Tampa Bay Downs is proud to introduce its blog, “Racing in the Sunshine.” By giving visitors an up-close and personal look at the majestic world of Thoroughbred racing, the sport’s participants – racing officials, horsemen, backstretch workers, trainers, jockeys and track employees – hope to entertain and inform fans everywhere.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
John Soos, Devoted Fan
insider’s opinions, observations and reflections about their favorite sport.
A fixture at Tampa Bay Downs since moving to Florida with his late
wife Vivian in 1985, 96-year-old John Soos finds a day at the races a way to
stay active and keep his mind sharp. “I’m not a big bettor, but I dance every
dance,” Soos says. “That’s dumb, but I rationalize it by telling myself it’s
just a couple of bucks, and I can’t hurt anyone but me.” As a U.S. Naval Radar
Operator, John Soos spent the latter days of World War II in the south Pacific
aboard the USS LSM-420, an amphibious assault and transport ship sent in after
the Battle of Okinawa to evacuate a Sea Bee base. During his watch, the ship
was part of a convoy that got caught in a typhoon, with 150-foot swells making
it feel as if he was being lifted to a mountaintop and dropped to a valley
floor. While anchored in OkinawaHarbor, the crew of the LSM-420 watched U.S.
warplanes dive-bomb the island, an experience Soos compared to watching a
movie. When a Japanese suicide plane flew overhead, U.S.
ships opened fire, shooting the plane from the sky but also resulting in U.S. casualties
from friendly fire. Days later at Saipan, with
the end of the war in sight, Soos watched flares from the American fleet light
up the night sky. “The greatest fireworks display of my life,” he later wrote.
It wasn’t until January of 1946 when Soos arrived home in Bridgman, Michigan,
to be reunited with Vivian and their 5-year-old son, John Soos III. Soos
returned to work with the Nineteen Hundred Corporation, which later became
Whirlpool. Soos, an assembly inspector, quickly became active in labor
negotiations, but he never considered himself strictly a union or a company
man; it was the issue that needed to be grasped and debated, above common
politics. In 1949, Soos and four fellow workers pitched in $5 each to form the
Nineteen Hundred Employees Federal Credit Union in St. Joseph, Mich.,
giving workers back from the war the ability to secure loans for down payments
on homes. Soos served as the President of the Credit Union until he left
Whirlpool in 1960. The Sooses briefly owned a golf course and bowling center
called Bowling Green Lanes and Country Club in Bridgman before he became a
licensed insurance agent in St. Joseph
for Wayne National. For a brief time, he was part-owner of the Twin City
Sailors, a pro basketball team featuring 1963 NCAA champion Loyola of Chicago
stars Jerry Harkness, Les Hunter and Johnny Egan. Around that time, Soos started
getting interested in Thoroughbreds; he and Vivian went to New Orleans in December of 1963, rented an
apartment and went to the races at Fair Grounds every day for six weeks. Soos acquired
half-ownership of a horse named Royal Opening, which won its first start under
his colors before being claimed. When Soos won a convention trip to Hawaii in 1966, he and Vivian spent three days on Maui; he got to play golf with future Hall of Fame
baseball stars Al Kaline and Harmon Killebrew. Soos also took trips to London, Spain,
Las Vegas and Brazil,
and calls Rio de Janeiro
the most beautiful place he has been. Soos lives six months in Port Richey and
six months in Michigan
with his companion, Eleanor Wolf. In addition to his son John, he has two
grandsons, a great-granddaughter who is studying medicine at the University of Michigan and two great-grandsons.
HOMETOWN: St. Joseph, Mich.
BEST HORSE: I
wasn’t a big horse racing fan in my younger days, but I imagine 1943 Triple
Crown winner Count Fleet was one of the best ever. His sire, Reigh Count, won the
1928 Kentucky Derby, and Count Fleet sired the 1951 Kentucky Derby winner,
Count Turf. I pay close attention to bloodlines. When I see something by Indian
Charlie, I know I’m going to get a race out of that horse.
HOW I GOT STARTED IN
RACING: Back in the late 1930s, I was making $10 a week as a bartender. The
bread man was a horse player, and I sneaked him 25 cents to make a bet for me.
In Benton Harbor, Mich., there was a bookie on the second
floor of a hotel, and you would climb up the fire escape to get there. I stayed
in the car listening to the races from Arlington
on the radio, and I soon realized they were still taking bets after the race
MY BIGGEST INFLUENCE:
Elisha “Bud” Gray, who was the Chairman of the Board and President of
Whirlpool. He knew everybody by name, from the top dogs down to the janitors.
While he was very knowledgeable, his greatest asset was his feel for people.
ONE CHANGE I WOULD
MAKE TO RACING: I don’t know if I am qualified to answer that, but I would
like to see more owners and trainers run horses where they belong. They get a
cheap claimer and want to win a stakes, but you can’t do it.
MY FAVORITE SPORTS
TEAM/ATHLETE: The Detroit Tigers and their Hall of Fame right fielder, Al
Kaline. He won the American League batting title when he was a kid and has
always been a down-to-earth man.
NO. 1 ON MY BUCKET
LIST OF THINGS TO DO: I’d like to see my Navy buddies again. There are very
few of us left.
SHOW/MOVIE: I enjoy Bonanza,
because they are trying to do good all the time. My favorite movie is Dave, with Kevin Kline; they should run on
every station that leading up to the next election.
WHAT ELSE I’D BE
DOING IF. … More yard work. We have a big oak tree in Michigan that rains down leaves, and I like
to keep things looking nice.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT TAMPA BAY DOWNS:
There are a lot of really friendly people here, and no one goes around with
their nose in the air. And (General Manager) Peter Berube has mellowed a little.
He gave me a clubhouse season pass on my last birthday.
ADVICE TO SOMEONE
STARTING IN RACING: Make like you’re back in school and don’t try to become
an expert overnight. I don’t really come out here to make money; I come to
enjoy myself for the day.