When I first moved to Kansas I worked in Prairie Village, next door to a brand new restaurant called the Saint Louis Bread Company. The restaurant was decorated in bright red and white, with a mural of a winning racehorse splashed across one wall. The scene seemed out of place in that busy suburban neighborhood.
The horse’s name was Lawrin, born and trained on Woolford Farm, once a part of Prairie Village. His owner, Herbert M. Woolf, owned Woolf Brothers department store in Kansas City, but his real love was Thoroughbred racing. In 1933 he bought Insco, sired by the great Sir Galahad III, and Insco sired Lawrin.
Woolf had the good judgment to employ Ben A. Jones as his trainer from 1931-39. Jones, a native Missourian, started his career on small circuits in the West and Mexico. He trained Lawrin to race, and a young jockey named Eddie Arcaro rode the horse to victory on Derby Day.
The Saint Louis Bread Company served the most delicious baked potato soup, which I craved constantly during my first pregnancy. I ate there nearly every day, though I opted for takeout when the place became too popular. Within a few years they changed the restaurant’s name to Panera and painted over the racehorse mural in muted Tuscan shades. I felt betrayed until I learned that the soup menu would stay the same.
The winning partnership of Woolf and Jones didn’t last long. In 1939 the two quarreled, and Jones moved on to Calumet Farm in Kentucky, where he won the derby five more times. Arcaro, who never rode another Woolford Farm horse, is widely considered the best jockey in American history. Jones and Arcaro are both in the National Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame.
In 1955 Woolf sold his horse farm to make way for progress, and the Corinth neighborhood took its place. Thousands of people now live and work where Lawrin once trained. Most have no idea he ever existed.
When my first child was born, I quit work to raise a family, and we moved farther south in Johnson County. I didn’t think about the horse mural again until one day last summer, when I sat alone in the Corinth Square Panera, desperate for inspiration. I opened my journal, took a sip of iced tea, and looked up at the wall. In my mind’s eye I saw a race horse, brown with four white socks, a wreath of flowers around his neck. Oh yeah, I thought. What was that about?
A Google search led me to the spot in under ten minutes. I parked in front of a small house and walked to the grassy place in the middle of the cul-de-sac. Inside a wrought iron fence, two grave stones marked the resting place of Lawrin and Isco. I skimmed the neatly arranged articles on a glass-covered bulletin board behind the graves, and came away a little more mindful of the past. Of the days when Mission Road was a gravel country byway, and Corinth Square was a horse pasture.
The museum wasn’t big, but it was worth the trip.