Horatio Luro--El Gran Senor

The charm of horse racing lies primarily in the animals that do it—their beauty, grace, power and their degree of class. But there is an undeniable attraction to the colorful human beings that make it happen. The purpose of this blog is to share my stories about some of these characters. My requisites in the selection: I had dealings with them, their antics and accomplishments should not be forgotten, and that at least most of them are no longer with us. Cot Campbell    

   Horatio Luro-El Gran Senor. Has there ever existed in the world of Thoroughbred racing a human being who combined as much exquisite horsemanship with as much glamour? I do not think so.

   He was a tall, handsome boulevardier from a distinguished Argentine family, a charming polo-playing and lady's man, who came to the states before World War II, teamed up with Charlie Whittingham in California and they hustled their way into the top of the Big Time in the racing world. Again, with a combination of superb horsemanship, chutzpah and personality.

 Horatio Luro/NYRA

Horatio Luro, Courtesy of NYRA

   To meet Horatio was to never forget him. He looked like "somebody." He stood six foot-three, had a pencil-thin mustache, quite handsome, with a dashing, elegant, but devilish, look about him. He dressed in the finest tradition of Saville Row. Even in the early days, when he was flat broke, he was somehow able to wine and dine and operate with the cream of high society. He knew how to buy a good horse, and he surely knew how to train one. He had a fling with the gorgeous actress, Lana Turner (quite an accomplishment), and later was married for 37 years to a truly impressive lady.

   No horse trainer ever had a deeper impact on the Thoroughbred breed. He brought to this country the splendid Princequillo and developed him into one of the greatest stayers of his time. At stud, with Bull Hancock at Claiborne, Princequillo became the dominant influence of stamina in the sport. Later Luro took a blocky, little bay horse that did not meet his reserve when E.P. Taylor sold him as a yearling and made him into a magnificent race horse and arguably the greatest sire that ever lived. His name was Northern Dancer. The Senor won the Derby with him; he also won it with Decidedly. Space would literally not permit a list of other distinguished stakes winners trained by Luro.

   Like most great characters with panache and charm, he was not always easy. He was a prima donna, had a temper, and since he never quite mastered all the nuances of the English language, he could stumble verbally into awkward situations. That's when his wife Frances, who was sophisticated and urbane, and oozed charm from every pore, could help out immeasurably when some diplomacy was needed. However, his own legendary brand was usually quite adequate. An example of that was tested when he ran a filly at Atlantic City. She was winning quite easily, but inexplicably, when approaching the wire, she careened over the rail, ran into the lake and panicked. Sadly, she drowned before anyone could reach her. Later, Horatio lamented, "How am I going to call the owner and tell him that the filly was winning the race but then drowned?"

   Much earlier, he had encountered another awkward situation back home in Argentina. Never in my rather long life have I encountered-or seen-a human being that had actually engaged in a duel. Horatio Luro did! In a dispute over a polo pony board bill, Horatio struck the landlord, an Argentine nobleman. The infuriated injured party "demanded satisfaction." Seconds were chosen, weapons selected. Luro was given the choice, and because his adversary had just returned from a hunting trip, swords rather than guns seemed the smarter option. Horatio took a quick course in fencing, which paid off significantly. He was advised that because of his six foot-three height, he should simply keep his weapon extended into the face of the other shorter man. This he did, and his raging opponent ran into the sword, nicked his arm, blood was drawn, and the duel had been satisfied. Perhaps Thoroughbred racing would have been the poorer had revolvers been the choice.

   A well-documented example of his temper came at the expense of a jockey named Eddie Belmonte. Subbing for Luro's regular rider in a race at Saratoga, he was told to take the horse back and make one big run. Instead Eddie broke and gunned the horse to the lead and hustled him to stay there. He ran out of gas. Luro had placed a rather sizeable bet on the horse, and when the rider dismounted the Senor tried with considerable enthusiasm to choke him-in front of the grandstand. He was suspended for 30 days for this rather unpleasant behavior.

   He was not reluctant to take suggestions from assistants and exercise riders. And he really hit it off with jockeys remarkably well. He liked Bill Hartack, respected his opinion, and adopted a number of his suggestions. Hartack, a wonderful rider, had the disposition of a viper, but there was mutual respect and harmony between him and the Senor. The well-used expression of today, having to do with asking too much of a horse, was born prior to the running of the 1960 Blue Grass Stakes. Horatio told Bill, "This is not our main objective. Do not squeeze the lemon dry." Hartack was a man who could squeeze the hell out of the lemon, but he did not on Victoria Park that day. Still he deserted him in the Derby a couple of weeks later, and energetically rode Venetian Way to victory.

NorthernDancerPreaknessWinners Circle

Luro shaking hands with Hartack in the Preakness
Stakes winner's circle

   Horatio's aforementioned wife, Frances, owned a large farm near Atlanta in Cartersville, Ga. Luro converted this into a training center, and Dogwood was one of its clients in the late sixties and early seventies before we built our own farm. Frances was very prominent in Atlanta (and most other) social circles. She had a daughter, Cary, who was named "debutante of the year," and subsequently was married a fair amount of times. Still another nuptial was being planned at the farm for Horatio's much-married step-daughter, and it was to be a big social event, involving a rehearsal, and a gala rehearsal dinner. Horatio was, of course, summoned back from Belmont Park for the event, and he groused, "I do not see the need for rehearsal. She has done this many times, and must be familiar with the procedure by now."

   Frances and Horatio were at the very top of the social ladder in the glamour days of racing. Being new to the game in the early seventies, my wife Anne and I were flattered when they took note of us in some insignificant way. This led to an embarrassing situation one year in Florida. Frances was the chairwoman of the elegant Flamingo Ball, which took place at Hialeah. She, of course, was hustling participation, and zeroed in on Anne and me. Now Frances was wonderful and gracious, but she did have a little con in her. And she did mean to fill up the tables at the Ball. She cooed to Anne and me, "Horatio and I are so hoping you all will join us at the Ball!" We thought this meant, "Come sit with us at our table." What a nice social breakthrough for a young couple! What she really meant was, "Buy two tickets to the Ball, and use them."

   We arrived at the Ball, and breezily informed the person at the door that we were guests of the Luros'. Oddly we were not on the list. Obviously an omission. So, we paid for two, went in, and excitedly sought out the Luro table. It was chock full of heavy-hitters, of course. Frances waved cordially, but vaguely. We got the picture, and found a couple of spots at a table-near the kitchen.

   Horatio and Frances were a great team. Just as Penny Chenery contributed to the overall image of Secretariat, so did Frances Luro contribute enormously to the dashing, debonair persona of the Senor. He trained well into his eighties, then turned over the stock to his beloved step-grandson, Billy Wright, who still operates Old Mill Farm in Cartersville, Ga.

   We will not see the likes of Horatio Luro again.

Luro with Northern Dancer before Blue Grass S.

Luro with Northern Dancer before the Blue
Grass Stakes

13 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Lammtarra's Arc

Sig.Luro would say....Monday-Saturday is for work, Sunday is for making love..lol.  No horse business for Sig.Luro on Sundays.

26 Apr 2013 5:00 PM
Jermon

Although overall Luro and Hartack had a good relationship, at times it got rocky. I recall an incident when Hartack, who was known as Peck's bad boy of racing, was dumb enough to go out and win a handicap race by ten lengths aboard a horse named Tudor Way. Luro was so incensed he wouldn't ride him for awhile.

26 Apr 2013 11:42 PM
Carlos Lopez

Thanks for this blog I like it a lot

27 Apr 2013 8:27 AM
The Doctor

A wonderful article about one of the most colorful and talented people in racing history. I had the privilege of watching Norther Dancer break his maiden on beautiful summer day at Fort Erie Race Track - August 1963.

27 Apr 2013 9:27 AM
Bret Stossel

I'm sorry the filly drowned but Luro's comment afterwards is one of the funniest things I've ever read!

27 Apr 2013 1:38 PM
Love 'em all

You've gotta love these characters!

Always a treat to read one of your stories, Mr. Campbell.  And, always enjoy reading about Princequillo!   Thanks for sharing.

Found:  www.bloodhorse.com/.../on-this-day  ... Feb. 24, 1964.  Mr. Luro must have been a natural ... at training horses.  

Thanks.

27 Apr 2013 3:09 PM
Cassandra.Says

Did you mention raconteur?

There are many versions of Luro's life, and especially around his association with Princequillo.

Princequillo was a displaced person from WWII, conceived in France and sent to the U.S. via Ireland. There he was sold by his breeders (or claimed from his breeders for $2,500) to owners who sent him to Luro, (or BY Luro on the new owners' behalf).

That Princequillo was developed into a great horse in Luro's hands is without dispute. Why quibble?

27 Apr 2013 4:46 PM
Love 'em all

Interesting material ....

cs.bloodhorse.com/.../princequillo.aspx

BTW, In honor of Storm Cat's recent passing, he and Horatio Luro shared the same b'day Feb. 27th .... as did Joe Hirsch, Mr. Luro's biographer.

And, don't forget tomorrow's equestrian show (Rolex) on NBC at 4:00PM.  

27 Apr 2013 6:44 PM
johnfulton

I was so fortunate to get my start on the track working for Horacio Luro. It was very important in learning the craft of training and also dealing with clients. He was the best that I have seen in my 43 years in this industry in both of those areas. One funny comment that relates to both Horacio and Frances. After I started training on my own I still stabled with him during the Hialeah meet to help out. I had a horse entered for Frances one day when Joe Hirsch stopped by the barn. Horacio and I were both standing there and Joe asked him why I was running the horse and not him. El Gran Señor answered, "well Joe it is like this. It is one thing when you run a horse for a woman and the horse runs bad. You call the woman, give the excuse and the conversation ends. If the woman is your wife, maybe the conversation never ends." What a great man!!!

28 Apr 2013 7:11 AM
Mary Zinke

Another entertaining story!

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29 Apr 2013 2:47 PM
dawsons

Best time I ever had at the races was with Frank Merrill Jr.He knew how to get a horse ready. At now 68, I can faintly see the role I had for 10 years as "turf accountant."in the 70's.

I like to play the Derby only when sloppy.

Back in the day--got pinched 3 times. No convictions, though!!!

05 May 2013 11:08 PM
Cassandra.Says

Hartack was known far and wide as "Wee Willie Hartack." Does this paint any pictures for you of things Hartack might have been irrascible about?

I cannot find a reference to this anywhere -- not the first time the press has buried a keen critique of the press -- but I count one of Hartack's outbursts among significant learning experiences of my life.

As I recall, Hartack said something like this: "I am a world-class athlete in one of the world's most dangerous sports. My name is Bill Hartack. If you can't show me the minimal respect of addressing me by my name, I have no time for you."

10 Jun 2013 3:24 AM
coneyislandracetrack

Met Cot Campbell at Birmingham Race Course in the 70s!

A great conversationalist & a real gentleman.

Think he had his first win at River Downs/Old Coney Island in Cincinnati!

10 Jun 2013 4:43 PM

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