It should come as no surprise that some horse people maybe considered a bit crazy. I prefer to describe us as “unique individualists with a passion for the equines” but tomato, tomatoe.
There are however, some very special eccentric ladies of horse racing. One such colorful pioneer, Elizabeth Arden Graham (founder of Elizabeth Arden Cosmetics) won her first Derby in 1947 with Jet Pilot.
Renown for her ruthless business acumen, around the barn Graham was said to view her horses through rose-colored glasses. She considered her Thoroughbreds her children, calling them “her darlings.” She sent cases of her expensive beauty creams to the barn insisting trainers apply it to the horse’s legs each night. Her assertion being that the horses loved the smell of perfume.
Graham loved her horses but held no soft spot for trainers. She hired and fired more than 60 over three decades, the longest lasted 2 years, the shortest 4 hours. Graham herself was no cup of tea. She called trainers day or night for updates on her “darlings.” Once she phoned in the middle of the night because she had a dream one of her fillies was up a tree outside the barn. Dutifully, the trainer went outside to check on the horse and the tree.
Jockeys faired no better. She fired a number of them for whipping her horses, and at least one for not urging his mount hard enough. Eddie Arcaro sounded off to one reporter after being taken off a horse because Graham had a dream that he had lost an upcoming race.
“She acted like a lunatic,” Arcaro said. “One of the lady’s problems was the fact that if she lost a race, she couldn’t understand that her horse was not good enough. Her horse, in her eyes, was always the best.”
“No filly should ever have a whip laid to her or hear a harsh word,” Graham told the Daily Racing Form in 1958. “They need constant love and the showing of it. Every time I hear a stable boy speak roughly to one of my fillies I want to pitchfork him.”
‘Lunatic’ or not, Graham had a savvy side to her. She was well respected in the business and racing worlds during an era when newspapers referred to women by their husbands’ names only. She found success by doing things her own way.