No, Bing wasn’t at Rosecroft that I’m aware of,,although I know Carol Channing was. As part of a 1960-ish promo, she had dinner with George Warthen, (not understanding Hollywood types, he said she about “talked me to death”)I also know that Bing Crosby did love the track on the Thoroughbred side, you can read more about that here
This is about Calvin Gitcomb.
In my previous blog I wrote about the barn where I landed in the mid 70’s. Pete Wathen put me to work rubbing Basil Hough’s horses, at $60 a week. Now Mr. Hough was tight. (Wayne Smullin “do I hear something squeak? Why it’s Mister Hough!” Mr. Hough – “Wayne Smullin!!” ..respect) For a guy approaching his 90’s, he was a sharp, hard working and capable horse trainer. His flame red chestnut JC’s Helen was a top flight local mare, and he had a number of other luminaries in his barn. He’d throw me up on Helen’s back and send me to Henson Creek to soak her for an hour in the cold water up past her knees and hocks. Mr. Hough trail rode JCs Helen himself in the off season.
To continue, here comes Calvin in the barn on a gray winter day. Dead ringer for Crosby, down to the tipped Fedora hat. ..Except not..
He was full of double entendres, dirty remarks and “wink wink”… then a big laugh….I despised him immediately. I avoided him and kept working every day. Everyone else really seemed to like him.
One night all that changed. Mr Hough decided he wanted 6 coats of Neatsfoot on all the equipment. So after dinner I came back to the tiny heated tack room to do it. It was a long job, the harness was getting pretty funky as the winter wore on.
In comes Calvin. “Mind if I sit awhile?” Didn’t wait for my answer. He begins talking, talking about what it was like to land in Normandy on D-Day, how scared they were, how he had to save his “boys” that got in trouble, (yes, he had a medal) his adventures in Germany after the war was over. Talking about how he got his Honor Rodney trotting stallion, Drexel Steve, a stunning 17-2hand liver chestnut, with four white stockings past his knees and hocks, a big flashy blaze, plus flaxen mane and tail. He was an imposing and proud animal. The story Calvin told me was that he went up to a private room at Roosevelt Raceway to pay the owners to purchase him, and when he walked in there was a long table, the doors closed and there appeared two armed guards.. he paid them and left with Drexel Steve, no negotiating.. Calvin kept him for breeding, and really more as a pet, up on the Miller Farm overlooking the track. Bonnie and Sherwood had a good mare that they bred to him, and had two tall colts, Stevie Two and Captain Rock, the latter being Drexel Steve’s youthful mirror image, at this point a two year old.
In any case, Calvin sat there and talked until I was done. It was nearly 10pm. He got up and stretched and says “well I got to go see the Red Headed Widder, she’ll be wondering where I am” -Calvin often spoke of her.
The next day Mr. Hough told me that Calvin had fed the barn, and saw I was working late and thought he’d better “keep an eye on me” – back in those days there was no guard for the backstretch during the off season.
After that Calvin was alright in my book- I often went with him up the hill to help with “big Steve” .. sometimes you can’t judge a person on first acquaintance. He always had a wink, a smile and a great open laugh.
We used to watch Sherwood train those two trotting brothers. I used to help Bonnie get him ready, he was a good feeler and it was challenging to handle him. Calvin said “I like Captain Rock much better, he’s got fast legs!” ..And so he was right, Stevie Two became just an ordinary Racehorse, while Bonnie was able to sell Captain Rock for $33,000, which was an astounding price for a local Maryland harness racehorse.
They are gone now, some tragically, some naturally. Rest In Peace Bonnie and Sherwood Haines, Basil Hough, Wayne Smullin. Pete Wathen and Darlene Heber.
For my friend Calvin, I leave you with a video of a horse, a tall beautiful liver chestnut with big white socks and blaze. Every Christmas for years this commercial was played on TV, it is, according to a few, Captain Rock, born at Rosecroft. I was told that after he was sold, he spent some time in New England before he was exported to Italy. In New England is where this commercial was filmed for the Miller Beer company.
I get tears in my eyes when I see this video, I hope they never take it off of YouTube.
Miller Beer Commercial “Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days of auld lang syne?
And days of auld lang syne, my dear, And days of auld lang syne. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, And days of auld lang syne?”
Happy New Year.