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Sunday 1 March 2015

It's Far From Over

If memory serves me right - and on the subject of the Sport of Kings, it's some furlongs from being infallible - it was Richard Polt who first pointed out there is a champion racehorse in Jamaica called Typewriter. (In the mid-1970s there was also an American thoroughbred called Typewriter, by Donut King out of Via Bendita.)
Indeed, just last week Typewriter was unanimously voted Jamaica's 2014 Horse of the Year, beating off Potcheen (which takes its name from smokin' Irish moonshine, Poitín) and Perfect Neighbour. Not sure how Typewriter got its name, but it's by Western Classic out of Doc's Paladin, and is part-owned by a lady called Valentine. Typewriter was also voted champion stayer.
Mention of staying brings me to footage of a horse race at the New York Racing Association's Aqueduct Racetrack in Queen's, NYC, which I stumbled across on the Irish Press Facebook page yesterday. I'm no expert of racing, but this performance SO put me in mind of typewriters ...

I think the evidence suggests the run of typewriters is Far From Over! Typewriters have hung in there, while overtaken by electrics and wedges and word processors and whatever, but they might still finish up in front.
W.C.Heinz with his Remington portable typewriter
On the subject of horse racing in Jamaica, I am reminded of the wonderful tribute paid to the great New York sportswriter W.C.Heinz by ESPN's Gare Joyce when Heinz died, aged 93, in a Bennington, Vermont, nursing home, almost exactly seven years ago.
Joyce pointed out that Heinz was covering a race meeting in Jamaica in July 1949 when he wrote for the New York Sun one of the all-time classic pieces of sports journalism, Death of a Racehorse. Of course, this was not Jamaica in the West Indies, where Typewriter runs, but another Queen's, NYC, racetrack. Ten years after Heinz wrote his famous piece, this Jamaica racetrack was redeveloped as a housing project. Rochdale Village now stands there.
Joyce said, "The impact on sportswriting of W.C. Heinz cannot be overestimated." His 1949 story about a horse called Air Lift "would have left only a hoofprint on the heart of his owner when he broke down if W.C. Heinz had not witnessed it from a seat behind a typewriter on press row at a racetrack in Jamaica." Joyce described the story as "a classic piece of literature. Not sports literature, mind you. No, a short story that would stand up with those knocked out by the acknowledged American master of the form, Ernest Hemingway."
"Death of a Racehorse is not even a 1000 words long, but any abridged version insults it. Heinz kept it short, what turned out to be a favor to a couple of generations of sportswriters who tried to memorize it over the years. And in keeping it short, Heinz probably made it easier for a couple of his other longer stories to appear alongside it in the Best American Sports Writing of the Century, a collection edited by David Halberstam. Heinz was the only writer that Halberstam rated as deserving three entries in the anthology."
Joyce said Heinz's story, written in less than an hour, "one draft, on a manual typewriter, in the rain" was "as close to perfection as sportswriting could be".
Joyce made a forceful argument for a posthumous Red Smith Award for Heinz. I must confess my own first sports writing award, in 1979, was for a story about horse racing, although in my case it was harness racing and, happily, a horse didn't die. But I like to think it was written, if unconsciously, in the style of Heinz, and with an awareness of what the horse goes through, perhaps unwittingly, for the sake of the unfeeling punter. My story was about a match race between Pure Steel and Satinover, and it's timely for me to recall it, on the eve of the Interdominion in Sydney, a once great sporting event to which few in Australia now pay much attention, such are the vagaries of the sporting and punting public.
Red Smith covering the Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson world heavyweight title fight on an Olivetti Lettera 22 in Miami in March 1961.
Finally, mention of Red Smith brings me to this lovely "Mulligan's Stew" column, headed Typewriter Thoroughbred: Best of Breed and written by the Associated Press's Hugh Mulligan in February 1982:

Thirty odd years on, try finding a sports columnist who can write like that today. Or even a match in writing about sports writing.
Red Smith switches to an Olympia SF to cover the Muhammad Ali-Sonny Liston fight beside Jimmy Breslin on a Royal in Maine in May 1965 

*Robert Messenger will present "Fans With Typewriters: A History of Sports Writing" at the University of the Third Age in Hughes, Canberra, on March 11.


Bill M said...

The best is at the end. Robert Messenger will present... I'm sure it will be one very interesting presentation. I wish I could be there.

Anonymous said...

Breslin looks so cool!

Richard P said...

Far From Over!! What a race!

According to my research, Red Smith is also the originator of the saying about writing, "You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed" -- so often misattributed to Hemingway, who actually liked to STAND at the typewriter.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for pointing that out! I will have to change the sub line on my blog header.

That 1961 picture of red Smith is a great way to show people that every body, even back then, used two sheets of paper when working on their machines.