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ANN CONWAY

Joan Irvine Smith Thinks It's Time for Don Bren to Pony Up

May 06, 1991|ANN CONWAY

Joan Irvine Smith has a proposition for Donald L. Bren.

If the billionaire pays her the money the Irvine Co. owes her before her Oaks Classic begins on May 31, Smith will increase its $50,000 grand prix to $100,000. "Where's my check?" Smith wondered last week at the Oaks, her tree-studded ranch in San Juan Capistrano. "The Irvine Co. has said the millions they owe me is nothing, that Donald can get it as easy as using a MasterCard charge."

So, of course, the heiress with the sense of humor named one of her horses MasterCharge, after the $252.6 million she expects from the company. "And I have horses named American Express, Carte Blanche and Visa, too," she deadpanned. "Just in case."

Last week it was pleasure as usual at the Oaks--for five years the site of the horse-jumping classic that has become the last word for Orange County's equestrian set. The forest of oak trees was leafy and sun-dappled. The scarlet bougainvillea had begun to bloom. Smith's sleek thoroughbreds took their paces. And the contractors who will transform her grounds into a party scene from a Peter Bogdanovich movie were finalizing details.

"This is going to be the most fun of any Oaks we've done," promised Smith, shooting a smile at her mother, Athalie Clarke--her co-hostess for the three-day affair.

The menu--hills of lobster, crab, shrimp, you name it--will be the same, Smith said. So will the format--an open-to-the-public bash capped by a private luncheon under a canopy for Smith and Clarke's friends. (The guest list for this do is Orange County's most exclusive. And you can't schmooze your way in. "You have to be invited," Smith says.)

Only the purse has been changed. Smith has added $25,000 in stakes for a hunter horse division. "I have a lot of young hunters," explains Smith, who has been riding horses since she was 12. "This gives me an opportunity to show my horses but also gives a boost to the hunter division. I don't want to see this division lost in the horse-show industry, and it seems to be getting less and less public recognition."

During lunch on the Classic's final day, Smith will have the hunters paraded on the field with their tails and manes braided, she said. "Their riders will be dressed in the traditional style. And a commentator will give the history of fox hunting--tell how it evolved from field hunters to show hunters. I mean, this is history . George Washington had his own pack of fox-hunting hounds, you know." Clarke, Orange County's empress of chic, calls her daughter's event "the Tiffany of entertaining."

"My daughter has done an incredible thing," Clarke said, "putting this all together single-handedly. She has put Orange County on the map in the equestrian field. No doubt about it."

Smith always invites Bren to the Sunday spread under the scalloped canopy. "But, he never comes," she said.

Developer Henry Segerstrom and his wife, Renee, always attend. So does Dr. Howard House--whose House Hearing Institute in Los Angeles is up for a research center at UC Irvine, thanks to a proposed $1-million donation from Smith.

UC Irvine Chancellor Jack Peltason always enjoys the festivities with his wife, Suzanne. And a smattering of stars (Zsa Zsa Gabor and Loretta Swit, among them) have attended. The celebs are on hand because they patronize Hermes, the Rodeo Drive rag emporium that underwrites the Classic's House of Hermes $10,000 Acorn Junior/Amateur Grand Prix.

"I've dealt with Hermes for years," said Smith, who was dressed in caramel-colored cashmere for her day at the Oaks. "I love their clothes and handbags. Prior to the mid-'70s, I went abroad every year to be at horse events--Paris early in the year, Dublin in the summer, London for shows."

Will she wear a Hermes to the Classic? Most likely. "Last year I wore a Hermes cotton suit that I bought on sale ," Smith said.

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