If the entries in the May 2 Kentucky Derby were to be judged purely on looks in Madison Square Garden's showring the chances are that the grand championship blue ribbon would wind up in the trophy case of Paul Mellon, whose fabulous 3,500-acre farm in Upperville, Va. is something of a blue ribbon showcase itself. Mellon, a sportsman who belongs to what racing traditionalists still refer to as the "old school," is a fox hunter, an enormously wealthy financier, a collector of priceless art and also one of the few men you will find wandering around a racetrack (or anywhere else) in a gray pinstriped double-breasted suit. What Mr. Mellon has going for him at this particular moment of the horse racing year is a magnificent bay colt named Quadrangle.
Quadrangle is trained by Elliott Burch—which does not hurt any Thoroughbred—and last Saturday for the 40th Wood Memorial he was ridden by Bill Hartack—which does not hurt, either. By combining their talents before 58,132 Aqueduct spectators, they beat eight rivals over the mile-and-an-eighth distance. And suddenly everyone in racing realized that Quadrangle may be just the horse to change the Big Two of Hill Rise and Northern Dancer into the Big Three. Certainly Quadrangle ran in the Wood as though he were just starting to improve—not like a horse who already has reached his peak.
Only two of the nine horses in the Wood ever had the lead, and one of them, Mr. Brick, once again proved two things: 1) he'll run as fast as he can as far as he can and 2) he is just not up to beating top-quality colts at nine furlongs. This time, as he did in the Flamingo, he took the lead immediately. If someone had not gone with him it is possible that he would have stolen the race in the first half mile. But the someone that did go with him was Quadrangle, and it seemed, when the two of them rolled along the backstretch—Mr. Brick with his tail switching curiously and Quadrangle under a tight Hartack hold—that Mr. Mellon's pride could take the lead whenever he wanted to. "He's always been a good gate horse anyway," said Trainer Burch later, "but this time we put blinkers on for the first time, because he has a tendency to loaf. He likes to run with the pace and didn't get his chance to do that in the Flamingo. He was bumped and then crowded at the start."
In the Wood, Hartack kept Quadrangle free of trouble at all times. He moved to the lead at the head of the stretch, and although Mr. Brick hung on with the courageous tenacity of a Crozier trying to fight off a Carry Back, Quadrangle won by half a length. Roman Brother made a run at both the leaders turning for home but then gave way and finished third, nearly two lengths behind Mr. Brick. Behind them came Traffic, Chieftain, Sacred River, Knightly Manner (who ran one of the few bad races of his career to disqualify himself from a Derby trip), Twice as Gay and Timbeau. Quadrangle covered the distance in 1:49⅕ the same time registered by No Robbery a year ago. But he won like a big country colt, with his ears pricked; and Hartack, who has been committed to ride Northern Dancer in the Derby (see page 28) was moved to remark with most untypical Hartack enthusiasm, "This is a running son of a gun. He's a real good horse."
There is no reason why Quadrangle should not be a real good horse. A Mellon home-bred, he is one of the first sons of Cohoes out of the stakes-producing mare Tap Day by Bull Lea, from whom, apparently, he inherits his ample size: 16 hands 1 inch and 1,100 pounds. "He was a little gawky as a 2-year-old," says Burch, "and because of his size we brought him along slow." After only six starts at 2, Quadrangle (who is named for the area at Yale where Elis used to gather on Tap Day to be picked for membership in senior societies) has only been to the races four times this season. At Hialeah last February he lost his first time out to Calumet Farm's Ky. Pioneer, but only by a head. In the Flamingo, after all the trouble at the start, he nonetheless finished third behind Northern Dancer and Mr. Brick. Then, two and half weeks before the Wood, he beat Knightly Manner a neck in a one-mile allowance race at Aqueduct.
Although his sire, Cohoes, may not have been a true classic horse when he raced a few seasons back for Greentree, he did win stakes at 2, 3 and 4, and in 1958 he beat Bold Ruler in the Brooklyn Handicap and Gallant Man in the Sysonby. Quadrangle has a half-sister named Secret Step, who won seven races abroad and was considered one of the best sprinters in England, where she and approximately a dozen other Mellon-owned horses are in the care of Trainer Peter Hastings-Bass.
"I would say that Quadrangle is the best, or certainly potentially the best, horse I have ever owned," says Mellon. "He was going easily at the end of the Wood, and that's what I liked about his race. That and, of course, the way he moved to the front."
A day before the race Burch was talking about Quadrangle at his barn at Belmont Park. "I don't think I'm out of the running for the Derby," he said. "This colt will win his share." The question next week is whether that share includes the wreath of roses that Burch's Sword Dancer gave up by the margin of a skimpy nose to Tomy Lee in the 1959 Derby.
Hill Rise, still a Kentucky Derby favorite although he had not raced in the seven weeks since he took the Santa Anita Derby, got his first prep at Keeneland last Friday and won The Forerunner, a seven-furlong, betless exhibition, rather handily. He will have his final tune-up in the one-mile Derby Trial at Churchill Downs April 28. His major rival, Northern Dancer, goes in this week's Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, the mile-and-an-eighth test that Chateaugay won a year ago to set himself up as a serious Derby contender.
Two of Hill Rise's familiar foes, Real Good Deal and Wil Rad, hooked up in the California Derby at Golden Gate Fields with the former winning by nearly a length. Real Good Deal, at 17 hands 2 inches, must be the largest 3-year-old in training, but his owner, Ellwood B. Johnston, does not think he is mature enough to rate a trip to Kentucky. Wil Rad, an unfashionably-bred son of an Irish stallion named Dumpty Humpty, is, however, going to give it a try. With nothing but sprinting blood in his veins it looks like a futile trip across the Rockies.