Thoughts of the upcoming Breeders’ Cup races caused me to reminisce about past failed attempts at winning championship races, and the people behind the stories.
One of my favorites was Jack Price, breeder, owner and trainer of Carry Back, who won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness back in 1961.
Jack passed on back in 1995 after years in the thoroughbred sport but I guarantee that anyone looking back on Price’s career could not come up with the name of any other horse he trained.
Jack and Carry Back were Mike-n-Ike. They both came out of nothing from the other side of the railroad tracks. Jack grew up around Cleveland and boarded horses. Carry Back came out of a non-winning mare named Joppy. Both were very likable. Neither figured to hit it big. Both did. They became millionaires. And, although Carry Back’s successful career only spanned a few years, Jack went the distance.
A tiny man with a giant smile and friendly to everyone who came within a length of him, Jack loved newspapermen. He constantly visited press boxes in New Jersey, Florida and New York where he regularly campaigned. He attended all the parties. Often ”” nearly always ”” he was the last to leave. Those leaving with him were full of good cheer.
There was a big gathering for the late Gene Mori, owner of Garden State Park, held each year on the eve of the Garden State Stakes, then the world’s richest race. It was for 2-year-olds. The night before Carry Back won the Garden State in 1960, Jack was at a front row table when a professor from the University of Pennsylvania, who mastered in mass hypnosis, was on stage desperately trying to put two groups of 10 people under his spell. Each time he had them nearly under, an over zealous partygoer (perhaps purposely) knocked over trays of dirty dishes waiting to be returned to the kitchen.
Almost everyone in attendance, especially Jack, felt badly for the professor. The hypnotist, overwhelmed with embarrassment, begged for one person ”” just one ”” to step forward so he could earn his night’s pay. The late, great announcer Morris Tobe was in the audience. And, without warning, Tobe volunteered a newspaperman seated at his table. After much coaxing, the scribe finally gave in. He went front and center, sat in a chair, and within minutes was completely in a trance.
What a show! For the next 30 minutes, the hypnotist hit home runs with the sports writer at his mercy. Jack Price was astounded. He puffed for all he was worth on a big cigar and applauded loudly as the newspaperman carried out the professor’s commands. Even the placid Gene Mori, who stood a little over five feet tall, was so enthused that he got up on his chair to get a better view of what was going on.
When the show was over, everyone gave the professor and the scribe a standing ovation. And, when the newspaperman returned to his table, Jack Price rushed over. Without warning, he began slapping both cheeks of the writer. He told him to relax.
"Relax, son. I’m going to put you under again!"
Jack failed. But, Carry Back made up for him the next afternoon by winning the Garden State.
Jack’s gone. Mori’s gone. Tobe’s gone. Carry Back is gone, But, not the memories. They live on!