Within the space of 48 hours last week the two strong winter book favorites for the May 1 Kentucky Derby, Bold Lad and Lucky Debonair, suffered defeats, and the immediate natural reaction was to try to discover a couple of valid excuses. The effort wasn't really necessary. First, on a sloppy track at Keeneland, Lucky Debonair—who had proved his real worth by winning the mile-and-an-eighth Santa Anita Derby on March 6—missed by a neck in the seven-furlong Forerunner Purse. Two afternoons later at Aqueduct, Bold Lad—attempting to go more than a mile for the first time in his career—missed by just over a length when he finished third to Flag Raiser and Hail to All in the nine-furlong Wood Memorial. The fact that both Lucky Debonair and Bold Lad were odds-on favorites makes the two upsets appear somewhat more significant than they really are. Actually, it was not surprising that both colts lost, but it would be surprising if they did not benefit vastly from the experience of racing instead of merely working.
Lucky Debonair had not had a start since his impressive Santa Anita score and was obviously very much in need of one. Under the allowance conditions of the Forerunner he had to give away nine pounds to John Galbreath's Bugler, and on top of that he caught an off track, which Bugler (a son of Sword Dancer) fancied better than any of the others in the six-horse field. What Lucky Debonair also caught, apparently, was Willie Shoemaker on a day when Willie chose to follow a convoy course that took him everywhere at Keeneland but into the sacred members' club. This week things may turn out more auspiciously for Shoe and Lucky Debonair. They should have little trouble winning the mile-and-an-eighth Blue Grass Stakes against a field that is likely to include Bugler's stablemate, Country Friend, and such other undistinguished runners as Swift Ruler, Adsum, Famous Lover, Bay Phantom and Mr. Pak.
If anyone was entitled to come up with an excuse for Bold Lad's losing the Wood Memorial (the first time, incidentally, that this son of Bold Ruler has ever finished worse than second), it was either Trainer Bill Winfrey or Jockey Manuel Ycaza. Neither did. '"He shouldn't necessarily have gotten that tired, but he just did," said Winfrey, thankful that at least his handsome chestnut had come back from the race as sound as when he went into it.
While it would seem that Bold Lad should have made more of a race of it just on his class alone, he nevertheless had every right to get tired. His works had been steady and good, but he was nowhere near as seasoned as the other horses in this better-than-average Wood field. While many of them already had run nine furlongs at least once this year, Bold Lad had had but one race since mid-October—winning a six-furlong allowance event two weeks ago. On this record alone he was entitled to tire. And the way the race was run, you knew that he was going to.
Flag Raiser, the speedy Florida-bred that Hirsch Jacobs trains for his partner, Isidor Bieber, is the sort of colt that will tire any horse that runs after him. He likes to bust out of the starting gate and run as far as he can as fast as he can. At Aqueduct this spring he used those tactics to win the Bay Shore at seven furlongs and the Gotham at a mile, by 5½ and four lengths respectively. When nothing in the field runs with him and he is permitted to open long leads, he reminds you of Beau Purple or Gun Bow, and those two were mighty tough to catch when they got loose on the front end.
I don't know if other jockeys in the Wood planned to contest the early pace with Bobby Ussery on Flag Raiser, but if they went into the gate with this noble thought Ussery quickly made them forget it. He barreled Flag Raiser out of there as if the avenging angel were in pursuit, and that was the last anybody saw of them until the field came back in front of the stands nine furlongs later. Ycaza, substituting on Bold Lad for his Panamanian countryman Braulio Baeza, who was grounded by a 10-day suspension, shot his colt smartly into second position as the field swung into the first turn and kept him there as they raced up the backstretch. Reflecting on the race later, Ogden Phipps, son of Bold Lad's owner, Mrs. Henry C. Phipps, said, "I felt that Bold Lad could go up and get Flag Raiser any time he wanted to." Ycaza felt exactly the same way, and after leaving the half-mile pole he let out a notch on Bold Lad. Sure enough, they immediately started closing the four-length gap. "I got to within two lengths of Flag Raiser at the eighth pole," Ycaza said afterward, "but then Bold Lad just got tired and couldn't make up any more ground."
After tearing off the first six furlongs in 1:09 3/5, Flag Raiser tired, too—so much so that it took him nearly 41 seconds to travel the last three furlongs, and he was literally staggering as he crossed the wire. Hail to All, who likes to come from way out of it, rushed up this time from 10th place to nearly nip the winner. But, exactly as he had done in the Florida Derby, he failed to make it by a neck, although he did beat Bold Lad by a length. Bold Lad's stablemate, Dapper Dan, made up nearly two lengths on the fast-flying Hail to All in the stretch and finished fastest of all to be fourth. This son of Ribot thereby earned himself a trip to Louisville. Before the Wood, Bill Winfrey planned to send Bold Lad right into the Derby without further preps. Now the colt probably will have one more start, in the one-mile Derby Trial over the Churchill Downs strip five days before the big run. It should help him a lot.