Nothing perks up an indifferent racing season, especially in the unpredictable 2-year-old division, as much as the sudden emergence of a colt who bowls over his contemporaries with the verve and dash of a potential champion. Happily, just such a youngster has recently appeared in Chicago. After winning three minor races at Arlington Park from July 25th to August 27th, Mary Fisher's chestnut Golden Ruler proved himself the hard way last Saturday. He did it with distinction in the seven-furlong Arlington-Washington Futurity which, in the unlikely event anyone is still not aware of it, is correctly billed as the world's richest horse race. The gross purse on the line in Chicago Saturday was $352,500.
Fifteen colts made it to the gate, including two supplementary nominees, Malicious and Mr. Brick, at a cost of $25,000 each. Curiously enough, these two were among the four horses who did not return to the barn with, at least, walking-around money. In addition to Golden Ruler, no fewer than 10 horses earned something, from the $90,000 that Raymond Guest's Chieftain picked up for second down to the $5,000 won by Sun Eternal, who struggled in 14 lengths back.
Despite this golden outpouring, the day belonged to Mary Fisher, her trainer, Chuck Werstler, and their gallant runner. They won a fine, tough race, but not before one horse and his jockey were nearly killed. Amastar, one of the favorites, drew the inside post. He is a speed horse, anyway, and it figured that the draw would help him almost as much as it might hinder Malicious, who had drawn the 15th spot—a lonely stall in the auxiliary starting gate some six feet to the outside of the 14th stall in the regular gate. The start was as perfect as anyone could expect and Amastar, under Jimmy Nichols, broke alertly and was shooting for the lead with Dunfee and Malicious. The start in the Futurity at Arlington, however, is from the chute on the backstretch. This means that the horses must run nearly a 16th of a mile on the chute before the course runs into the main track. The point where the two merge is marked, not by the continuous portable railing used at some tracks (and which should be used at all of them), but by two ordinary sawhorses positioned in such a way as to persuade horses that this is actually part of the inside railing.
Amastar is not the kind of colt easily persuaded of anything. He fights his trainer and handlers while being saddled and usually throws another wingding at the sight of Jockey Nichols approaching him. But on Saturday, after running perfectly straight from the gate, Amastar suddenly went berserk at the sight of the two sawhorses, or "dogs", as racetrackers call them. He swerved sharply to the inside, ran right into one of the saw-horses and bowled it over. Nichols hung on desperately, but when Amastar nearly went down, he was thrown heavily to the ground, suffering compressed fractures of several vertebrae between his shoulders as well as two dislocated toes.
Meanwhile, there was a race going on. The long shot, Dunfee, had the lead to himself after Amastar's spill, but Malicious was pressing him and Golden Ruler, with Herberto Hinojosa aboard, was not far behind. Actually, Hinojosa and Golden Ruler were closest to Amastar when the latter ran amuck, and the noise of the crash, according to Hinojosa, was enough to cause Golden Ruler to check himself momentarily. Hinojosa looked ahead, saw that Dunfee was drawing away, and quickly moved up. Malicious was running with Dunfee, and from the time the field went into the far turn the race was among these three.
In the turn, it was Malicious who gave up first, possibly under the effect of so much speed expended early and because of a knee that has had a suspicious look about it for some time now. Dunfee hung on surprisingly well, but Golden Ruler nailed him about the eighth pole. At the finish, Chieftain was traveling fastest of all to beat Dunfee by a head for second place. The rest of the favorites were up the track, with Malicious the last to finish and Rex Ellsworth's The Scoundrel a dismal ninth.
We may have a legitimate champion in Golden Ruler. He is an average-size horse with floppy ears, not really good looking, but he is deeply muscled all the way through and, what is more important, he is in extremely competent hands. Mary Fisher, 49-year-old daughter of the late Charles Fisher of Dixiana Farm in Lexington, Ky. and heiress to the "Body by Fisher" fortune, is a thorough horsewoman. She rode many of Dixiana's champions in the show ring, and she is attached to the conservative school of racing theory. "We pointed for this one race this summer," she said in the winner's circle, "and we're going to take it easy with this colt. I think we'll skip the big eastern races and run in the Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on October 19. That will be five starts for him this year, and that's enough. Then we will go to Hialeah and aim for the Flamingo next winter."
There is no doubt about Golden Ruler's credentials. He is by King of the Tudors, a top English racer and an equally top sire. Golden Ruler's dam, Fulvous, by Spy Song, was an outstanding 2-year-old filly of her year in this country. And Chuck Werstler, who learned his race-tracking as a foreman with Hasty House Farm, is a sound trainer. A handsome 43-year-old from Greentown, Ohio, he almost blushed when he said proudly, "This is a great honor for a farm boy."
When Mary Fisher got her $122,500 check from Arlington's Marje Everett, however, she wasn't blushing. Thinking of her friends back in Detroit, of her friends in Lexington and her racing friends everywhere, she said, "I hate to imagine what this is going to cost me before I get through. When people read about your winning such a big sum you suddenly find you have a whole bunch of new friends."