The Bard of Racing Belongs in the Hall of Fame

by | 12.02.2013 | 11:44am
Heywood Hale 'Woodie' Broun

At the family Thanksgiving gathering last week, there were remembrances of a man our kids knew fondly as “Uncle Woodie.” And I was reminded, as I have every year he has been gone from that table, of the absence of Heywood Hale Broun on the Joe Hirsch Honor Roll at the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga.

Woodie and I were a CBS News team for many years, traveling to every nook and cranny of the “lower 48,” looking for the big stories and not-so-little ones. The backstretch of a racetrack was always fertile ground. Backsiders loved listening to his tales and, in turn, they gave us some great tales too.

Yes, HH Broun was more than a wordsmith with a twinkle in his voice on the CBS Sports Triple Crown telecasts – more than a racing essayist with a $2 ticket burning a hole in his pocket on CBS News broadcasts, including Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt – more than the precocious son of a famous columnist, who introduced the boy to racing by securing an account with the infamous bookmaker Frank Erickson –  more than the raconteur who was asked on many occasions to travel to Saratoga to help usher others into the very same Hall that has yet to honor him.

No, he was more than that, he was an everyman, the very spirit of racing who, in his own way, helped keep it alive during some rocky years with his merry mustache, his loud jackets and his suitcase full of words. One Atlanta newspaperman wrote this about him, “With Broun, the paddock is home to us, the horses warm flesh and blood that solicit our involvement.”

Racing, to him, was the sport of kings and queens, regal animals who, on an afternoon, would provide more entertainment than any Super Bowl or seven-game World Series. In a word, he thought racing had “elegance.”

Time magazine called him the “loveable professor.” Others dubbed him the “bard of racing.” The variety of Broun's everyman appeal is evident in the stories written about him by the columnists of his day:

Richard Goldstein in the NYTimes – “Mr. Broun looked at sports with a wry eye. commenting often on baseball, golf and horse racing. Writing in the New York Times in 1994, Mr. Broun said … ‘Race horses do not chafer over money, get into bar fights, or endorse horse blankets and aluminum shoes. They combine strength, grace, beauty and speed as perhaps no other link in the Darwinian chain can manage.'”

Jay Hovdey in the Daily Racing Form – “Broun … never used a nickel word when a chewy, multisyllabic one would do. … Here, for example, is how Broun set the stage after Secretariat added the Preakness to his 1973 Kentucky Derby. ‘There were times when he didn't seem so much on tiptoe as flying slightly above the earth, like one of those horses ancient Greek gods used to ride when in a hurry to get back to Olympus.'”

Stan Isaacs of Newsday and – “Broun was droll. Broun was a classicist. He loved racing most of all. He wrote, ‘Every odd closet in my head is bulging with racing lore and racing memories.' And he said,'Sport doesn't build character, it reveals it.' Beyond sport we could all heed his sly admonition that, ‘a hidden banana peel waits for everyone.'

“Woodie Broun cherished the citizen soldiers in racing's army – grooms, hot walkers, jockeys, agents, trainers, owners, turf writers – all were a part of his exalted fraternity.” Secretariat's owner Penny Chenery wrote that for Woodie's memorial service in 2002, “The greatest compliment Woodie ever paid to a horse lay in his wallet,” she wrote. “He carried a picture of Secretariat with him always. He never failed to bring it out, worn and creased with constant use, and show it to me each time we met to prove to me that he kept the faith.”

Broun holding a photo of Secretariat

Broun holding a photo of Secretariat

On the 20th anniversary of Secretariat's triumph he wrote this in the New York Times, “They're running another Belmont soon and as the ordinary horses strive for this crown. Some of us will see a white-bridled big red ghost with a little blue-and-white man on his back. When the real horses hit the turn, he will be half-way down the stretch and we will be glad, as we always are, to see him again.”

Time indeed is moving on. Woodie Broun has been gone more than a dozen years now. He died a few days before 9/11 left us with a vastly different world, one that a 19th century man might have trouble understanding. I have the Secretariat picture in my wallet and will gladly turn it over to the Hall of Fame when he's inducted. But it's not going to happen unless somebody with clout gets on the case.

“I never won any prizes,” he once said to me. “Fame is fleeting, but immortality is immortality. You take it the way you can get it.”

E.S. “Bud” Lamoreaux III is the former Executive Producer of CBS News Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt and a four-time Eclipse Award winner who was part of the network's coverage of Thoroughbred racing in the 1970s.

  • MAntonaides

    For those of you that never heard the words of Heywood Hale
    Broun, you’ve missed something very special.
    A master of his craft, articulate enough with his vocabulary to not only
    evoke passion to the everyday race fan, but the millions that would only tune
    in during the Triple Crown.

    My favorite quote of many was during the ESPN series, Sports
    Century for Secretariat. Golfer Jack
    Nicklaus was reminiscing about the 1973 Belmont Stakes which Big Red won by 31
    lengths. The video is available on
    youtube. Nicklaus started the dialogue:

    Nicklaus: You were at
    the Belmont …. You saw the race?

    Broun: Yes

    Nicklaus: I was all alone
    in my living room…. watching. As he came
    down the stretch, drawing away I applauded….

    And I cried.

    Broun: Don’t you see
    Jack? All of your life in your game you
    have been striving for perfection. A t
    the end of the Belmont, you saw it.

    In Mr. Broun’s world racing was elegant. His words made it unforgettable. Thank you.

    Michael Antoniades

    Racing Analyst – Balmoral Park

    • David

      I too vividly recall HHB’s recollections of that exchange. What has always stuck with me
      is only a select few are truly the best at what they do and can appreciate true greatness. Jack wasn’t particularly noted as a tremendous racing far but this wasn’t about horse racing as much as the best on the planet’s observations of another member of the club. If Big Red could have talked he surely would have expressed similar about the Golden Bear. And of Woody? He’s one the few who could sit back. enjoy it and report just how significant it was. Hall of fame for Woody? You bet your . . .

    • Marshall Cassidy

      Well put, Mr. Antoniades.

      Woodie’s linguistic talents were easily equaled by his gentle nature, and that combination is what I remember best. Bud’s friendly recollection above reads so true to the man; Lamoreaux and Broun strove to define the hidden humanity of horse racing, and I believe they did.

  • Sandra Warren

    It’s really inexplicable to me that the HOF has had only jockeys and trainers. Owners like Penny Chenery, the Whitneys, the Hancocks, and the Phipps’ should certainly be in the HOF, as well as sportswriters that affected the sport. It’s long past time to open up the categories.

  • Jay Stone

    The man was brilliant. He had a way with words that could make even small things seem important. His rhetoric took great achievements and made them monumental in his beautiful use of the English Language. There have been very few of his talent before him and since him. Whatever he spoke about whether it be sports, Literature,or national Affairs it just sounded better. He justly deserves a place in racing’s Hall of fame.

  • 4Bellwether666

    He should been there…Yesterday….

  • Don Reed

    “…a vastly different world, one that a 19th century man might have trouble understanding…”

    Unless HHB was born around 1880 (or earlier in the 19th Century), it appears that that should read, “20th Century” (1900-1999).

    • tom c

      as its said JUST DO IT growing up in saratoga

  • Lawrence Vaccarelli

    big red was the bug that bit me to send me on this endless crusade to discover another……and I remember Haywood Hale Broun on the CBS telecasts…damn …so long ago

  • slim

    He did a story on Forego and used the word “anthropomorphize”. Sent me scrambling for a dictionary. I have used that word numerous times since. Thanks HHB!

  • paul

    Vin Scully Jack Buck and Woodie Broun, all you had to do is listen and you were standing right next tot them… Every shadow, every smell of popcorn or cigar, everything came to life in their words. I remember Haywood sitting on a tack trunk at Hialeah Park watching a brother to King Emperor walk the shedrow after a workout, he was talking like the backstretch was a great poem and we were all lines in it.. you can see 10 generations of greatness in every drop of sweat, then he said you can smell 20 generations.

  • C. C. Curtis

    How is he not in the Hall of Fame? Geeze people, if we could get Paynter a Vox Populi, we can get “Woodie” in the Hall of Fame!

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