When Berry Gordy walked into the barn at Laruel Race Course at 6:30 yesterday morning, he got his first look at his $1 million investment, the French horse Argument, who raced in the Washington, D.C. International later in the afternoon.
Later, Gordy, one of 200 guests ensconced in a plush, private dining room at a luncheon given by John D. Schapiro, Laurel chairman of the board, in honor of the 29th running of the race, talked about the moment.
"It was a very emotional event," said Gordy, chairman of Motown Industries. "I just stood there and watched the horse in the stall. It was very interesting just to look and watch."
Gordy was dressed in a green velvet jacket and had an untouched plate of crab cakes in front of him. "I figure win or lose I'm way ahead of the game. cI was here and my horse was favored." Gordy added that he only planned to bet "about $10."
helen Polinger, owner of the filly The Very One, didn't plan to bet a penny. "I feel I have enough of an investment in the horse," she said. "I have enough excitment just watching the horse. I would rather invest the money I bet in another horse."
She also was facing a full plate of crab cakes, also untouched. "They look delicious," Polinger said, "but I'm too nervous to eat." She was also up at dawn (after staying out till 2 in the morning at a prerace party) to watch a horse work out at her 200-acre farm in Olney.
True Davis, former ambassador to Switzerland and a familiar figure at international equestrian events, was planning a small wager on behalf of Polinger. "I normally don't bet at the race," said Davis. "There isn't much of a way to compare all the hourses that come from all over. But perhaps its sentimental but The Very One is a very rugged little filly."
The Very One finished second to Argument a couple hours later.
Ginny Binger, owner of Great Neck, was perhaps the calmest of all the owners. "Of all the sports I've ever been involved in this is the easiest. I used to watch my son play hockey and I was a wreck," said Binger, who flew in from St. Paul, Minn., just in time for lunch, which did not go outouched. "I can take it or leave it," she said. "It doesn't matter. Either you win or your lose."
clarence Coleman, table captain for Harry M. Stevens, the caterer serving the carb cakes in the Turf Club, located a level below Schapiro's party both in terms in geography and stature, was enjoying the day and also planning a small wager on the Polinger entry. "I love to see all my old friends," said Coleman, who has worked for Stevens at the last six Triple Crown races. "The people tip big today, too."
Jimmy Jones, former trainer for Calumet Farm who conditioned such horses as Citation and Tim Tam, came from Kansas City for the race. "I like to see all the horses from overseas," said Jones, who is still in the horse business as a consultant. "I don't care about betting, I just love it."
Jones' lifelong friend, Phil Baker, who managed the Atlantic City race track for 23 years, traveled from Linwood, N.J. for the $250,000 race. "Nothing to it," said Baker."The French horse, Argument, all the way."
Another person in yesterday's crowd of 21,057 not making a bet was Schapiro. "I like to assume a role of impartiality," he said, adding that reports that this might be the last year for the race were premature. "Maybe the Maryland legislature will make it possible for a more open structure of the race."
For those not in the Turf Club, a hot dog and a $2 win ticket on just about anything were just fine.