuit in the summer and works for us each winter, and maybe a groom or two I there’s nothing to do right then, walk to the track kitchen for breakfast. For me breakfast is a cup of black coffee. I always have to watch my weight. I go about a hundred and twelve pounds, and I'd go a hundred and twenty, twentytwo if 1 didn't keep count. The track kitchen, as it is at every race track, is a large dining hall or cafeteria with steaming tables of eggs and fried potatoes and
“Jockeys get along together as well as any other group of businessmen. We pretty well have to”
bacon and sausages at one end, and tables and chairs spread in disarray across the rest of it. The jockeys and grooms and trainers and owners gather here to talk shop over their breakfasts and it’s easy to tel! the jocks from the rest. There's a cup of coffee in front of the jocks. The rest get to eat.
You meet men here you haven’t seen for years and you see the same faces you’ve seen every day for months. There arc rich men here, like Rex Ellsworth, the owner of Swaps, and men not so rich, like Guy Sutton, whose father owned horses years ago at Tia Juana just across the California border in Mexico and gave me a few mounts when I didn’t have a quarter. Guy works for our stable now. There'll be fellovys like Les Lear, the former Calgary football coach who has turned to training and comes down here to pick up some horses for the western Canada circuit, and seventy-twoyear-old Sleepy Armstrong from Seattle, who traded a race horse for my riding contract in Calgary in 1928. I rode for him for four years and we talk about those days when we meet here in the kitchen.
“We didn't have much money then, Sléepy.” I’ll say.
“Money.” snorts Sleepy, shaking his white head. “We didn't have a helluva lot of anything, John.”
“We made out.”
“We made out because I made us make out,” Sleepy will jaw. “You were all the time sleepin’ in that little pup tent. I remember at Whittier Park in Winnipeg around 1928 I used to have to root you out with a pitchfork. It’d be four-thirty, maybe a quarter of five in the mornin’ and, hell, there you’d be still sleepin’.”
Cooped in the jocks’ room
At ten-thirty I drive home from the track, maybe chuckling to myself as I reflect on something Sleepy said. And I often think that there’s nothing else in the world that I want to be doing for the five hours after the sun comes up than just what I’ve been doing this morning.
After a rest, and a cup of tea with saccharine, and fifteen minutes in the steam bath I go back to the track to report in at the jocks’ room by noon. Jockeys get along together as well as any other group of businessmen get along in the same office. We pretty well have to; we’re cooped up in the jocks’ room from noon until five-thirty every afternoon except for the moments when we come out to ride, so it would be senseless as well as uncomfortable for everybody if a jock were to carry a chip on his shoulder.
A good deal of horseplay goes on between games of pool and cards as we kill time between races. In all innocence I became involved in what turned out to be a practical joke on Billy Pearson last year at Bay Meadows, near San Francisco. But I didn't know it was a joke.
What happened was that Pearson, the art connoisseur-jockey who became widely known all over Canada and the United States for his success on the television programs, the $64,000 Question and, later, the $64,000 Challenge, was short of cash one afternoon. But he had a good mount in a stakes race and. since jockeys collect ten percent of stakes money, he figured his chances ot picking up five thousand dollars later in the afternoon were pretty good.
But unknown to Pearson, or to me, some of the jocks had arranged with a policeman to come into the room and pretend to arrest Billy on a trumped-up charge.
“You'll have to come with me,” the cop said gravely.
“I can’t, I can’t!” cried Billy, getting very excited. “I have to ride.”
“Well, you'll have to come along and post twenty-five hundred dollars’ bail,” the officer said.
“Twenty-five hundred bucks,” wailed Bill. “I haven't got twenty-five hundred cents."
It was at this point that I unwittingly spoiled the whole ploy.
“Billy,” I said, “take this fellow over to the hotel and tell my wife Hazel to give you the twenty-five hundred.”
Then, of course, the boys had to explain. I felt like climbing into a side pocket of the pool table.
Pearson is a remarkable fellow, a free soul. When he won the sixty-four thousand on the quiz show, he and his friend Burl Ives, the Broadway actor and folk singer, went to the bank to cash the cheque. The bank naturally expected he'd open an account.
“I don’t want an account,” said Bill. “I want the dough — in cash.”
He was carrying a large hatbox and he handed it to the banker and told him to put the money in it.
The bank people tried to dissuade him from carrying that much cash. Billy was steaming.
“I don’t think you’ve got that much cash,” he shouted. “That’s why you're stalling.”
The banker stiffly produced the cash, and Bill and Burl Ives started up the street carrying the hatbox.
Scores of people recognized him. From time to time somebody would ask him if he had his money.
“Certainly I’ve got my money,” Billy would say. And he'd open the lid of his hatbox and show people his sixty-four thousand dollars.
He blew the whole works, and then he went on the Challenge program to try to win enough to pay the taxes he owed on the original sixty-four thousand. He won another thirty-two thousand, or some fantastic figure. The last I heard of him he'd gone into partnership with John Huston, the movie director, in an art shop and was in Paris buying up art pieces. Racing isn't the same without him in the jocks' room. I hope he soon comes back.
I remember thinking about Billy the afternoon I won my 5,()()()th race. It was a gloomy February 28 last year and when we came up to the fourth race I was riding a four-year-old filly named Bcnte. We won a photo finish and a newspaperman asked me if. now that I had five thousand victories, I was going to go for six thousand.
“Well,” I said, having no notion to retire, “Bill Pearson went for sixty-four. I guess I might as well try for six.” People have been asking me for nearly a decade when I’m going to retire. Racing is so much part of my life that I don’t like to think about leaving it. But I will the moment I feel deep within myself that I'm not producing. I have all the security I need, I know, and I’m no longer a young man, but riding a thoroughbred in a horse race gives me greater satisfaction than anything I can think of doing. The same thing must ap-
ply in its own way to that great hockey player. Rocket Richard. I wish people vould go and ask him when he’s going to retire. His injuries have been severe too, haven't they?
I think about these things when I'm sitting in the jocks’ room between races and I say to myself, "Why would you want to leave all this?” 1 think of some of the odd things that have happened, like the time I was coming out of the pate on a horse with the strange name of Amblingorix. It was in July of 1955 at the Hollywood Park race track. I lost my stirrup coming out. I was going down tor sure. Then George Taniguchi. the jock on the horse next to me, reached across and grabbed me and gave me a tremendous heave. He set me back up so hard that I started to go over the other dde. When I did that, Rogelio Trejos, riding on that side of me. grabbed me again as I was falling and he set me back on and I got my balance. The crazy and ironic part of this by-play is that both Taniguchi and Trejos lost whatever chance they had of winning the race by going off-stride to help me, and I came out of the pack to win it!
Another time I was coming out of the gate and dropped my whip. My old friend Jackie Westrope was alongside me. His horse wasn't running anywhere. I could see that, so I shouted to him.
“Let me have your whip. Jack,” 1 called. "This horse won't run without one."
He passed his stick over to me and I went on to win, using that whip all down the stretch. It was against the rules and only a remarkable fellow like Westrope would have done it. He could have been suspended. But those were days before films were taken of every race so nobody knew the difference.
One of the most unusual things that ever confronted me on a race track was a steer. I was riding in Calgary many years ago, just starting out. The Calgary Stampede was in progress in the infield of the track. A big longhorn steer got loose from its enclosure and charged onto the race track. I was turning into the stretch when suddenly I saw it hurtling up the track toward me. I took out, meaning I headed wide toward the outside rail, and when I did the other boys coming around the bend behind me thought my horse was lugging out in spite of me, not because of me, so they ducked in to go by. You never heard such cries or witnessed such confusion as ensued when the jockeys saw the steer. Luckily, nobody crashed it, and I won the race by blocks galloping down the outside rail.
Jockeys do a lot of hollering during a race. If something goes wrong they usually let the other jocks know so they won’t be taken unawares. Or if they’re going to try something different with a horse they’ll tell the other jocks beforehand. I remember once, years ago, Eddie Arcaro was up on a horse called Occupation which had a lot of early speed. Eddie wanted to hold this horse back at the start so he could see what it would do when it had to come from behind.
In the starting gate he said to a rider named Nordice, "Hey, jock, I'm gonna bring this horse back. Gimme a couple of jumps.”
He meant for Nordice to stay clear of him so that his tight hold on the fastbreaking Occupation would be effective, holding him behind the field at the start.
We got away from the gate fine and Arcaro started to bring his horse back. Then Nordice came banging across the track from the outside, belting Occupation and almost knocking Eddie off the horse.
I saw the wild look in Eddie’s eyes.
I turned to Johnny Gilbert, who was riding beside me, and I yelled. “Let's get out of here; there's gonna be trouble.”
Eddie took off to overtake Nordice and he made four or five lunges at his horse with Occupation but he couldn't get a clear shot at him. When the race was over the stewards called Arcaro in and they asked him what he was trying to do out there.
“If I'd caught him I'd have killed the dirty —.” snarled Eddie, still furious.
What happened to him? The stewards just set him down for one year is all.
Arcaro has mellowed over the years. He kids me a good deal about my age, which this year I'm insisting is fortyeight. Three years ago when Eddie was celebrating his birthday, a newspaperman asked him in the jocks' room how old he was.
"Thirty-nine,” grinned Eddie. "And that’s an honest thirty-nine, not a Longden thirty-nine.”
There’s one thing that makes a jockey more indignant than anything else. That's to be shut off by another rider: besides pride and money, danger is involved. I
was riding a bad-legged horse at Del Mar once and I knew I wasn't going to win that race. As Johnny Bailey went by me 1 shouted at him to give me a chance to finish the race. He started to shut me off, though, and I had to pull up and 1 nearly went down. So when he came back to the jocks’ room I was waiting for him. We fought and we were both fined a hundred dollars.
On another occasion, right after the Bing Crosby Handicap at the same Del Mar track. I got into a fight with Ralph Neves. My horse, Make-Up Man, was
almost knocked down in the stretch as Neves came over on me. When we unsaddled and walked toward the scales we began arguing about it, and then we threw a few punches. I thought the stewards, in fining each of us two hundred, worded their explanation of the affair with becoming delicacy. We were fined “for use of improper language and engaging in an altercation while returning to the jockeys’ room.”
Most fights between jockeys are impulsive, spur-of-the-moment things, much like fights on the ice in hockey. Grudges seldom last. Neves and Bailey and I are good friends. Jockeys are bound together by a sense of, well, comradeship that’s more important than the infrequent clashes of personality or the fleeting moments of indignation. A jockey’s life is so strange and separate that only the few men who live it can appreciate what we do, and this creates a warmth and understanding that I’ll hate to turn my back on. The jocks’ room has been a second home to me for thirty-one years. As long as I can do justice to a horse and to the thousands of people who wager their money on it. I’ll never leave it.
Because I’m a jockey I've been places and seen things I’d never have known about. I’ve ridden and won races in eight countries — England, Ireland, Scotland, Mexico, Cuba, Australia, Canada and the United States. The trips have provided many high moments. I think maybe the highest moment of all came in September of 1955 when Taber celebrated its fiftieth anniversary and invited me back to the place where I grew up, to be the guest of honor.
School children were given a halfholiday and the stores and business offices closed their doors. I headed a horseback parade riding a Palomino and wearing my racing silks, down the main street I remembered so well, with its low flat-roofed buildings. The curbs were lined with smiling cheering children who couldn't have known me from a bucket of oats and happy waving adults who might have. I saw old friends like Ted Sundall and Wit Harris and Tom Francis and Dr. Alfred Hammon, and when I was asked to say something at the familiar old fair grounds where I'd ridden horses bareback, I looked at the smiling friendly face of Dr. Hammon, a man in his eighties.
"I’ll never be able to repay Dr. Hammon for what he did for my family many years ago,” I said. "We were too poor to pay our doctor’s bills but when we were in trouble he came right away."
I said a few more things but my thoughts were far away. I was thinking of the times forty years ago when I was a kid on horseback herding cows and, a little later, digging coal fifteen hundred feet under this very ground for $1.25 a day. And I remembered something my mother had told her six kids once when I was just a boy.
“You've got to have determination to get anywhere,” she told us. “You've got to work hard and keep your eyes open and your mouth closed. And you've got to be able to learn something every day. Never be self-satisfied.”
1 don’t think I ever have been—except maybe that September day three years ago in Taber. But only for a moment, and I think she’d have understood. ★