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It’s Love, Sweet Love for His Horse World

Men try to leave their mark on the world in a variety of ways. It used to be in this country that the amassing of money was achievement enough. But that got tiresome for some.

So, men bought Rembrandts, others one-of-a-kind gems, first editions, Shakespeare folios, rare coins, Lincoln’s letters, Napoleon’s hat, stamp collections.

The late Henry Huntington used to say the ownership of a fine library was the best and surest way to immortality, but other men later found another more immediate path--the ownership of a fine sports organization.

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It’s hard to say when sports ownership came into the culture. Jacob Ruppert bought a baseball team, the Yankees, to promote his beer. So did Gussie Busch. Then men started to buy teams to promote their egos, not their products.

Rich men tried to manage fighters. Some were content to supply their alma maters with football players but that was a somewhat anonymous role.

Probably the original sport owners were those who raced horses and they did it largely for the sporting aspects, not the publicity. It wasn’t called “the sport of kings” for nothing.

In this country, we didn’t have kings. But we had the next-best thing. Pierre Lorillard made his money out of cigarette smokers, the Whitneys out of subways and New York transits. The Wideners were so rich one of them went down with the Titanic. The Phippses owned land from New York to Florida and west to Colorado and played sandlot polo as children. The Vanderbilts’ seed money was made out of New York Harbor ferryboats and Hudson river steamers so that their progenitor was known derisively as “Commodore.” They all raced horses and formed stables.

Naturally, when these money-swollen personalities formed into a body to regulate horse racing, they called themselves the “Jockey Club.”

This fascination with the sport spilled over into show business about the time racetracks began opening near the sound stages of Hollywood. Louis B. Mayer and the Warner Bros. were the first studio heads to buy and race horses, but it wasn’t long before the talent bought into the deal, too.

Bing Crosby not only bought horses, he bought a track. Pretty soon you had a parade of entertainment characters, disc jockeys, agents, bandleaders and TV actors like Jack Klugman and Telly Savalas.

Burt Bacharach didn’t need horse racing, either. Bert was one of those American bards who, as the song has it “writes the songs that make the whole world sing and the young girls cry.”

If you’ve ever hummed, “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” you know Burt Bacharach. “What the World Needs Now Is Love” is as big a standard as anything Irving Berlin ever wrote. “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” made the young girls cry. So did “Close to You,” “Walk on By.”

Burt won three Academy Awards. He accompanied and conducted for Marlene Dietrich, across the world.

“We went to Russia, Israel, the Middle East,” he remembers. “Going with Marlene was like going in with a conquering Army.”

He’s been married to some of the super beauties of the Hollywood scene, Angie Dickinson, Carole Bayer Sager. Dad was a nationally syndicated columnist for Hearst. Mother was an artist.

Burt went to UCLA for a year. But he majored in Hollywood Park. And the beach. When he began his show biz career, playing piano for the Ames brothers and Dionne Warwick, he thought songwriting was “so startlingly simple, I thought I could write five or six a day.”

A year later and “about a thousand” rejections down, he recalls thinking, “It’s hard to be simple.”

His first published song, “Warm and Tender,” made the flip side of a Johnny Mathis record. But his absorption with racing began long before that. It began with childhood on Long Island when he made “mind bets” on the day’s card.

“I was hooked,” he says, laughing. “But I was ignorant. When I saw 114 under the jockey’s name, I thought that was the horse’s weight.”

He began buying horses and turning them over to Charlie Whittingham to train. He won almost immediately, but his first horse, a plater named Battle Royal, got claimed. Burt, crushed, recalls he “almost cried.” He made Charlie buy him back.

The Academy Award for a horse owner is the Kentucky Derby. No show biz owner has ever won it, although plenty have tried. Bacharach came closer than most last year when his Soul Of The Matter finished fourth. Burt might have been the only owner in history who flew down to the race after a night of directing the Ft. Wayne Symphony and flying back directly after the race.

He may have to be on hand earlier next year. He has a 2-year-old running at Hollywood Park--he runs in the Hollywood Futurity today--who has been breaking clocks all over the homestretch and who won his last race so decisively that the jockey he went by in the stretch, Chris McCarron told the press, “They better check that horse’s lip tattoo. He accelerated like a 4-year-old.”

Afternoon Deelites has the whole backstretch buzzing. Grooms, exercise boys, owners and trainers come to the rail in the morning when he works. For Bacharach, it’s like going places with Marlene Dietrich.

“It’s like when my songs hit the charts,” he says.

“Why do I race?” he ponders. “I think it’s because most of us are in a world we have control over. We control what’s going on, whether it’s a concert, a TV series, a movie to score or a tune to be written.

“Then, we have something we love but can’t control. You can’t make a horse run faster than he wants to. That’s the pain of it. But it’s exhilarating for people who otherwise control their lives.

“Besides, the race crowd is different. More understated, more calm, more comfortable to be with.

“We’re like the $2 bettor. We deal with the disappointments, shrug off the defeats, go back to the drawing board, the Form. You know how we are. There’s always tomorrow.”

Sounds like a song title to me.


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