11/29/2012 1:20PM

Top 10 most eclectic silks in racing history


Bill Christine's top 10 most eclectic silks

1. Arnold Heft

The National Basketball Association, Heft said, promised to retire his No. 4 referee’s jersey when he put down his whistle, but several years later a new league administration was unaware of the promise and issued the number. So Heft, who has a racing stable in Maryland with his wife, Sylvia, put No. 4 on the back of his silks, which already looked like a black-and-white-striped referee’s shirt. In New York, Heft is not allowed to use the number on the back. The Jockey Club theorized that a number for the silks and a number for the horse could confuse bettors.


2. Bernie Schiappa

Growing up in New Jersey, Schiappa followed the New York Knicks. He dabbled in harness horses then, with the great driver Herve Filion. In the 1990s, Schiappa sold Mercedes-Benzes in Las Vegas, where he joined a racing partnership that included the late Terry Lanni, the casino executive. Schiappa and Lanni, after claiming Ladies Din for $32,000 as a 2-year-old, saw him go on to earnings of almost $2 million.

When the horses run in Schiappa’s colors, his jockeys wear a shirt that includes the Knicks’ blue-and-orange colors, with a basketball on the back. The perfect matchup would be Game On Dude, running in Schiappa’s silks, and one of Arnold Heft’s horses.


3. Suarez Racing

When Pablo Suarez launched his racing stable in 2001, his oldest son, Justin, was 3. He wanted a lasting stable logo that an older Justin could identify with, and what better choice than the Superman “S-shield”? The Superman rights owners approved as long as he didn’t sell the emblem for profit. The silks have been seen in Dubai, Japan, and at Monmouth Park, where Thor’s Echo gave Suarez a win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2006.

The red cap is part of the riding outfit by accident. Suarez thinks it was Pat Valenzuela. Early on, he came to the paddock with the new silks and a red cap instead of blue. Suarez never changed it back.


4. Ron Anson

Adrian “Cap” Anson was a 19th century star first baseman for the Chicago franchise that became the Cubs. A hundred years later, Ron Anson (no known relation) campaigned a California racing stable noted for silks patterned after a Cubs’ uniform. Anson comes from Chicago’s South Side, which by rights should have made him a White Sox fan. He campaigned mostly claimers, but took shots with horses in Japan and won the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita with the you-have-to-explain-the-name-of-this-horse Tali’sluckybusride − something to do with Ron’s wife, Susie, who befriended a puppy thrown off a bus and named her Tali (“lucky” in Chinese).

The Ansons once won the same race twice on the same day, when their entrymates, Gomezmerize and Onepowerful Bullet, finished in a dead heat at Hollywood Park on Nov. 18, 2000, Ron Anson’s 58th birthday.


5. Burt Bacharach

You haven’t lived until you’ve stood in the paddock at Belmont Park and heard Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager, and Neil Diamond serenade Bacharach’s Heartlight No. One as she circled the walking ring before a big race (there was no cover charge). The three of them wrote the song “Heartlight,” and Diamond recorded it. Years later, thinking the statute of limitations was on his side, Bacharach confessed the champion filly was a West Virginia-bred, not a Maryland-bred. From a man who wrote “Our Little Secret” for a Broadway show, you would have expected nothing less. The Bacharach silks are as smooth as one of his songs.


6. The Queen

Which queen, you say? Well, Queen Elizabeth II of England. Her purple-and-scarlet jacket and black velvet cap date back to King George IV (1820s). They make John Morris' racing garb look like Johnny-come-latelies. The Queen's silks aren't on file at The Jockey Club in New York, but I have a hunch she would never be turned away at the door. She and her mother are as well-known for a race they didn't win as for all their victories. In the 1956 Grand National, their Devon Loch had a clear lead 40 yards from the finish when he collapsed. "What on earth happened?" the Queen Mother asked. The jockey, bypassing the question to make sure he addressed her properly, replied, "Thank you, mum." Devon Loch was ridden by Dick Francis. Wonder whatever happened to him?


7. George Schmitt

I believe I first saw Schmitt’s multi-colored, parrot-with-a-whip silks at the Ferndale Fair in California. But of course you see a lot of things at Ferndale. Long before Schmitt got into racing full-bore, he and his wife, Clare, were box-seat holders at the county fair in Pleasanton, Calif., where Clare was known as one of the best handicappers on the grounds. The parrot is a hangover from Schmitt’s days as president of Omnipoint, an early player in the wireless phone business. Omnipoint used a suave parrot called “Fred” in its commercials. In one, Fred calls “Susan” for a date. She accepts and says, “Do you look as good as you sound?” The parrot just chuckles.


8. Parting Glass Racing

Pebbles drank Guinness. So did Fourstardave. And Zenyatta. So it makes sense that horses who race for the Parting Glass outfit would also get their pint of stout, since there is a likeness of a glass of the Irish brew on the back of the stable’s silks. There are a lot of things on the back of their silks − a dart board, a violin. Things that can be found in the Parting Glass, the Irish pub and official gathering place for the stable’s many partners in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Antoinette Brocklebank, who makes silks, shuddered when she saw a rough draft of Parting Glass’s colors. She said it took her 2 1/2 days to complete the first set, and she had to charge them $300. Tom Gallo of Parting Glass does a fairly good imitation of Brocklebank complaining about the task at hand. “But I love her,” Gallo said.


9. Tim Conway

“No Passing” on the back of Conway’s racing silks has the ring of one of the lines he might have used during his long, Emmy Award-winning run with “The Carol Burnett Show.” Conway, growing up in suburban Cleveland, was a 95-pounder who thought he was the right size to become a jockey. “I had two problems,” he said. “When they put me on a horse, I kept falling off, and I had a deadly fear of horses.”

Lately, Conway’s track activities are limited to a day of handicapping. “But my wife is understanding,” he said. “When I come home and say that I ate a $380 hotdog, she knows exactly what I mean.” Conway and Chris and Judy McCarron started the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund, which in its 25 years raised funds that helped an estimated 2,000 riders.


10. Avram Freedberg

Freedberg’s official stable name is Everything’s Cricket Racing, in honor of the family spaniel, who was 15 when she died in 2007, just a few days after one of her master’s horses won a race at Saratoga. Freedberg would take Cricket to the barn and introduce her to the horses. The Freedberg yellow-and-black silks have a likeness of Cricket, front and back, and Freedberg sometimes appears at the track wearing an oversized shirt that is a replica of the silks.

Freedberg, who also races Standardbreds, has won at least one race in each of the last six seasons at Saratoga, and this year his 6-year-old gelding Jess Not Jesse won a pair at the Spa.


[TOP 10 LIST: Bill Christine's most iconic silks]

Illustrations by Chris Donofry