Judging from the way the dice have been rolling for Calumet Farm this season—the stable has already earned $660,000 since January 1—the gent in the white shirt perched atop the roof of the Members Clubhouse at Pimlico race track (as pictured in the Robert Riger drawing shown above) may well find himself with nothing much to do this Saturday afternoon. His specific job on Preakness Day each year is to climb aloft with paints and brushes just as the Big Race is going off. Then, as soon as the result becomes official, he hurriedly paints the colors of the winning owner's silks on the weather-vane jockey—a work of art which shifts lazily in the Maryland breezes until the same chromatic process is repeated the following year.
Last year, after Fabius had upset Derby winner Needles to take the 80th Preakness, the Pimlico artist applied the familiar devil-red and blue colors of Calumet Farm for the fifth time. This Saturday (and I hear the television camera will zero in on this outdoor art show) if Calumet's Iron Liege can win the 81st Preakness the painter's climb to the rooftop will be merely to reassure himself that the devil-red and blue colors are sufficient for at least another year.
At this point neither Calumet Trainer Jimmy Jones nor Iron Liege—nor, for that matter, Jockey Willie Hartack—needs much in the way of further introduction. This remarkable trio coordinated their individual talents to win a sensational Kentucky Derby two weeks ago, and in the interval since Derby Day nothing has popped up in the cards to give even a vague hint that they shouldn't be able to carry it all off the same way on Preakness Day.
Actually, the 81st Preakness will be no cinch for Calumet. In fact, with Iron Liege going it alone without assistance from stablemate Gen. Duke (who was withdrawn from the event when he pulled up lame five days before the race), the Derby winner may not even be the post-time favorite. One of the reasons is that the two people who obviously know Iron Liege's capabilities best—that is, Jones himself and Hartack—have both been putting out a strong signal ever since Derby Day to the effect that Iron Liege, for all his courageous accomplishments at Louisville, is still only the third-best 3-year-old in the land, third behind Gen. Duke and Bold Ruler. (Following these three Jones ranks Gallant Man, whose owner, Texan Ralph Lowe, announced last Sunday that he had decided not to enter him in the Preakness; Round Table, who has already shipped home to California; and then Barbizon.)
A number of past Preaknesses have turned out to be somewhat anticlimactic as the Derby winner bowls over the same opponents for the second straight time in a fortnight. Yet there should be nothing anticlimactic about this week's Preakness.
There are a number of points which must be taken up to explain this line of reasoning, for if you saw the Derby or even a blurred version of it on your television screen it must have been startlingly apparent that few races in a lifetime can produce such suspenseful melodrama in the final run to the wire.
Of the nine Derby starters it seems probable that only Iron Liege, fourth-place Bold Ruler and fifth-place Federal Hill will return for the second round. They may be joined in the starting gate by as many as seven—or as few as four—other colts who for one reason or other have deserved the trip to Pimlico.
It is dangerous to assume anything in advance of a horse race, but at the same time if anything is certain about this one it is that Federal Hill will run true to form: try to go on the lead from the gate and hold it as long as he can. Federal Hill, although nobody really thinks he can win over a mile and three-sixteenths (which is just a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby distance), is just the sort of puzzling colt who will always give his opposition fits. As one horseman put it recently, "You may not believe he'll carry his speed over a distance of ground, but at the same time you don't want to give him the benefit of the doubt by allowing him to open up a long early lead on you. If you do he'll fool you one of these days by stealing the race."
Someone, then, is going to run with Federal Hill in this Preakness, and the notion here is that the someone will be Bold Ruler, who proved quite conclusively in the Derby that he runs only when he wants to, not necessarily when Jockey Eddie Arcaro wants him to. "We won't be trying to knock off Federal Hill during the first part of it," said Bold Ruler's trainer, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, last week, "but we learned in the Derby that Bold Ruler just wants to run his own race. He doesn't want to be messed around with at all. He doesn't like a hold on him the way Eddie had in the Derby. I think if you let this horse just lope along and run his own race he'll run back to the form he showed us all in the Wood and in Florida. I'm not scared he'll tire himself too much because I think with most good horses they'll go a little ways and rest themselves anyway."
BEST EFFORTS NEEDED
As for Iron Liege's Derby victory, it proved exactly what Jimmy Jones had said of him for days before the race: this colt is improving all the time. He is a beautiful free-runner who, like Bold Ruler, hardly relishes being rated back in the pack. He was, you remember, never worse than fourth at any time in the Derby, and it took a colt with tremendous will to run to be able to escape the trouble Federal Hill forced him into as they neared the quarter pole and still have something in reserve to fight off the challenge of Gallant Man.
If Iron Liege has kept up his steady rate of improvement he is going to be terribly tough to beat. But if Bold Ruler runs the race he is capable of, nobody will lick him this Saturday. On this one I'll have to echo the sentiments of Jimmy Jones, who early this week lifted his head out of the crying towel and moaned, "I'll be scared of him [Bold Ruler] until I see him run a bad race twice."