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First Posted: Feb 5, 2011
Feb 5, 2011

Nocturnalist/"How the Horses Got to the Ball" By Sarah Maslin Nir

How the Horses Got to the Ball/New York Times


Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times


Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times

Note: The "pacers" were Standardbreds

Two former racetrack pacers Hayword and Zorro riding the freight elevator three flights up to the ballroom to attend the 56th Annual Viennese Opera Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria.

The debutantes were not the only ones in white at the 56th Annual Viennese Opera Ball at the Waldorf-Astoria on Friday night. Two guests named Hayword and Zorro wore it, too.

It was in their swishing tails and on their dappled muzzles that puffed steam into the cold on 50th Street as they stepped off their trailer, strode though the hotel's side entrance and into the elevator, en route to a grand entrance three flights up - after the debs - on the ballroom floor.

For more than five decades, a promenading carriage has been a fixture at the ball. On Friday night, the authentic 1899 wicker-and-wood surrey would hold a ballerina who would later pirouette on the dance floor; in past years organizers have sent out a sleigh with the hotel's tablecloths wrapped around the runners to slide across the maple ballroom floor. Minutes before 8 p.m., the two gray Standardbred geldings - former pacers who raced at tracks like the Meadowlands before they were rescued by Lori and John Allegra, who trained them to pull larger carriages - emerged from the elevator. They were serene as they stepped through a kitchen area between stacks of dishes and scurrying cooks in chef hats.

They stood quietly under the crystal chandelier and frescoed ceiling of the Basildon Room as Jim Jacobson, their farrier, latched rubber boots over their shoes. Their horseshoes are studded with carbide for grip on icy roads in East Haddam, Conn., where they usually do weddings; Mr. Jacobson was anxious they would scuff the far fancier ballroom floor. Guests had other concerns - for example, the hotel's marble bathrooms aren't exactly equipped for a 17-hand-high horse, and accidents seemed inevitable.

"I can't stop thinking about that," said Eiseley Tauginas, 25, one of the debutantes. (To her relief, the horses wore strategically placed bags.)

Her date, John Munson, 28, had another fear: that a team of horses trotting into the ballroom of a luxury hotel in the middle of Manhattan might somehow not be grand enough. "If we're in full white tie, and completely bedazzled," he said, "the horses should be, too."

At 9:30, a spotlight fell on Hayword and Zorro as they clopped - in a slightly muffled way, thanks to the padded shoes - into the ballroom. But as the band struck up a tune for the ballerina the horses transported, their steely nerves seemed to waver. The Grand Duchess Arianna, however, remained impassive as nearly a ton of horseflesh passed by her table beside the dance floor. The ballerina was joined by a male dancer for a short performance, which the horses tolerated. Then the dancers returned to the surrey, and the horses made a quivery exit. (So, too, did the male dancer, leaping out of the tottering carriage.)

Soon, Hayword and Zorro were back in their trailer on 50th Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues. Grandeur, it seemed, was not as appealing as a good bale of hay.


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