When you tend to think of great rivalries in sports, you usually think of Hogan-Snead, Nicklaus-Palmer, Dempsey-Tunney. You might want to remember Dizzy Dean vs. Carl Hubbell, Tom Seaver vs. Bob Gibson. In New York once, they had Willie Mays vs. Mickey Mantle vs. Duke Snider. Ted Williams vs. Joe DiMaggio. Babe Ruth vs. Lefty Grove. Perry vs. Budge. Borg vs. Connors.
But probably the greatest sports rivalry of all time, at least in terms of its durability and inconclusivity and repetitiveness, was Ted (Kid) Lewis vs. Jack Britton. These welterweight boxers fought 20 times by actual recorded count and maybe more that didn't hit the record books. They fought from New York to New Orleans and most places in between. They put the act on in places like Canton, Toronto, Dayton, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boston, wherever they could collect a crowd, the pugilistic equivalent of the traveling medicine show.
They once fought each other three consecutive times in one month (June 1917) and four times in six weeks. You would have thought they would know each other so well they could have mailed the fights in like international chess games.
The temper of the times being what they were, 12 of their fights ended in no decision. Boxing was on its periodic razor's edge of being outlawed and the compromise was not to allow a winner to be declared--unless he knocked the other man senseless. This bit of hypocrisy they got around by canvassing ringside reporters for what was called a "newspaper decision." It was not binding and posterity has not handed down how the ink-stained wretches scored the ongoing Lewis-Britton marathon, listing them only as "ND."
One other fight ended in a real draw, and of the other seven, Britton won four and Lewis won three. Britton scored the only knockout in the series in their next-to-last fight. He also won their last fight, which was held in New York in 1921 when the game was legal and decisions were official there.
I bring this up at this time because, this Sunday at Hollywood Park, the modern-day equivalent of the Lewis-Britton long run, the horse races between Precisionist and Greinton will stage a renewal.
These two thoroughbreds will meet in the $300,000 Californian Stakes and this will be the ninth time they have hooked up in their careers.
While this is not quite Britton-Lewis, it may be a record for race horses of this class.
Eight times these eminent adversaries have had a go at each other, three times at Hollywood Park and five times at Santa Anita. Three of those times, a neck, or less, has separated them at the photo. Four times Precisionist has won. Four times Greinton has won.
In seven of those races, they have run one-two. Only once has one of them--Precisionist on March 2--been shuffled back out of the money. He finished sixth.
Precisionist is one of the most graceful race horses you will ever see. He's stylish, elegant and mannered. If he were human, he'd be a kind of preppie. He'd wear three-piece suits, button-down shirts, and probably be a regular at the yacht club, carry tennis rackets, wear a towel around his neck and be very good at weekends. In the ring, he'd be a boxer, with great footwork. His nickname would be "Sugar." If he were a ballplayer, he'd be a fancy fielder and a line-drive hitter; maybe, a leadoff man.
He's an aristocrat and he wins his races like one. He doesn't like to slug it out with the ruffians back in the pack. He shows his heels to them and gets out there quickly where his clothes wouldn't get dirty or his hat fly off. His race charts are a series of "1's." He prefers that a race be a parade, not a rush hour.
Greinton is not exactly the equine version of Arnold Schwarzenneger or Dirty Harry, but he is not averse to slugging it out with the common people in the slums of a race if he has to. Greinton does not mind getting his nose bloody or his ear cauliflowered if that's what it takes. If he were a prizefighter, his nickname might run more to "Raging Bull." Or someone you might want to call "Rocky."
For some reason, Precisionist has been asked to give weight to Greinton each time they ran, except once--the last time, April 13, when they both carried 126. The margin at the finish was a neck.
Precisionist is as American as pizza, but Greinton is a legal alien who learned his racing in the grassy knolls and hills of France. He has earned $1,938,957 in this country and could have earned half as much again if he could have caught Precisionist in the stretch more often.
The really extraordinary fact is that each of these colts is still on a race track at age 5 and not long since retired to a breeding shed.
Racing needs rivalries such as these. The trick with Precisionist is, you can get to him. But you've got to get by him. With Greinton, you can get ahead of him. The trick is to stay there.
They should long since have memorized each other's moves, like Lewis-Britton--or Veloz and Yolanda.
Horsemen don't like match races. But these are the next best thing. The other horses in the race should be carrying spears. They're just scenery. Or chorus. Greinton and Precisionist have never been in a race where one of them hasn't won it. Greinton has won six other races besides the four he's won from Precisionist. Precisionist has won 10 others.
No one will remember a one of them. Ted (Kid) Lewis had 279 fights altogether. Jack Britton had 327. But they made history for the ones they had against each other. Trivia buffs will one day discount the 44 other races Precisionist and Greinton had and concentrate on the nine they had against each other. Or maybe the 20 they had against each other before they're through.