This Native never left home

Running only in his home state of California, Native Diver adds to his local popularity and his stature in racing's handicap division
July 25, 1965

Jerry Lambert, originally of Clyde, Kans., is a pleasant-faced lad of 24 whose current address is Fort Ord, Calif. and whose current classification is Pfc. Lambert is a wrecker operator, for which toil he receives regular U.S. Army pay of $99.37 each month. The way things are working out he figures $99.37 should be enough.

Jerry has good reason to feel this way. He has found that two of the most cooperative guys at Fort Ord are the commanding officer and first sergeant of the 794th Maintenance Company, who okay Jerry's requests for passes so that he can pursue his civilian occupation of jockey. Last week Pfc. Lambert brought his wrecking-operator talent down the coast to Hollywood Park where he turned the 26th mile-and-a-quarter Hollywood Gold Cup into a merry shambles. After just 2:00 1/5 running time aboard Lou K. Shapiro's amazing 6-year-old gelding Native Diver, Lambert won by five lengths and pocketed a jock's fee of $10,210. In the process of increasing his daily take-home pay by some 3,000% Jerry also injected the name of Native Diver into the 1965 handicap picture.

In any given racing season the success of the handicap division usually depends on how well the previous year's 3-year-olds develop as weight-toting 4-year-olds. If the newly turned 4s don't hold their old form, the handicap class is apt to take on a sickly look—unless, of course, horses as old as 8 can still drub everything in sight. Those who were expected to stimulate interest in the older division this year, for example, were Quadrangle and Hill Rise, after Northern Dancer went permanently to the sidelines last summer. But Hill Rise, despite having won the Santa Anita Handicap this winter, has yet to return to top form. At least he didn't show it at Hollywood Park, where he ran third to Native Diver last week. Quadrangle, who shipped west to share the spoils of Hollywood Park's ultrarich purse distribution, could not win a race over the track's ultrafast strip and came home to New York to await this week's mile-and-a-quarter Brooklyn Handicap at Aqueduct. Prospects for the whole division might have seemed gloomy were it not for the brilliant form of a handful of older runners led by Kelso, who looks so good and is running so effortlessly that he isn't retiring after all. He won a stakes at Delaware Park a couple of weeks ago and will be favored in the Brooklyn. Others who will keep the handicap division jumping this summer include Pia Star, Viking Spirit, Chieftain, Malicious, Repeating (winner of last week's Monmouth Handicap), Tenacle, Smart, a refreshed and eager-to-run Roman Brother and the great mare Affectionately.

If this were still the winter season, when the top horses congregate either at Hialeah or Santa Anita, the handicap class would present a remarkably attractive series of contests. But in summer the division is spread out from California to Chicago to New Jersey and New York, and the tracks wage a continuous battle to attract the best horses for their rich stakes. Thousands of miles from its chief competitors, Hollywood Park has more than held its own in this struggle and last week some 59,000 fans poured out of the beautiful track of the lakes and flowers fully convinced that in Native Diver they had seen the logical successor to Kelso for national honors. Now in his fifth year of racing, and despite an overall record of 25 wins in 53 starts and earnings of $536,350, Native Diver has yet to set foot outside his native California. But this year he will race at Arlington Park and then possibly at Aqueduct because, as Owner Shapiro puts it, "our horse has earned the opportunity to see what he can do against the best horses in the Midwest and East."

Certainly Native Diver has come up the hard way. As a yearling on Shapiro's ranch at Canoga, Calif., he had such an awkward stride and so little coordination that he could hardly walk. He fell down through sheer clumsiness. He had a back injury, was fractious and headstrong and ultimately was gelded. Since those uncertain days Native Diver, who runs on the lead with blazing speed, has won more stakes on California tracks—22—than any other horse in history. His victories include at least one stakes at each California track, and he has become the most popular horse in the West since Swaps. Carrying top weight of 124 pounds in the Gold Cup, he took the lead from the gate and rattled off sensational fractions (including 1:08 4/5 for six furlongs and the mile in 1:34 1/5) to win easily over Babington, despite a slowed up last quarter of 26 seconds. After having tied the world record of 1:20 for seven furlongs earlier this year, Native Diver has shown he also can go a classic distance. Now the prospect of his meeting up with Kelso, Pia Star, Roman Brother and Quadrangle is exciting indeed. If the commanding officer of Fort Ord's 794th Maintenance Company is as nice a guy as they say he is, he might see to it that Pfc. Jerry Lambert makes corporal by then—and still gets his weekend pass.

PHOTOOUT FRONT all the way, Native Diver leads by five lengths at finish of Hollywood Gold Cup.