When he was still just a struggling songwriter, Berry Gordy wrote:
The best things in life are free,
But you can give 'em to the birds and bees,
Gimme money, that's what I want,
Gimme money. . . .
Over the last two decades, Gordy has acquired plenty of the commodity that he celebrated in the 1960 rock-and-roll hit, "Money." With it, he has gained a chance to make as dramatic a splash in the horse-racing business as he did in the music business. He could win Saturday's $250,000 Washington, D.C. International with the first racehorse he has ever owned. If his colt, Argument, is touched by Gordy's customary magic, he is a cinch.
In 1960, Gordy borrowed money to go into independent music production and start his own record label. Within a few years, Motown Records became the most profitable black music concern in the world. With groups like the Miracles, the Supremes, the Four Tops and the Temptations, Gordy's enterprise dominated American music. Even though Motown's heyday has passed, the label has the country's No. 1 record today, Diana Ross' "Upside Down."
Throughout this time, Gordy said, "I've always been interested in horse racing. I've never been a big bettor but I've gone to the track off and on for many years."
He mentioned his interest in the sport, and his desire to own a thoroughbred some day to a friend, Bruce McNall, and told him, "If you ever see something exciting, let me know." McNall had made plenty of money operating an art gallery on Beverly Hills' ultrafashionable Rodeo Drive and had plunged into the horse business on an international scale.
Last month, McNall went to Paris to see the world's most prestigious race, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. A horse named Detroit won it but, McNall said, "I watched the reruns about eight times and I thought that Argument (the second-place finisher) was about four lengths the best. He was in and out of every possible pocket. I mentioned the horse to my trainer, Maurice Zilber. Two or three weeks later, he told me that he had checked into the horse. The owner was running for political office, needed money and the horse would be for sale."
The price tag was more than $1 million.McNall thought this might be the "something exciting" that Gordy was looking for. "I knew Berry wasn't the kind of guy who'd get much kick out of a claiming horse," McNall said, "but I thought this would give him a little action."
As soon as he became a half-owner of Argument, Gordy was enthralled. "I like being associated with champions," he said. "There are certain ingredients you look for when you're looking for talent. At Motown, we look for the special qualities, the heart that helps make susperstars. Maybe there are some parallels with the horse business. There are a lot of things about the game I don't know, but the way Argument finished so strong was important to me. He showed tremendous heart and strength. That seemed like a very good sign to me. I look forward to him winning the International."
Cold logic suggests that Argument has an excellent chance to do just that. The colt's performance in the Arc stamped him as one of the best horses in Europe, and the American horses he will be facing at Laurel Saturday are a rather undistinguished group. Argument should be no worse than second choice in the wagering behind the French filly Anifa.
If Argument does win the International, Gordy might well be stimulated to plunge more deeply into racing. He might one day become the sport's first major black owner.
"My feeling is that he may get very serious about the business," McNall said. "Certainly he has the wherewithal. And if he wins on Saturday, I don't know if I'll be able to hold him down."