A HORSE THAT WAS READY AT THE RIGHT TIME
Only a handful of admirers stood up to be counted when a sleek chestnut colt named Chateaugay won the Blue Grass at Keeneland nine days before the Kentucky Derby by taking a head decision over Get Around. He had not yet faced the big three—Candy Spots, Never Bend and No Robbery—his critics said. Among the few who were sure of his class were Chateaugay's owner, John W. Galbreath, his trainer, Jimmy Conway, and stone-faced, icy-cool and wondrously gifted Jockey Braulio Baeza. After the Blue Grass this diminutive citizen of Panama told his bosses and anyone else who cared to listen: "This horse is ready to run two miles." Conway endorsed both Baeza and his observations: "This jock suits him perfectly. The horse runs more freely for Baeza. Besides, Chateaugay is just now getting properly seasoned."
The key word there was "now"—not nine weeks ago for the Flamingo or Santa Anita Derby, or five weeks ago for the Florida Derby, or two weeks ago for the Wood Memorial. Right now.
Although he is a son of Swaps, Chateaugay had drawn little attention this spring while winning all three of his pre-Derby starts. First he won a seven-furlong allowance race at Hialeah, then a slightly longer one at Keeneland in mid-April. He really qualified for the Derby by winning the Blue Grass—a mile and an eighth in a snappy 1:48—but in this odd season an unbeaten horse hardly seemed cause for setting off fireworks.
Two of the Derby starters, Candy Spots and No Robbery, had never been beaten in their young lives, and in addition to Chateaugay there was Never Bend with a clean 1963 record. This meant that, among them, four of the nine Derby starters had won 13 races this year and lost none. Chateaugay was the least regarded member of this distinguished quartet, because his victories were not impressive and he had not beaten top-rank opposition.
In the final hectic days before the Derby, crowds of newsmen and bettors dragged themselves out at dawn to look over the big three in the Churchill Downs barns. Candy Spots was the main attraction of barn 41, and rightly so. Trainer Mesh Tenney appeared supremely confident. His horse was ready, he told the sightseers, to run the race of his life. Tenney himself was having an unusually busy social life. To please the writers he went to many evening functions, but then took revenge on them by working Candy Spots at 6 a.m. instead of at the more civilized hour of 8:30 or 9. And when asked for an opinion of the race, Tenney would screw up his face into one big wrinkled grin and groan, "We have settled into the desperate calm that everyone else is in—and now we just have to wait. I think it's a desperate thing to get any part of the purse. I thought so with Swaps, and I think so now."
Down the line at barn 42 was Never Bend, guarded around the clock by a special force of three uniformed sergeants of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency. Trainer Woody Stephens and Owner Harry Guggenheim were noticeably worried over Never Bend's left front ankle, but they decided at the last minute that this minor injury, incurred at Keeneland, was not sufficient to prevent the colt from running his best race. Still, they worried. At the other end of barn 42 was No Robbery. He worked in blinkers and worked well in them. Trainer John Gaver preferred to talk about the New York Mets rather than about his horse, but No Robbery looked trim and alert, and his willingness to run in a straight line instead of a convoy course spoke for itself.
In between these two showpieces in barn 42 was Patrice Jacobs' Bonjour, while on the other side of the barn—the unfashionable side—was Chateaugay. Not many people went to call on him, for not many people really believed he had a good shot at the big money. Trainer Conway leaned against the side of the shed row with a happy smile on his face and told visitors, "If I didn't think we were ready to run a mile and a quarter we wouldn't be here."
By Saturday all Louisville was in a high-grade tizzy. John Gaver told Jockey John Rotz not to gun No Robbery into the lead if he could rate him. Captain Guggenheim and Woody Stephens huddled with Jockey Manuel Ycaza and gave some specific instructions: "Let him break on his own, and then take a reading from there. But don't run head and head with anyone." Running head and head is the cardinal sin at Cain Hoy.
Mesh Tenney didn't have to tell Jockey Bill Shoemaker the obvious—keep Candy Spots off the pace but within striking distance at all times. When Braulio Baeza showed up at Jimmy Conway's side the Gal breath trainer didn't bother with any advice either. He simply said, "You're the jockey. You ride him. I have confidence in you—and in him."
At the start Ycaza broke Never Bend away from the gate like a rocket. Beside him No Robbery broke equally well, and the pair of them streaked by the stands the first time on their way to a 23-second first quarter. But just three lengths behind, and ideally positioned, was the team of Shoemaker and Candy Spots. The rest were well back, even then, and as the field—with Chateaugay in sixth place—spun into the first turn the enormous crowd settled down to watch exactly the sort of race they had come to see: the three best horses in the first three positions and a dingdong mile still to go.
What most of the crowd failed to notice, even in this early stage of the race, was that Shoemaker was having trouble with Candy Spots. The spotted marvel was acting rank for the first time in his career, and Shoe had his hands full. Midway in the first turn Candy Spots almost ran up on No Robbery's heels before Shoe could check him. Up the backstretch Never Bend, No Robbery and Candy Spots kept the same order. Chateaugay was sixth, 10 lengths away.
Then, as the leaders flashed by the half-mile pole after covering the first half in 46 2/5 and six furlongs in 1:10, Shoe somehow maneuvered his colt into a blind switch. He was trapped by the two leaders just when he should have been clear and ready to move on the outside.
"I had to steady him at the five-sixteenths pole," said Shoe later, "and I don't have any excuse for staying inside. I guess it's that I felt No Robbery was trying to bear out and I didn't want to get messed up with him." Some observers felt that it was Shoe himself who was messing things up. From the three-eighths pole to the five-sixteenths pole, what with checking and being trapped, Shoemaker lost anywhere from one to two lengths. "It wasn't his day," said one horseman. "It was an old-fashioned clinker—a real doozy."
Turning for home, Shoemaker dropped Candy Spots in on the rail—a most unfamiliar place for a horse who always runs his best on the outside. And then, seeing that he was getting nowhere, Shoe took him back out for the run to the wire. Whether Candy could have overhauled Never Bend by following different tactics is academic now. In fact, it was doubtful even then. By that stage Baeza had skillfully brought Chateaugay through the horses behind the leaders. As the field turned into the final straightaway Chateaugay was only three lengths back and really rolling. No Robbery gave up the fight. "He died at the quarter pole," said Jockey Rotz. But Never Bend was not dying. He fought gallantly on. As Woody Stephens noted later, "He done his best."
Never Bend's best was not good enough, however. Chateaugay wore him down in the stretch and won by a length and a quarter, with Candy Spots just another neck away. He did it in exactly the same time (2:01 4/5) posted by his daddy when Swaps upset Nashua in 1955. On My Honor came from last with a typical late run to be fourth. He was followed home by a tired No Robbery and then by Bonjour and the long shots Gray Pet, Investor and Royal Tower. When Baeza came back he allowed himself one weak smile and said, "This is a very kind horse, and this is the kind of race I have on my mind since I was a little boy." It was also the first time any foreign jockey had won the Kentucky Derby.
When all hands gathered later at the victory party, there were few alibis. Said Guggenheim, "Never Bend withstood all those horses but one, and he really had no excuse that I can think of." Rex Ellsworth, noting that Candy Spots had never been rank before, also said that his chestnut had come back gasping and gagging and with a considerable amount of dirt in his head. "I thought our horse could run better than that," said Tenney. "I can't give him an excuse because I know that two good horses beat him." Then, turning to the winning owner, John Galbreath, Mesh added, "If we couldn't win, I'm sure glad to see you win. In fact, we always get a kick out of seeing any son of Swaps win. And yours is a good one."
That Columbus, Ohio real estate man and builder Galbreath (SI, June 1, 1959) should have come up with a colt like Chateaugay seems only fair. This walking dynamo has worked hard—and paid dearly—for his success. He began nearly 30 years ago with 110 acres and five $100 mares and now owns 3,700 acres near Columbus and 600 more acres in Lexington, Ky. He bought Swaps from Ellsworth for $2 million and then spent another $1,350,000 to lease the Italian champion Ribot for five years of stud duty. He has spent better than $5 million to build up a representative racing stable, or just about what he also kicked in to buy and improve the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team. "I guess you'd say that we've hit our peak in both sports now," Galbreath said. "Beating the Yankees in the 1960 World Series was the greatest thing that ever happened to me in baseball. And now achieving our goal in racing with a Derby winner is the greatest all over again. Nobody can possibly know how really thrilled you can be until he experiences it."
The next experience for the Derby participants will be in the Preakness at Pimlico on May 18. Chateaugay and Never Bend are aiming for it. After some early indecision by Ellsworth and Tenney, Candy Spots will be sent to Baltimore, too. "He deserves the chance to try the Preakness," said Tenney. With these three (No Robbery is out of the race with bucked shins), and with such non-Derby starters as Ahoy and Get Around, the show at Pimlico should be just as exciting as the one at Churchill Downs.