Shortly before 5 p.m. at New York's Aqueduct race track last Saturday, a 14-to-1 shot named Globemaster romped off with the $75,000 Wood Memorial. Although he crossed the finish line three-and-one-quarter lengths ahead of Carry Back, Globemaster is not likely to be confused with such former winners of the Wood as Assault, Native Dancer, Nashua or Bold Ruler. In fact, for millions of punters who over the years have come to regard the Wood Memorial as a guide for Kentucky Derby selections, there was a sudden realization that nothing much had been settled. The Derby, clearly, is now shaping up as a free-for-all, with a few lukewarm favorites and a flock of long shots.
This isn't to say that there was anything fluky about Globemaster's handy victory in the Wood. He won, from gate to finish, with the greatest of ease, and nobody was more surprised at the whole performance than his owner, Pittsburgh coal company executive Leonard P. Sasso, and his trainer, Tommy Kelly. Sasso, in fact, decided to skip the whole business, and took the day off to go upstate to watch his bird dogs in some field trials. Kelly, a smiling lad acknowledged by old hands as one of the "comers" among the younger trainers, looked at his opposition in the walking ring and moaned aloud, "I sure wish this was just a seven-eighths of a mile race. Then we'd have a chance."
Kelly had reason to worry. Lined up against him, in addition to the Florida winter hero Carry Back, were Robert Lehman's Ambiopoise (who had beaten Globemaster by six lengths, going away, two weeks before), Louis Wolfson's Garwol, and a pair who figured to improve at this time of year. They were Dr. Miller and Hitting Away, trained respectively by Hirsch Jacobs and Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, a couple of gents who know where the roses are to be found in May.
Globemaster didn't know of Trainer Kelly's concern, nor was he let in on the plot cooked up between Kelly and Jockey John Rotz. It was simply to treat this like a seven-eighths of a mile race and go for broke from the gate. But Globemaster played his part well. He took the lead at the bell and that was that. None of the others chose to run with him the first part of it, and none probably could have on this day. Carry Back, as usual, lay well off the pace, but the trouble was that by the time Globemaster had covered a mile he had stolen the race. Turning for home, John Sellers closed some ground with Carry Back, but even though he finished second, six lengths in front of dead-tired Ambiopoise, there was nothing about Carry Back's performance to indicate that he would do much better when asked to travel an extra eighth of a mile in the Derby itself.
Globemaster's victory was highly gratifying to Owner Sasso, who paid $80,000 for this Heliopolis colt in the 1959 yearling sales, one of the highest prices ever paid for a yearling. The colt has now won $150,744.50, which is more money than you win at field-dog trials But Sasso cannot believe that Globemaster will breeze along unopposed at the front end of the Kentucky Derby field. A free-running horse, as Globemaster was in the Wood Memorial, can run all day if nobody hooks him. But this week and next, in three more Derby preps in Kentucky, there are roughly two dozen colts flexing their muscles in preparation for just this sort of challenge. Some will run a little at the beginning, some more determinedly at the finish. Who are they?
The Derby challengers
First, of course, you cannot discount Carry Back, who lately has been in the habit of winning alternate starts and who usually has a fairly good excuse when he loses. In the Wood the excuse is simply that John Sellers, along with the other jocks, let Globemaster steal the race. It probably won't happen again. It certainly won't happen in the Derby if one of the starters is a lightninglike front runner named Four-and-Twenty, one half of the entry (with Flutterby) of Alberta Ranches. These two are owned by Canadians Max Bell and Frank McMahon and are trained by confident young Vance Longden and ridden by his cactus-faced father Johnny (see page 23).
Four-and-Twenty and Flutterby are not only the strongest California team to invade Kentucky in years, but also an almost perfect combination of racing talent so necessary in a large field. Four-and-Twenty has proved speed and Flutterby looks as though he has the stamina. With the former on the lead and Flutterby saved for a stretch run, the Alberta forces were one-three in the Santa Anita Derby. In his next start Four-and-Twenty tackled older horses (and not very good ones at that) and stopped badly when he apparently was blinded by the sun turning for home. Vance Longden chalked this off to inexperience (it was only the colt's fifth start) and shipped the son of Blue Prince to Keeneland. There, last Friday, he rolled to an easy two-length victory in a field of six, including the speedy Crozier, twice runner-up in Florida to Carry Back.
Flutterby, a son of Noor, has so far been bothered more by temperament than anything else. When he was narrowly beaten by Travis Kerr's Mr. Consistency in the recent California Derby, both Jockey Longden and Trainer Longden concluded that Flutterby is simply lazy. He still gets upset by shadows, though the Longdens have tried five different kinds of blinkers on him. If Johnny had his way with the rules of racing, Flutterby would be ridden with spurs. "Just the smooth ones," he adds. "That would get this horse running. We go to wake him up somehow." Flutterby will get an awakening of sorts this week in Keeneland's Blue Grass Stakes, with Longden aboard, after which Johnny will decide which of the Alberta colts he will ride at Louisville. The betting is he'll pick Four-and-Twenty, giving Flutterby to one of the Morenos or possibly to Eddie Arcaro, who rode him at Santa Anita.
Alberta Ranches' co-owners Bell and McMahon deplore the limelight almost as much as Carry Back's Jack Price seems to thrive on it. McMahon, president of the Westcoast Transmission Company (a natural-gas outfit with headquarters in Vancouver), seldom gets to the races. He lets Bell, president of F. P. Publications, do the talking, and Bell does precious little. "I started at the bottom in racing," he noted not long ago, "but did enter a horse of mine, Indian Hemp, in the Epsom Derby that was won by Tulyar. I think we finished about 10th." A physical-fitness addict since his youth, Bell, now 49, once played better-than-average hockey, excelled at badminton and likes to amaze friends by walking around a room on his hands. Once, after what apparently was a profitable afternoon at the races, he was performing this stunt when his pockets loosed a trail of $100 bills on the rug behind him.
Bell admits that he dictates the breeding policies of Alberta Ranches, but is quick to add, "Actually I'm strictly a horseplayer—a race track fan since I was a small boy, like some guys play pool." He was discussing this the afternoon Four-and-Twenty won the Santa Anita Derby in March, and although he tried pretty hard to act nonchalant about the whole business, he had to admit something that was, after all, foremost in his mind. "The goal of racing here in California is to shoot for the Kentucky Derby. I guess we'll have to shoot for it, too."
The business association between Bell and the Longdens is the result of a long friendship. "I've known John for 33 years," says Max. "He's not only a good jockey but a great horseman—and there's a difference, you know. Vance has a wonderful working agreement with his father. Let me put it this way: if you put a million dollars into racing you probably wouldn't pick Vance Longden as your trainer—simply because of his inexperience. But under this setup it works out very well because of their relationship and because of my friendship with John."
Crozier still erratic
In Kentucky, the Longdens will face some authentic Derby horses. There is Crozier, for example. Fred Hooper's colt has made a practice of near misses and zigzag courses all winter. He was beaten six lengths by Four-and-Twenty last Friday at his made-to-order distance of seven furlongs. Willie Shoemaker, who flew from New York to Keeneland to ride him, said he thought Crozier was 1 to 10 to win as they went into the far turn. Then suddenly he stopped—which is very un-Crozierlike. Rail-birds noticed that the colt was "blowing like a tiger" when he came back, but this could not be because he was out of condition. Since he showed up later with a bruised heel, he may simply have been in distress. Another theory is that a colt, even one of Crozier's great courage, can't spend the winter being beaten by heads and noses without losing a certain amount of competitive heart.
Right now it is difficult to take seriously the chances of most of the other Derby candidates. Of Globemaster's Wood rivals, Ambiopoise has left a trail of inconsistency instead of gradual improvement, but Owner Robert Lehman is going to send him. If Dr. Miller and Garwol show up they will have to improve by 10 lengths to get on the board. The Kerr entry of Gay Landing and Mr. Consistency, already at Keeneland, will get a real test this week, and the same no doubt will apply to Bass Clef, Orleans Doge, Loyal Son, Light Talk, Astate, He's a Pistol, Ronnie's Ace and Sherluck.
Also due to show up in the Blue Grass Stakes is a number from Calumet Farm, and his name is not Beau Prince. The Prince was bruised while running third in the Florida Derby and now has only one chance in 10 of making the big one at Louisville. But Calumet likes to run in the Kentucky Derby—as who wouldn't after winning it a record seven times—and the stand-in for Beau Prince is a chestnut named Sho Lea. His only claim to fame so far is that Trainer Jimmy Jones thinks he's good enough to carry the devil's-red-and-blue silks of a great stable. It is worth remembering, however, that the last time Jimmy Jones called on a stand-in in the Derby he brought out Iron Liege for Gen. Duke. Iron Liege won and in so doing became the only horse ever to knock off Gallant Man, Round Table and Bold Ruler in the same race.
"Ah, yes," says Jones wistfully, "that was a vintage year, too. This certainly isn't a vintage year and, to tell the truth, I don't figure Sho Lea is a top horse. He's by My Babu out of a Bull Lea mare, and only likes a firm, hard track. He's moving along slowly. I certainly won't say he'll win the Derby, but I won't say he won't win it either. One thing about him: he's a better runner right now than Ponder was at the same stage of his 3-year-old career."
Top horse or no top horse, someone has to win the seventh race at Churchill Downs on May 6. In ages, no year has seemed more appropriate for a true long shot in the tradition of Donerail, who came home in 1913 to pay $184.90. On performance alone at this time of year, when form can change rapidly, one must prefer the chances of the Longden entry and Carry Back, with a slight edge going to the former. As one trainer points out, there will be "about six in the Derby starting gate who deserve to be there, and about 16 others just hoping for lightning to strike." Which brings to mind a remark made many years ago by the great horseman, F. Ambrose Clark—a remark never more appropriate than when applied to the 1961 Kentucky Derby—"a loaded pistol can go off in anybody's hands."