Posted in Music and horses

Bing Crosby look alike, A trotter born at Rosecroft 1970’s, a New Years Message

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 medals) -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 trotting mare that they bred to him, and she 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 when 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 at that time. 

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. 

We’ll take a cup of kindness dear, for Auld Lang Syne.”

Happy New Year.  

Posted in Harness Racing

Catching the Harness Racing Bug

It was winter in the late 70s. I found myself with two children, and needing a job. Arthur had given up his teaching studio and had begun to work for Van McCoy, doing arranging and lead sheets and delivering the music to New York City. Van liked Arthur’s work and was starting to use him more, but it was not enough just yet to pay the bills. Living in Alexandria Va, Rosecroft Raceway was nearly within sight across the river, accessible by the Woodrow Wilson bridge. Having developed racehorse caretaking skills from working for Mr Sims on Beulah Road, then for Raymond B Archer Jr at Laurel Race Course, I went to Rosecroft in the dead of winter.

There was no racing there during that time of year. (everyone raced at Harrington)  it was gray, bitter cold, and the trees were bare, but somehow it was attractive, going down to an oasis of hillsides which looked rather bucolic, bordered by the Miller Farm  on one side and Henson Creek Park on the other. It is still configured that way to this day.

I saw my first Standardbred at that point at Pete Warthen’s barn. He was standing out  in the cold breeze on cross ties with hair hanging from his belly and a long beard…I was faintly shocked, I was unused to seeing any racehorses tied in such a manner after working with Thorougbreds. “That must be a pony” I thought to myself,  referring to the lead ponies used at running horse tracks. Nope, it was Skip B, one of Pete’s better pacers.  One came off the track, and I immediately began to wash it and scrape it off,… They saw that I knew what I was doing, and I was given a job.

That very first day, to Bonnie Haines consternation… I was allowed to jog a horse. The horse was a raw boned tall black mare name Mandy Crain.  They told me I could go anywhere I wanted with her, so I took her the long way and ended up on the main track. I was the only one there. I looked over at the empty grandstand,  The gray clouds were reflected in the glass windows on the top floor … To my right was the infield,  with brown grass.  Mandy’s hips were swaying to and fro, lazily,. first one hip bumping up, then the other, the lines leading back  from her mouth to me… I swung her around the half mile track one time and looked at that grandstand. I pictured the stands full, and people cheering as I went into the winners circle, clapping for my horse, clapping for me. “Yeah… This is me”

Little did I know  what I was in for,… But that is another story for another day. My point is that racing horses is part of the entertainment business. As Horsemen we would tend to get so wrapped up in the daily chores, the care, the rubbing, catching stall after stall, now miles on the road, that  we would forget, that we are putting on a show. It is a show for the public that they will judge and they will either come and enjoy, or reject.

But that too is for another day.  A lot has happened since I jogged that first horse.  

I hope you enjoy my blog, and journey with me through our travels with horses and music. Cheers, Nancy