No track in the country has contributed more to the racing welfare of the better-class fillies and mares than Du Pont-sponsored Delaware Park in Wilmington. Since the track started its famous series of races known as the Distaff Big Three only five years ago, there have been noteworthy triumphs there by such distinguished females as High Voltage, Parlo, Dotted Line, Miz Clementine, Flower Bowl, Bayou, Princess Turia, Big Effort, Alanesian and Endine.
This year, when most of the 3-year-old colts have been upsetting each other with painstaking regularity, some exceedingly flashy performances by the girls have enlivened the season. It all began in California last winter when the two upstart C.V. Whitney fillies, Bug Brush and Silver Spoon, knocked the pins out from under all those of their own sex who dared oppose them. Then both of these well-bred damsels stepped forward to take on colts and promptly treated them as though racing had never had a rule of thumb which states that girls just aren't supposed to beat boys. These girls did.
While Bug Brush and Silver Spoon were conquering California, Reginald Webster's Quill was playing queen bee in the East. She won the Acorn and Mother Goose with no effort at all and was 1 to 4 to romp off with the Coaching Club American Oaks at Belmont a few weeks ago when disaster, if that is the proper term for an upset, struck. While many of us who watched Quill lose that Belmont race to the King Ranch filly, Resaca, were quick to put the blame on a generally criticized ride by P.J. Bailey (who sent her the first three quarters in a blistering 1:10⅘ leaving her nothing but her own heart and guts with which to finish the long haul), we were at fault in failing to appreciate the full merit of the triumphant Resaca. And most surprising of all was the postrace comment from the King Ranch barn of Trainer Max Hirsch that he and Owner Robert Kleberg actually believed Resaca should have beaten Quill by more than the official half-length margin. "The boy," said Mr. Kleberg later (referring to impetuous but skillful Manuel Ycaza), "moved on her too soon. If he'd waited, the win would have been more impressive."
Impressive it was, nonetheless, though maybe not nearly as neat a trick as Resaca pulled off at Delaware Park last Saturday when, in winning the Delaware Oaks over the best field of 3-year-old fillies gathered on any track so far this year, the beautiful bay filly trounced Quill by 10 lengths. What's more, she beat Silver Spoon by two lengths to capture, momentarily at least, the title of best 3-year-old filly in the land.
This was, of course, the race everybody had been awaiting for a long time. In Silver Spoon's springtime invasion of the East she had acquitted herself well in the Kentucky Derby. Her fifth-place finish, considering the various traffic problems involved en route, was better than it looks in the charts, and, with a break, she might have wound up third behind Tomy Lee and Sword Dancer. Back to Hollywood Park she went, and in her next start, on June 13, she trounced a field of seven colts, including Derby winner Tomy Lee, who so persisted in running out during the entire race that his violent-tempered owner, Fred Turner, shortly thereafter ran out himself—clear out of racing.
The mile-and-an-eighth Delaware Oaks was supposed to be a private settlement of accounts between Silver Spoon and Quill—with Resaca cast in the role of a once-lucky winner who couldn't possibly cash in twice in a row. And, of course, tremendous excitement was built up over Silver Spoon, for the filly who had beaten colts twice and had done so creditably in the Kentucky Derby had captured the imagination and fancy of racing fans everywhere. Old-timers, who maintain that a good horse can run over any kind of track, laughed off the difference between Hollywood Park and Delaware Park, which on Oaks Day after a Friday rain was still good but somewhat holding. They said Silver Spoon would murder her field. Maybe they would also have liked to have known that eight days before the race, while flying at 19,000 feet over Kansas in their chartered plane (cost of trip: $10,600), a sudden thunderstorm sent both Silver Spoon and Bug Brush crashing to their knees.
Resaca's trainer, Max Hirsch, noticing that the going was particularly impeding close by the inside rail, rolled his foxy old eyes. "What do I think? I think this could be quite a horse race. Yes, sir, quite a horse race." Shortly afterward he and Mr. Kleberg huddled over Jockey Ycaza as though they were trying to protect him from the law. Manuel Ycaza's beady eyes twinkled, and this young man, who in the last few months has gradually put his superb skill and hot-blooded temperament into beautiful harmony, gave them his full attention. "When you move with this filly," said Mr. Kleberg, "try not to do it too suddenly. She's fit and ready and full of run. She'll do what you want her to do, but make a gradual move. If it's close at the wire, O.K., do anything, but otherwise move gradually—remember, gradually."
Max squinted at the gifted Panamanian and Ycaza smiled back at him. "Lay off the pace and play it as you see it." In the next stall in the saddling shed Bob Wheeler was saying almost the same thing to Bill Boland, who was about to ride Silver Spoon. "Don't get into any sprint race with any early speed horse. Keep off the pace and remember one thing: the going is deeper on the inside."
From the start only three of the nine starters were ever in serious contention, and Quill (who was now ridden by Bob Ussery instead of Bailey) ran along in fourth place for most of the trip; but instead of moving up to challenge at the crucial stage, she seemed resentful of Ussery's hold on her and finished fifth.
It was Indian Maid, flown in from Chicago, who barreled into the lead, with Boland and Silver Spoon just behind them into the clubhouse turn. Ycaza, following his orders to the letter, lay fourth and then third as the girls skipped up the backstretch in fractions of :23⅘ then :48, and the three quarters in 1:13[2/5].
Going into the far turn, the moment of decision had arrived. Boland knew he could catch Indian Maid and instinct told him the quickest way to take the lead was to go through on the rail. He did. Ycaza saw what was going on and put Resaca into her gradual drive, but he went around. They turned for home, and Boland must have realized his tactical error, for, as he said later, "Silver Spoon ran fine for the first part of it, but once I put her into a drive [on the rail] she started floundering and bobbling all over the place." Resaca and Ycaza were presented with no such problem. Swinging wide around the stretch turn, they were little more than a length behind Silver Spoon, but when both fillies leveled on course for the run home it was no longer a race. Resaca, with Manuel hunched characteristically with that eyecatching short hold, hurried past Silver Spoon. Silver Spoon had had it, and Resaca, a daughter of Middleground and Retama (both fillies, by the way, trace back to Equipoise on their bottom line), had given it to her by two solid lengths. Resaca's time was a creditable 1:51[3/5].
On July 25 the prize of them all, the $150,000 Delaware Handicap, will be decided with both Resaca and Silver Spoon back on tap for that one, meeting, as they must, older mares at a mile and a quarter. "We'll have another try at Resaca then," said Bob Wheeler, "and it might be a different story. This week we'll run Bug Brush [in the New Castle], and then in the Handicap maybe the two of them as an entry."
Max Hirsch allowed as how he'd be back, too. Mr. Kleberg's 6-year-old granddaughter Emory Alexander, who bounced joyfully into the winner's circle, wasn't going to miss anything, either. "I'll be there," she yelled. And then she thrust her own precious $5-win ticket on Resaca into the tough hands of Manuel Ycaza. His eyes glittered in the bright Delaware sun, and nobody had to tell him that he, too, would be back.