Five days before the 30th running of the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah last Saturday, the cloud of complacency which has been hanging over Eastern Thoroughbred racing for the past six months started to disintegrate. Racegoers suddenly turned their attentions away from the Meadow Stable's First Landing, last year's undisputed 2-year-old champion, and toward a bright new figure on the American racing scene named Troilus.
Not only had First Landing lost his first start of the season three weeks ago, but even when he came back to win The Everglades stakes ten days before the Flamingo he had had to go all out to manage it by the shortest of necks. Some experts filled the muggy air over Miami with the thought that First Landing seemed to be slightly overtrained, while others contended that his difficult races last year (SI, Nov. 3) had drained him of much of his competitive flourish.
But when Troilus shattered Hialeah's track record for a mile and a sixteenth on the Monday before the Flamingo in 1:42[2/5] (topping Iron Liege's old record by two-fifths of a second), many thought that at long last some fresh excitement was finally being funneled into the 3-year-old division. Troilus, while he did not have the pedigree or the record of First Landing, was a steadily improving colt. His owner, Bayard Sharp, of the Wilmington Du Pont family, had picked him up for a paltry $9,000 and watched him finish in the money in six of seven minor races last year, win two of three this season at Hialeah.
Sharp looked at his situation as coolly as possible before the race. "I honestly think," he said, "that this is more than an ordinary horse and that we have some chance to knock off the big boy. If I'm a little nervous about it, I compare it to going into the ring with Jack Dempsey. But in this business once you have your horse ready, you have to take a crack at the big races—and once you do, it's all up to the Lord."
Sharp and his trainer, Charlie Peoples, were not leaving everything to the Lord, however. They told their jockey, 34-year-old Chris Rogers, that if Greentree Stable's Eurasia went to the front from the start to stay just behind him. Their plan worked perfectly. Eurasia went to front immediately, and Troilus was running easily just behind him. Then, when Eurasia shortened stride after three-quarters of a mile, Troilus took the lead.
Although First Landing was in a menacing position throughout, shuttling between fourth and third, his one attempt at a big run fizzled. The closest he could get to Troilus was third (behind Open View) and, as his rider, Eddie Arcaro, said later, "I was in a garden spot but he just couldn't run after seven-eighths of a mile."
One race, of course, cannot herald the arrival of a champion, nor can it totally demean a racer like First Landing. Naturally, there will be other horses heard from before the racing clans gather at Churchill Downs for the May 2 Kentucky Derby. This week nearly everyone will be looking toward California's Santa Anita Derby, where a hatful of hopefuls like Finnegan, Ole Fols, Royal Orbit and the undefeated filly, Silver Spoon, will try to join Troilus and First Landing as choice prospects for this year's classic 3-year-old races.