Not within memory has a $25,000 3-year-old stake at six furlongs generated the excitement that permeated Hialeah for the 27th running of The Hibiscus last Saturday. The main reason a crowd of 20,156 turned up was, of course, to see the 1962 debut of the undefeated Ridan. With his seven-for-seven record, he has been regarded as a wonder horse by those who watched him in Chicago last year. Californians and New Yorkers, however, have been reluctant to take Ridan's Arlington Park form as proof of his potential, and when the colt went to the sidelines late last summer with splint trouble in his right foreleg, some were ready to write him off. They were just as ready, later in the fall, to concede the 1962 classics to colts like Crimson Satan, Sir Gaylord, Donut King and Jaipur.
The Ridan people, however, conceded nothing, and their colt is not a quitter either. Having been out of competition since last September 2, Ridan had every excuse for being off form last week. Instead, he was almost brilliant as he reeled off the three-quarters of a mile in 1:09[1/5] to beat another undefeated colt, Rainy Lake, by a length and a half. It was the fastest of all Hibiscus runnings.
The race was a thriller. Boston Sailor, on the outside of the 10-horse field, broke first, but almost immediately Rainy Lake went at him. Bill Hartack took Ridan out of the seventh stall, and although his instructions had been to lay back if others wanted to set the pace, he quickly saw that in order to hold his position on the inside he would have to use his horse from the beginning. He did and Ridan seemed to love it, leaping forward with his tremendous stride in a show of great power.
After Boston Sailor had had enough of this (which was very soon), Ridan and Rainy Lake had the race to themselves, and they made it a good one. They ran head and head until, at the eighth pole, Ridan shook off his stubborn opposition and came on down to the wire virtually loafing.
Winning at six furlongs in January certainly is a far cry from knocking over the best colts at nine furlongs and up in March, April, May and June. Ridan may never make it, but so far at least this much is sure: he is the only top-drawer undefeated 3-year-old in the U.S., and to remove him from this distinguished category some colt is going to have to run like the wind.
Ridan is a son of Nantallah, who was one of the fastest sons of Nasrullah, and is out of the imported English mare Rough Shod II, whose pedigree has brilliance going back many generations. He was bought as a yearling by a veteran horseman with the musical-comedy name of Moody Jolley, is registered to race in Mrs. Jolley's colors and is trained by their son LeRoy. Today, third interests in Ridan also belong to two close friends of the Jolleys, Ernest H. Woods, a Birmingham insurance man, and John L. Greer, president of Kerns Bakeries in Knoxville.
As a 2-year-old Ridan was precocious and tough. He tried to run away in the mornings and it often took two hot walkers to cool him out at the barn. With maturity he has lost some of this, but he is still no kitten. He must be regarded with some skepticism because splint trouble does have a habit of recurring, and colts with Ridan's great speed are not always the most likely candidates to win over longer distances. When, in his training at Hialeah, Ridan showed tendencies to bear out around the turns, his critics were quick to say he had never fully recovered from his leg trouble. "That's crazy," says Trainer LeRoy Jolley. "If a horse has splint trouble on the right side he'll show it by bearing in, not out. This colt's only trouble has been that he's so fast that when he goes into a turn he doesn't know how to change over from his right to his left lead."
To rectify this before The Hibiscus the Jolleys talked Hartack into coming out mornings to work the colt and teach him how to take his turns. They experimented with a variety of bits, but on race day last week they settled for a standard D-bit, and with it used a figure 8, a leather strap designed to keep a horse's mouth closed. "A horse with his mouth open is harder to control," says LeRoy Jolley. Ridan responded to all this concern over his welfare by not bearing out one inch and by keeping his mind strictly on the business at hand.
Ridan must face Crimson Satan and Sir Gaylord in The Bahamas on February 7, at seven furlongs, and Hialeah oddsmakers are studying the problem. They do have an early line on the March 3 Flamingo: Ridan and Crimson Satan at 8 to 5, Sir Gaylord at 5 to 1.