Horatio Luro, the Argentine trainer who saddled Decidedly in last Saturday's Kentucky-Derby, ordinarily looks like the suave villain in an old Astaire-Rogers movie. After the race, won by Decidedly with a superb stretch run in record time, he looked like the happy hero in the fade-out. "Some people laugh at me because I do things in the Argentine manner," he said. "They laugh when I gallop my horse two miles, because that is not the way that some of these American trainers do it. But the se√±or he gets the job done today. Oh, I have the big happy smile today."
Jockey Bill Hartack, usually the hard loser or the petulant winner, also had the big smile. Almost affable, he even posed willingly for photographers and then went so far as to talk about what was on his mind. (Ordinarily, it is a piece of his mind he gives out.) "I guess this Derby meant more to me than either of my others," he said (he had won two before last weekend), "because I beat Ridan, the horse I used to ride. Remember, I thought Ridan was a great horse and said so. He had a habit of bearing out, and when I worked him in Florida I thought I got him over that habit. Then they took me off the horse. That's the owner's right, of course. They don't have to follow my advice." As he talked a photographer called out, "Come on, Willie—smile!" Hartack wheeled like a light-mouthed polo pony. "The name is still Bill," he said. "I never smile over a Derby. In fact, I never smile over anything." But he did.
Horatio Luro will never forget his introduction to the colt that won the Derby for him, and did it so brilliantly over a remarkably well-balanced field. Decidedly had been foaled in California, at the ranch of his owner, San Francisco shipping executive George A. Pope Jr. As a 2-year-old Decidedly started his career at Hollywood Park last summer. It was so discouraging that after he finished up the track in his only two starts and then developed a passionate hate for the starting gate Pope decided to send his colt to Saratoga and give him to Luro to train. "One day," says Luro, "I put the Gustines boy on him and Gustines is a strong rider. Decidedly throws Gustines one time and Gustines gets back on him. Bingo! Off he goes. Then Gustines gets thrown for the third and a fourth time, and I say, 'The stewards, they have to scratch out the horse.' But they let him go in the race, and down he runs at 24 to 1. I begin to get thoughts that maybe I have the classic horse. I also discover later that when they ship me the horse from California they forget to tell me that Decidedly is allergic to the bugle.
"This winter there is a lot of talk about Decidedly, and he begins to get like everybody's dark horse. He has a little trouble and I take him out of the Flamingo, but I say to myself, 'Never mind the Flamingo. You concern yourself only with the Derby.' Then next comes the Florida Derby and the talk about him starts again. But I pass up the Florida Derby and say to my wife Frances, 'Never mind the Flamingo and the Florida Derby, which are gone.' I say to her, 'Honey, we have the big chance in the big race.' "
The big race was a lulu, though there were so many "ifs" about it before it started. Could Ridan, the favorite, carry his speed for the Derby distance of a mile and a quarter? Would Sunrise County again make a shambles of the stretch run by forcing other horses halfway across the track as he had done in the Flamingo and the Wood Memorial? Would Crimson Satan suddenly regain his sharp form of last fall? There were similar questions about nearly every horse conceded a chance to win, and finally there was the letdown in public interest and competitive possibilities when Sir Gaylord, the early favorite, came up with another leg injury that finished his racing career.
Sir Gaylord's pretty female stable-mate, Cicada, had been standing by in the wings ready to step in for him in the Derby. But just when their owner, Christopher Chenery, might have been expected to send her out to go against the colts, Chenery suddenly decided to run Cicada in the Kentucky Oaks instead. Of course, she won it easily—which only set many of her admirers to pondering just what she might have done in the Derby itself.
With the Chenery interests out, Ridan became the favorite on the strength of his great race in the previous week's Blue Grass Stakes. Second choice went to Sunrise County, while Decidedly, Admiral's Voyage and Sir Ribot were supported in that order.
At the start the long-shot sprinter Lee Town took the lead, and it surprised nobody that Sunrise County, Admiral's Voyage and Ridan were not far behind. As they went into the first turn, after running just over a quarter of a mile down in front of the packed stands, Ridan was perfectly placed. He was just off the pace and on the outside, and Manuel Ycaza was riding him with what appeared to be the authority of a circus ringmaster. At the same time Hartack was way back in the pack with Decidedly, waiting patiently for the right moment to launch his own attack. He was in no hurry, and wouldn't be for another minute.
But just as it seemed that Sunrise County was going to take his first turn like a well-drilled guardsman, instead of like a Broadway barfly, it also became apparent that Ycaza was having no rocking-chair ride aboard Ridan. "He try to bolt with me at the turn," said an angry Manuel later. "I am, you know, strong as a bull, but this is too much to put up with. While he is trying to get out I am trying to keep him in and this is most very bad, because this fight between us is taking a lot of strength away from the horse. He need the strength to run and not to fight with me."
Going up the backstretch Lee Town's moment of glory was about to end as Ridan, followed by Sunrise County and Admiral's Voyage, moved like a mighty wave to the front rank. Willie Shoemaker had Sunrise County rolling along straight as a string, and Braulio Baeza had Admiral's Voyage, as always, doing his courageous best to stay as close as possible to the head end of this frantic hunt. Hartack, meanwhile, was ninth, one horse behind Sir Ribot and three behind Roman Line who, instead of shooting to the lead as expected, was playing a waiting game.
It was Sunrise County, Ridan and Admiral's Voyage, the three virtually together as they neared the far turn. Ycaza, on Ridan, did not want to be fighting for the lead at that point, but Ridan did. Into the far turn Ridan again tried to go wide as Ycaza battled to hold him in. Then, with the dramatic suddenness of a squall on a steamy summer's day, disaster overtook the leaders. Jimmy Combest on Roman Line, a 26-to-1 shot, Hartack on Decidedly and Ray York on Sir Ribot all came at the front-runners as they rolled into the turn. The pace had been furious thus far: 22[3/5] for the first quarter; 45[4/5] for the half; 1:10[1/5] for the six furlongs. Now, as the three early leaders and the three challengers bore down on the quarter pole, the mile was covered in 1:35[1/5].
Quickly, the pace took its toll of the speed horses. Admiral's Voyage, briefly in front during this charge, retired from combat after leaving the quarter pole and, as Baeza put it later, "he covered the last three-sixteenths of a mile 'walking all out.' " He finished ninth. Sunrise County, still running straight, ran himself straight out of the race at the sixteenth pole, but hung on to be fifth. He beat Crimson Satan, who made a late run for it, by two lengths.
But the race in the stretch was marvelous just the same. Roman Line refused to quit and actually took the lead for a brief moment. Ridan wasn't stopping. "I am on the lead by a long neck at the eighth pole," Ycaza said afterwards, "but now he has too much taken out of him with our fighting, and he has not enough strength for the last part of the race."
Whirlaway's record falls
The strength, at this point, belonged to Decidedly. Hartack brought him charging on the outside, a magnificent streak of graceful gray in the bright afternoon sun. Moving with nimbleness and power, his long-reaching stride took him triumphantly past Ridan and then Roman Line. Roman Line was second by a neck over Ridan who had the same margin over Sir Ribot. None of them really had any excuse. Hartack and Decidedly would probably have beaten any 3-year-old in the country. Decidedly, the only son of a Derby winner in the field, became the second gray horse to win the race. The first was his sire, Determine, who won in 1954. He also broke Whirlaway's 21-year-old Derby record of 2:01[2/5] by a full second, but on a track so dangerously hard and fast that even the fifth-place horse was under Whirlaway's time. The average track cushion is three inches. At Churchill Downs it is 1½ inches, but on Derby Day even this had been reduced to less than one inch.
Aside from the fact that this Derby was rewarding to those in the huge crowd who were paid off at $19.40 for $2 for a winning ticket on Decidedly, it was a tremendous achievement for the winning team of Pope, Luro and Hartack. Pope has been trying to breed a classic winner for years at his 16,000-acre El Peco Ranch in California's San Joaquin Valley. "You bring a horse up," he said of Decidedly, "love him from the day you first see him, race him the way you think is best and hope to win a classic like the Derby." After the race he was virtually dazed into silence as he stood on the concrete-hard track awaiting the traditional winner's circle ceremony of the roses. As his gray was brought to him he looked at him like a man in love. "I never saw a better horse," he said finally.