One of the few advantages of getting long in the tooth is that because I have led a marvelous, adventurous life, I have seen some wonderful things and have a storehouse of delicious memories, which, admittedly, I enjoy visiting.
As a sportswriter on some undistinguished newspapers, I had occasion to have dinner with Jack Dempsey, cover the fights of the superb Sugar Ray Robinson, watch Whitey Ford pitch his first major league game, and see the great Joe DiMaggio play his last one (I can see him now gliding out to deep center field to take one off the wall!). Oddly enough, I even went to a football game with Ty Cobb.
This brings me to the intriguing question of who would be the greatest human participant in our sport of horse racing. It follows that it would be a jockey, of course.
There have been three stupendous riders, whose skill, charisma and panache have put them in a class by themselves, in my opinion. They are England's Lester Piggott, for 40 years one of the greatest on this planet; Angel Cordero, who ruled the sport in this country in the Seventies and Eighties; and, third, the man who was one of the most recognizable sports figures in America in the middle of the Twentieth Century. He was Eddie Arcaro, known inelegantly as "Banana Nose" for rather obvious reasons.
There have been riders that won more money, rode more stakes winners, ruled the standings at more race meetings. But nobody --but nobody!--rode more fearlessly, showed more finesse, and brought all his talents into sharp focus more devastatingly when the big money was on the line than did Eddie Arcaro. And what a personality! He had the soft, brown eyes of a choir boy, a smile that would melt your heart, but an iciness about him that -when precipitated--would chill your soul. Eddie possessed the unmistakable appeal that goes with bad boys. He could charm the birds out of the trees, whether chatting up an important owner in the paddock, golfing with a celebrity foursome, or reveling with other boulevardiers at the bar at Toots Shor's in Manhattan.
He had the roughest of beginnings, but was born to be a celebrity.
Eddie was associated strongly with the golden days of Calumet Farm, and their legendary Jones Boys. They were the brilliant team that tore up Churchill Downs and rewrote Kentucky Derby history. Eddie rode Citation, Whirlaway, Kelso, Native Dancer, Nashua, and Bold Ruler. You name a great horse from the late Thirties, Forties and Fifties, and Arcaro probably added his magic to their luster.
Our hometown of Aiken, and Eddie Arcaro, were known to each other, but I think not because Eddie sought the quiet, bucolic life.
It came about because of Eddie's run-in in 1942 with a fellow jockey named Vincent Nodarse. It seems that Vince encroached irritatingly on Eddie's "ground" in an important race, and robbed our boy of the victory. The next time the two rode against each other, Eddie had an opportunity to put Vincent over the rail. And did.
Now, old Eddie was a stormy son of a gun, and the stewards' patience had been worn thin by more than their share of Arcaro violations in those days. During the inquiry, they asked Arcaro if he intended to impede Nodarse. Eddie said, "Impede? Impede? I wanted to kill that son of a bitch."
Whereupon they handed down a suspension from racing for the rest of the jockey's life!
Thanks to the constant supplications of the influential Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, the stewards later softened the sentence to a year.
To keep fit, Arcaro spent that year in Aiken exercising Greentree horses and playing golf, far from the bright lights of Broadway.
Ah! Eddie Arcaro. Could there ever have been one greater?
This is Cot Campbell, and this is my view.