Feb. 15, 1938: Stagehand noses out Can’t Wait.
Note: This is an encore post from 2012.
Horse racing has always been considered the sport of kings, because it requires so much money for housing, training, feeding, and transporting horses. In the United States, old money on the East Coast dominated the racing scene, including the Triple Crown races of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont. The sport mushroomed in California after the state passed Proposition 5 in 1932, legalizing it. By 1935, Hollywood jumped in on the craze, buying horses and helping build Santa Anita racetrack.
Hollywood has always been a competitive town, and once some major players jumped in, others followed suit, out to beat their rivals. Others joined the craze as it became a popular hobby. Gambling was a major part of the film industry, as it was a crap shoot which stars would become popular and which movies would earn big box office bucks. Why not join a field where luck often beat out talent, just as in the film industry?
Major industryites such as Louis B. Mayer, Jack Warner, Mervyn LeRoy, Raoul Walsh, Bing Crosby, Barbara Stanwyck, Chico Marx, Joe E. Brown, Harry Warner, Al Jolson, Spencer Tracy, Howard Hawks, Harry Cohn, and Walter Connolly established stables and entered the racing field. Some had huge stables, some owned only a few horses. One of those with few but select horses was talent agent Myron Selznick. Older brother to producer David O. Selznick, Myron reigned as Hollywood’s top agent to people such as William Powell, Fred Astaire, Carole Lombard, and Myrna Loy. Selznick shrewdly knew how to pick equine as well as human talent.
Selznick entered the field when one of his agents and former jockey Nat Deverich suggested he buy a 2-year-old colt for $1,050. As he told reporters for the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 20, 1937, “Mr. Selznick named the colt for me. I acquired the nickname in Hollywood: always in a hurry you know. Told secretaries ‘can’t wait’ when I sent in my card to see some Hollywood big-wig.”
Selznick’s colors were black, powder blue cross sashes, powder blue sleeves, and black cap for his horses Can’t Wait, Pasha, Who’s There, and Merry Marine.
Can’t Wait soon rose to become one of Hollywood’s most successful horses. His name was a little misleading, in that he possessed great endurance for long races, but sagged at short, quick ones. He was Junior Champion at Aqueduct in New York as a 2-year-old. As The Times described him, “Can’t Wait” is one of those story colts, a Cinderella youngster. Nobody wanted him at the Saratoga sales a year ago…” Selznick ended up buying him for $1,050, and the colt found his first success back east, winning six races. Can’t Wait was the Hollywood standout as a 2-year-old, and was considered one of the country’s top 3-year-old prospects.
The horse started his California season slowly and badly in early 1938, slowed by the mud and his reaction to other stable mates. He steadily improved though, finishing second in the Santa Anita Derby in February. This was bad news for Myron’s brother, David, however, who bet heavily on the horse. When reporters quizzed him about the results, he muttered, “Something must have happened.” Can’t Wait almost won the Anita Chaquita Handicap a month later, however, but interference at the beginning caused him to finish second again. He often suffered interference which forced him to run from the back of the pack. His speed always put him in the money, if not a win.
Selznick sent Can’t Wait east for the Triple Crown races that spring, racing him in New York to prepare him for the big show. Selznick proudly took clients like director Gregory La Cava to watch his prize race in the May 8, 1938, Kentucky Derby. The horse battled gallantly, moving up to second in the far turn, but fading to third at the end. Still, it was the highest place ever for any showbiz horse, placing him as the leader of the pack back in California. Can’t Wait battled with two other horses at the Preakness a week later as well, falling to third. He finished fourth in the Preakness, a fine outcome for the three most highly prized races in America.
Can’t Wait grew into a more successful horse as he aged, becoming one of the finest United States handicap horses as a 4-year-old. He was the most successful Hollywood colt, winning the California Motion Picture Handicap in 1939, and the $25,000 Butler Handicap, the Walter Connolly Memorial Handicap, and the Washington Handicap in 1940. He did better with the implementation of electrical gates. As his trainer noted to the July 25, 1940, Los Angeles Times, “He didn’t like assistant starters who manhandled him and were fooling around his head. That made him nervous and irritable, a poor breaker. He was always getting away poorly and taking the worst of it. With the new barrier he’s cool, calm and collected… .” Just like his owner Selznick, he turned on the afterburners when it counted.
At the end of the 1940 season, he had won more than $100,000 in North America, the 119th horse to do so. He had returned 100 to 1 on his $1,050 purchase price, and continued racing successfully through 1942.