Recently as I re-read some of the late humorist Frank Sullivan’s pieces, I thought what a shame it was that this gifted writer never turned his sights on horse racing, a sport he loved.
During his 40-year newspaper and New Yorker magazine career, Sullivan was widely read as he poked gentle fun at a variety of subjects in politics, sports, and life in general. He was best known for creating Mr. Arbuthnot, the so-called Cliché Expert. For example, Mr. Arbuthnot was asked what he did for exercise. He replied, “I keep the wolf from the door, let the cat out of the bag, take the bull by the horns, count my chickens before they are hatched, and see that the horse isn’t put behind the cart or stolen before I lock the barn door.”
Sullivan died in 1976, so Mr. Arbuthnot’s expertise could not be applied to contemporary American Thoroughbred racing. Following is an example of what he might have produced while interviewing a trainer today.
Q. How easily would you say your horse won?
A. Like a thief in the night. All by himself. Ears pricked. Fooling around. Trying to pull himself up.
Were you confident going into the race?
Wouldn’t have traded places with anybody. I had him trained to the minute. He was tighter than a drum, sharper than jailhouse coffee. I don’t lead ’em over there unless they’re sitting on top of a win, unless they’ve been working bullets as easy as breaking sticks, unless their ankles are ice cold even after nearly kicking their stalls down.
How did he come out of the race?
Galloped out strong. They wouldn’t have beat him if they went around again. He came back bucking and playing, kicking and squealing. Just attacked his feed tub.
Anything he wouldn’t blow out?
The proverbial match.
Going into the race, was the off-track a concern?
No way, Jose. He can win over any kind of going, running through a plowed field, over broken glass, hot coals. And if you ask me how far he’s bred to go, I’d say all day.
Were you worried about his main rival?
Not for a New York minute. That horse couldn’t go a mile and a quarter in a box car. We had him over a barrel from when the bell rang.
How did you feel about drawing the outside post position?
I wouldn’t have picked it.
You’ve praised your jockey’s sense of pace. Is there something in his head that’s useful?
A clock. They say time’s only important if you’re in jail, but not with this little race rider.
I understand he’s got something useful in his veins.
You bet—he’s got ice water.
Did your jockey say anything about the way your horse went to the lead?
Said he just exploded at the top of the lane, that he’s push-button, like driving a Mercedes.
When the foul claim was dismissed against your stakes star Saturday, where did you direct your thanks?
First and foremost to the Man Upstairs, then to my lucky stars.
Did the trainer of the runner-up tip anything to you after the race?
His hat. He was gracious in defeat, a hard-working horseman who has been flying under the radar for years, kept there by critics who are beneath contempt.
When this colt goes to stud, how do you think he’ll be?
Extremely popular. Well-priced. Probably pre-potent and a major influence on the breed, since he’s beautifully balanced, has a classic head, a great mind, wonderful temperament, and he’s been sound as a dollar. Never had a pimple on him.
Is there something that as a stallion you think he’ll do to his get?
Your major owner says his stable under your care has lost money for every one of the last 22 years. How has he been about that as far as you’re concerned?
A genuine sportsman. Great for the game. Member of a dying breed. One of his well-bred fillies finally finished in the money last week, and he was over the moon and on top of the world.
John McEvoy’s third horse racing mystery novel, Close Call, was published in March.