As the slowly warming Carolina morning sun streaked through the tall pines and settled on his rough winter coat, the 3-year-old didn't move a muscle or blink an eye. In fact, as his visitors circled him like a curious group examining a work of sculpture, the colt seemed bored. "There," said one of the curious, "is the horse who will win this year's Belmont Stakes."
The creature who was the center of attraction one bright day in Camden, S.C. last week is named Cyane. Winner of last year's Belmont Futurity for the Christiana Stable of Mr. and Mrs. Harry M. Lunger, Cyane is big and rugged and has a fine masculine head with strikingly bold eyes. His trainer, the veteran Henry S. Clark, a wise Maryland horseman not much given to optimism, says Cyane has one particularly admirable trait: his wonderfully placid disposition. "In his races," says Clark, "you can place this colt anywhere and he'll do exactly what you want him to do. And in the morning, it's the same. He'll go five-eighths in 59 or 1:04, whatever you ask for. This is a tremendous asset in any horse."
Cyane is by Turn-to, also the sire of Sir Gaylord and Dead Ahead, and he is out of a Beau Pere mare named Your Game. On both sides, he is bred for classic distances. What may be even more of an asset to him is the fact that his owner-trainer team belongs to a diminishing band of horsemen that has resisted the temptations of winter racing in favor of a long winter rest followed by gradual conditioning at one of the country's few ideal training centers. Cyane, it is true, would not have made it to the winter races even if the Lungers and Clark had wanted him to. In winning the Belmont Futurity over Jaipur and Sir Gaylord, he suffered a hairline fracture of the pastern bone just below his right front ankle. No operation was necessary, but the colt was given a three-month rest in Maryland before shipping with the rest of the Clark string to Camden on January 15—by which time many of Cyane's contemporary 3-year-olds were in some demanding races in Florida and California.
"If I'm old-fashioned about training," Clark said last week, "I'm glad I'm the way I am. My grandfather had a theory about horses that still makes sense to me: quit on Thanksgiving Day, begin galloping in February and never start racing until April. In his time, and it must still be true today, horses that follow that schedule in most cases last longer. Why? Because horses must have rest, and it's impossible to give them a rest if you race all the year round. I have nothing against the Kentucky Derby—for which we didn't nominate Cyane. But I believe a horse that does not race in winter is at a great disadvantage entering the Derby against seasoned colts. In that case it does seem the Derby comes too soon to run that far."
If Henry Clark is taking his time with Cyane and another Christiana Stable prospect for the Belmont named Smart, he could have hardly picked a better spot than Camden. It is one of the state's three major training centers. The others are Aiken and Columbia. Although South Carolina does not have pari-mutuel betting, its racing history goes back to competition in Charleston in 1734. The Carolina climate is perfect for training, and horses seem to benefit from the high iodine content of the local water. Horses work over ground that is a combination of deep sand and loam, excellent for conditioning, if not for record speed tests.
Last week at Aiken, where a superb training track has been built on ground once used for polo, a big crowd showed up for the Aiken Trials. The week before, similar trials were held, mostly for 2-year-olds, at Columbia. From there, Max Hirsch sent out the King Ranch colt Middleground in 1950 to become the last colt to win the Kentucky Derby without benefit of winter racing.
The setup at Camden is equal to that at Aiken. Some 75 miles from Charlotte, N.C. and 30 miles northeast of Columbia in the cotton and pulp belt, it offers facilities spread over 1,000 acres owned by Mrs. Marion duPont Scott, also the mistress of Montpelier farm. Camden is the closest parallel we have to the lovely gallops of England's Newmarket Heath.
The horses go in single file from area to area on paths lined with tall pines, also reminiscent of the forest of Chantilly. There, too, horsemen still believe that horses require a variety of training experience unobtainable in the daily routine at American racetracks.
At Camden this year, besides Henry Clark, are such highly respected horsemen as Tom Waller, Downey Bonsai, Jim Ryan, Ivor Balding, Joe Nash and Tom Barry. Barry, it will be remembered, first brought Cavan and then Celtic Ash up from Camden to win the Belmont Stakes. He has nothing ready to do it again—so he says.
Cocktails and racing
In addition to the one-mile training track at Camden there are hundreds of acres devoted to hurdle and steeplechase horses. In the past 20 years at least 70% of all leading jumpers either started their careers or later trained on Mrs. Scott's acreage. Next week more of the best jumpers will draw 25,000 to Camden for the traditional Carolina Cup, on a festive day of racing which the local population also considers one of the world's greatest outdoor cocktail parties. It is a pleasant place to be—and there are pleasant people on hand, notably those owners and trainers who realize that participation in flat racing should add up to something more than trying to win money anywhere and anytime.