A steady, depressing, wind-driven drizzle and 49° temperature drenched and chilled the 40,154 who turned up at Aqueduct last Saturday to peer through the mist at 1966's Race of the Year. But that event, the mile-and-a-quarter Woodward Stakes, the weight-for-age test for the very best horses in training, turned a dreary afternoon into an occasion of brief but undeniable brilliance. It was a memorable occasion in Thoroughbred history, because Ogden Phipps's 3-year-old champion, Buck-passer, masterfully wrapped up his first Horse of the Year title by whipping five older horses (and three his own age) to dispel, once and for all, any notions that he is not one of the great racehorses of our time.
Young by classic standards, the Woodward has quickly won esteem as a testing ground for would-be champions. Among horsemen it is generally believed that a good 3-year-old, who is just reaching his full maturity in the fall of the year, has a slight edge in a race like the Woodward, because he carries only 121 pounds, while all older horses carry 126. And yet in the 13 years since this race, named for the late master of Belair Stud, was first run, only two 3-year-olds before Buckpasser came down in front. They were Traffic Judge in 1955, when the event was a handicap, and Sword Dancer in 1959. Among the upstart sophomores who tried to beat their elders and failed were Gallant Man, Bold Ruler, Nadir, Tompion, Carry Back, Jaipur, Never Bend and Quadrangle. Now you can add to this list two more, who trailed Buckpasser home last week: Buffle, winner of this summer's Suburban Handicap, and Amberoid, the easy winner of the 1966 Belmont Stakes.
Nothing remains to be questioned about Buckpasser's ability. He proved Saturday that he is a champion on any kind of a track and against any opposition of any age. On the backstretch, where he usually looks like a lazy critter taking his own sweet time, he is so inconspicuous that you tend to forget he is in the race. Then his jockey, Braulio Baeza, clucks to him at about the half-mile pole, and this marvelously attuned pair overtakes and passes the field on the way to a victory that seems almost too easy to be true.
That's how last week's Woodward was run, against the best field put together anywhere this year. There were nine horses in all. Buckpasser had his speedy stablemate Poker along to insure a fast pace. Greentree sent out an entry of Malicious, also real speed and a proven runner in the sort of slop that greeted these horses, and O'Hara. In addition to Buffle and Amberoid, there were the Phipps castoff, Staunchness, who won the Whitney at Saratoga, and Mike Ford's Royal Gunner, who ran second to Roman Brother in the Woodward last year. And, lastly, there was little Tom Rolfe, a sentimental favorite of many, last year's 3-year-old champion, who passed up the 1965 Woodward when his owner, Raymond Guest, elected to try him instead against the finest horses in Europe in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. A superb list—but when the race was over Buck-passer had made hash of his eight rivals. A 4-to-5 favorite, he won his 10th straight race of the year, raised his earnings to $1,111,559 and moved up to fifth place on the all-time money-earnings list, ahead of the great Citation.
Malicious and Poker, as anticipated, set the early pace, and the former, surprisingly enough, held on until mid-stretch. Baeza lolled along with Buck-passer lengths behind the leaders on the back side, while Bill Hartack trailed the entire field with Royal Gunner. Bill Shoemaker stuck to the rail with Tom Rolfe but was never really in contention. Rounding the far turn, Baeza got into Buckpasser, and just as the field straightened for home Braulio, in another of his typically daring moves, drove the bay son of Tom Fool through on the rail. They were inside of Malicious and Buffle, who was coming fast on the outside to take a momentary lead. Behind them Shoemaker tried to slip Tom Rolfe through the same gap, but had to check for an instant and then go around. It would not have made much difference, for now the stretch duel was on and little Tom was not part of it. Buckpasser stuck his handsome head in front as he reached the eighth pole, and Baeza kept it there. Malicious stopped badly, Buffle faltered and Hartack drove Royal Gunner (an 11-to-1 shot) up to take second place, beaten three-quarters of a length by Buckpasser. Buffle, who always seems to do all right when Buck-passer is not around, was third, five lengths ahead of Tom Rolfe. Spread out in the slop behind them were O'Hara, Amberoid, Staunchness, Malicious and an eased-up Poker, in that order.
Having established his superiority over every other horse in this country, Buckpasser could challenge for the title of Horse of the World if he flew to Paris this week for the mile-and-a-half Arc, or even if he accepted an invitation to the Nov. 11 Washington, D.C. International at Laurel. But, immediately after the Woodward, Owner Phipps and Trainer Eddie Neloy announced that the champion would start only in the Lawrence Realization on Oct. 19 and the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 29 before calling it quits for the year. And what a year!
But if 1966 is the year of Buckpasser and the team of Phippses, Neloy and Baeza (17 of their horses have already accounted for 35 stakes and $1,167,694), it is also a year in which horsemen the world over are not only thinking about international racing, but actually doing something about it. This week, for example, as the English and Irish launch their annual invasion of France in the Arc de Triomphe—an invasion that has not been much of a success in recent years—George Pope is sending along his California-bred Hill Rise, who probably has a better chance to win than any other American horse who ever has competed in the race.
"If Hill Rise won the Arc it won Id be the best thing that could happen to international racing. It would encourage everyone to give this kind of thing a try"—that was the opinion last week of a man who knows European and American racing inside out and who practices the racing philosophy that he preaches. In addition to being the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, he probably is the best and most popular goodwill ambassador of racing ever to hang his bowler in a U.S. Embassy. Just a year ago, five months after he took up residence in Dublin, Raymond Guest brought Tom Rolfe, Trainer Frank Whitely and Bill Shoemaker to Paris to run against a team of top French horses, including the great Sea Bird. Despite the fact that he knew Tom Rolfe had little chance of winning—he was running on turf for the first time in his life and over an up-and-down course the "wrong" way—Guest smiled his way through Arc day, telling his friends that Tom was "a nice little fellow and a genuine little horse."
Tom Rolfe was no match for Sea Bird, Reliance and Diatome, though he did well to finish sixth in the 20-horse field. When the Arc was over that beautiful fall day, it was characteristic of Guest that he should ignore the handicaps Tom Rolfe had encountered. "Well, we took it on the nose today," he said, "but I don't think it hurt racing a bit. And besides, we'll live to run another day."
Guest's refreshing no-alibi attitude toward racing was the reason he found himself last week on a whirlwind 25-hour visit to New York and to Aqueduct for his first look at Tom Rolfe in action since the 1965 Arc. "If we have a chance against Buckpasser," he said before the Woodward, "it has to be a hell of a small one. It's hard to beat a world record-holder while giving him five pounds. But if I'm supposed to be a sportsman we've got to give it a try. That's what this game is all about."
A few hours before the Woodward, Guest was honored for this kind of sportsmanship, which often is missing from the American racing scene. Had he kept Tom Rolfe at home last fall it is quite possible his colt would have beaten out Roman Brother for Horse of the Year honors. Instead he went to a sporting defeat in Paris, and last week Guest became the first recipient of the Ralph Lowe Award for Sportsmanship, donated and presented by Shoemaker in memory of the owner of Gallant Man, loser of the 1957 Kentucky Derby when Shoe misjudged the finish line. (Shoemaker, after such an unpardonable miscue, considered it sporting of Ralph Lowe not to shoot him between the eyes.) In his short acceptance speech Guest soft-pedaled his own accomplishments. "I'm not at all sure I deserve this award," he said. "It could easily go to thousands of owners who don't win many races. They stay in the game, uncomplaining, and keep the sport going. I wish we could peel $10,000 off the top of a lot of these rich stakes and spread it around to those owners who need and deserve it to keep going." Then Guest looked his audience over and quietly added, "If I lose today I hope I lose gracefully, and if I win I hope I win gratefully."
Raymond Richard Guest has been doing things with grace and style for a long time. He was born 58 years ago, the second of three children of Captain the Right Honorable Frederick E. Guest, an Englishman, and American heiress Amy Phipps Guest. Captain Guest, a Member of Parliament and Air Secretary in the Lloyd George cabinet, served for a time as personal secretary to his first cousin, a rising young man named Winston Churchill. He named his eldest son—Winston Frederick Churchill Guest—after his cousin, who was also the child's godfather. Winston and his younger sister Diana, now the Countess de la Valdene (and owner of a small but first-class string of racehorses in France), were born in England. Raymond was not, and he tells a story that reflects both his instinct for diplomacy and his sense of humor: "One of my uncles, Baron Wimborne, was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during the first war, when Ireland was still under British rule. His home in Phoenix Park, Dublin, is now the official residence of Ireland's President Eamon de Valera. Well, when I went to present my credentials to Mr. de Valera when I became Ambassador a year and a half ago, he naturally kidded me about my English ancestors. Then he noticed my interest in his historic residence, and he said, 'This place should be familiar to you, Mr. Guest.' I laughed, and then I think I got in the last line. 'Sir,' I said, 'like your distinguished self, I was born in New York.' " (The relationship between Guest and De Valera has been close since that meeting. "Just a few days ago," said Guest recently, "I killed a nine-pound salmon and delivered it to the President's residence on my way home. In a matter of minutes he picked up the phone himself to thank me and to say that he had ordered it for dinner that very night.")
Winston and Raymond Guest were graduated from Yale, and in the '30s both became star polo players in the era when the sport reached its peak in this country. Raymond bred and raised his own Thoroughbreds in Virginia and became a director of Bessemer Securities, the holding company for the enormous Phipps family trust. After serving as a commander in the Navy during World War II, Guest was a Virginia state senator from 1947 to 1953. If it seems a little incongruous that Raymond Guest, a member of one of the country's wealthiest families, is a Democrat, he explains it this way: "For one thing, most of my friends in Virginia were Democrats, and that must have had something to do with it a long time ago. Then when Franklin D. Roosevelt was governor of New York I really thought he'd make a damn fine President. But what really solidified my thinking was that I wanted desperately for England to win the war, and I really think F.D.R. wanted to help them. I don't know if the others would have gone in that deep."
A massive, broad-shouldered, white-haired man, Guest stands 6 feet 1½ inches and weighs 215 pounds, 20 pounds less than he did a year ago. "I've got the secret now," he said. "Quit bread and butter, that's all. And I guess riding that old cob of mine around took off a few pounds and inches, too." Guest was referring to his performance last August when his place in the affection of the Irish, whose love for the horse is legendary, was sealed by his participation in the famous Dublin Horse Show. He became the first member of the diplomatic corps to win an equestrian event, riding his 8-year-old gray gelding, Shaun, to a blue in the class for light- or medium-weight cobs. The onetime eight-goal polo player described it: "Not very dangerous, you know—just walk, trot and canter."
Compared to the racing empire of his Phipps cousins, Raymond Guest has a peanut operation. In this country he has only Tom Rolfe in training with Frank Whitely. But his overseas operation is of considerable stature even if it is not enormously successful. Four trainers—Vincent O'Brien, David Ainsworth, Paddy Kearns and Dan Moore—have 23 of Guest's horses-in-training, but even the combined skill of this crack quartet has failed to turn 1966 into a banner year. "I haven't won a race since January—and that was over the jumps," said Guest. "I just don't seem to have any luck, but that's the way it goes, isn't it?"
Luck should turn in the not too distant future, for on Guest's 335-acre farm a few miles out of Dublin at Ballygoran (which is found by turning right at Brady's saloon in the village of Maynooth), there is a growing band of well-bred broodmares and Guest's own stallion, Larkspur, winner of the 1962 Epsom Derby. Guest tries to visit his able farm managers Tom and Valerie Cooper at Ballygoran for a part of each day, often in the three-place helicopter he recently bought for easy commuting. As a noncommercial breeder, Guest is only trying to produce horses to race in his own chocolate-and-light-blue silks. "I have a feeling," he explains, "that the best way to breed a racehorse is to breed American mares to foreign stallions and foreign mares to American stallions. For that reason I have shipped nearly all of my mares to Ireland to be bred to Larkspur."
Diplomats in Dublin, as elsewhere, tend to move in a restricted circle. In the Irish capital this consists of the civil service and what remains of the Irish landed gentry, basically Anglo-Irish in background. Guest, however, gets around more than most ambassadors, though his friends are largely in the horsy crowd. His impact on the man in the street is therefore negligible, and those who know him as a racehorse owner often are unaware that he is also the American Ambassador. He has tried hard to avoid the image of a rich man and is proud of his strict devotion to duty. "I have been back in the States only three times in my 17 months," he said, "and not until the Woodward did I come to see one of my horses run."
The days before Guest's visit to Aqueduct were hectic. "I've never had two weeks of work quite like it," he said. "I mean to say, I haven't got any great ambassadorial problems, but it isn't all tea-drinking either." On the Thursday before the Woodward, Guest flew to London where, on Friday morning, he paid a hurried call on his tailors, Stovel & Mason on Old Burlington Street, to have his natty brown pinstripe suit taken in a bit following the results of no bread, no butter and lots of walk, trot and canter at the Dublin Horse Show. Then he went to Wilton's for a dozen oysters and a grouse before boarding Pan American's Flight 103 to New York. Guest plucked his suitcase off the rack at Kennedy Airport, went through customs like any tourist and drove to his East Side apartment. Half an hour and one Scotch later he looked at his watch. "It's 8 o'clock," he said with a smile. "Just perfect. Now I can walk five blocks up the street, buy tomorrow's Morning Telegraph and read myself to sleep. You know, I'm really looking forward to my first glimpse of Buckpasser, and I just hope that my little Tom can give him a bit of a race."
Later, when Guest had congratulated his cousin, Ogden Phipps, and everybody had deserted the wet stands for the comfort of the Trustees Room, Shoemaker turned up to tell the Ambassador that little Tom had never quit trying. As he towered over his jockey, his hands firmly on his hips, Guest broke out in a broad grin. "You know," he said, "that Buckpasser is some horse, isn't he!" He put one enormous hand on Shoemaker's shoulder and added, "But I still think. Bill, that we should try him again. That's what this game is all about, isn't it?"
An hour later Guest was aboard an Air France jet to Paris for a week's vacation with his wife. (She is the Princess Caroline Murat, a descendant of Marshal Joachim Murat, who married the youngest sister of Napoleon I and later became King of Naples.) And then Guest would be back at Phoenix Park, at Ballygoran, races at Leopardstown and visits at the home of a good friend who was also born in New York.