Nobody who has followed the races in this country for the last 10 years is apt to confuse Stanley Conrad with Fred Hooper, Ogden Phipps or Rex Ellsworth—or, for that matter, any of our leading money-winning owners. And yet in his own quiet and unobtrusive way Stanley has been working just as hard as any of them toward the racetrackers' common objective: ownership of a horse good enough to win a major stakes race.
Stanley Conrad is a stocky 46-year-old native of Prospect, Ky. and co-owner of the Louisville Chair Company, which turns out dinette suites. For 10 years he has been dabbling in the horse business and figures he has owned maybe 40 Thoroughbreds. He has seven horses in training.
"I've always been partial to fillies," said Stanley at Delaware Park last Saturday as he sipped champagne with Delaware Governor Elbert N. Carvel. He said it with a broad grin and a happy chuckle, for a few minutes earlier his 5-year-old mare Old Hat had won the prestigious Delaware Handicap, worth $121,930, and Stanley's cut of the swag came to $79,254.50.
"This is the first horse I've ever owned who has won a stake," said the smiling winner. Jockey Buck Thornburg was equally delighted. Old Hat was his first $100,000 stakes winner. "This mare has never won at over a mile," he said, "and here she goes and beats the best fillies and mares in the country at a mile and a quarter. Her only real claim to fame before today's race was that she beat Cicada twice—and that's something not too many mares have done."
As a 17-to-1 shot in the major midsummer handicap for fillies and mares, Old Hat, a daughter of the sprinter Boston Doge, seemed to be outclassed. Her opposition in a 12-horse field included not only Waltz Song, who had won this race in 1963, but also Harry Nichols' Miss Cavandish, the 3-year-old filly champion, and Mrs. John Thouron's flashy Argentinian import, Snow Scene 2nd. Those horses looked as though they should easily take care of Old Hat (whom Conrad bought for $9,500 from his neighbor W. A. Nelson).
But Stanley and his trainer, Charles C. Norman, and Jockey Thornburg had different ideas—and so, as it turned out, did Old Hat herself. In the paddock of Delaware Park's beautiful countryside track, Norman looked Thornburg right in the eye and gave him some rather specific battle orders: "Break on top. Don't get more than one length in front. If something passes you, let them go, and conserve your horse until the stretch. Then just let her go."
Well, amazing as it may seem in a day when most jockeys consider themselves master strategists and unofficial trainers, that is exactly what Buck Thornburg did. When the gate flew open Thornburg roared out of his inside post position and took the lead just the way he wanted to. When he saw himself two lengths in front of Waltz Song turning up the backstretch he followed Norman's orders and eased up slightly, then kept his mare running smoothly and well in hand after Waltz Song passed him and took the lead, which she held until just past the quarter pole.
Turning for home Thornburg "let her go," as instructed, and away she went, "like a new bonnet instead of an old hat," Thornburg said later. Miss Cavandish, the only 3-year-old in the race, made a gallant run for the big purse and did exceptionally well to finish second, beaten only a length and a quarter. A similar margin separated her from the third-place Waltz Song, who had nearly a length advantage over Owner-Author Ernie Havemann's game Nubile. The time was a moderate 2:04 after slow early fractions of 23 3/5, 48, 1:12 4/5 and the mile in 1:38. With Waltz Song and Old Hat slowing the pace to suit themselves, and no other horse willing to challenge until it was too late, the come-from-behind stretch runners never really had a chance.