Racing, a sport that rests on established form, merrily continues to turn up pleasant surprises—pleasant for some, at any rate. That's what happened in New Jersey last week as the long season neared its finish with the running of the $311,945 Garden State for 2-year-olds. The big-money boys took a licking, and a crew of former livery-stable operators made like the casts of Broadway Bill and National Velvet rolled into one.
The day before the big race the stage belonged to big business. Millionaire John Olin, a mastermind of Olin Mathieson Chemical Corporation, who had paid $75,000 for his Swaps-Cosmah colt Fathers Image, decided to get a return on some of the money he has invested in racing ($1 million in five years). He turned to the new glamour boy of the syndication set, eager young John Gaines, who bred Fathers Image in the first place, and they worked out a SI million syndication. Olin, with one sweep of his pen, received $666,666 for a two-thirds interest in Fathers Image who, although superbly bred, is still eligible for nonwinners-of-two-races.
In less than a year and a half John Gaines has organized the syndication of five horses for a total value of nearly $6 million. Besides Fathers Image, they are Gun Bow, Olden Times, Candy Spots and Prove It. But the latest deal was the first involving a 2-year-old—a non-stakes-winner at that—and the price was unrealistically high. It was the 17th million-dollar syndication in the U.S. in the last 10 years. There had never been one of these proportions before the Nashua sale for $1,251,200 in 1955.
Meanwhile, far removed from such financial operations, there were three brothers named Al, Angelo and Joe Pepino who once owned a livery stable in suburban Philadelphia. They had been mixed up in racing in a minor way since 1942 but, though they kept working at it and hoping, they never could come up with anything that had classic pretensions. Last fall at the Maryland sales the Pepinos paid $4,500 for a roan colt bred by C. Mahlon Kline's French sire Saim. They named him Prince Saim and, while brother Al trained him, brothers Angelo and Joe went on hoping. He ran eight times this season before he finally won, on October 20. Jockey Joe Culmone popped off his back and said, "We may have something here." In his next two times out he finished respectably close to Fathers Image and Stands to Reason. Culmone pleaded with the Pepinos, "You've got to put up $10,000 to supplement him to The Garden State. I'll even put up half of it myself if necessary."
That sold the Pepinos, and last Saturday their $4,500 purchase paraded in front of all those people at Garden State and walked around the ring just behind Fathers Image and a few places ahead of colts like Stands to Reason, the multiple stakes-winner Our Michael and Reginald Webster's Amberoid. John Olin and John Gaines were there, too, nervously watching Fathers Image while Trainer Arnold Winick saddled him. Trainer Al Pepino looked a little worn himself. When his night watchman had failed to show up Friday night Pepino drove his car as close as possible to Prince Saim's stall and settled down in it in good Hollywood tradition.
In the same tradition, Prince Saim won The Garden State by a neck over Gun-flint, while the million-dollar Fathers Image was back in sixth place, beaten by more than four lengths. The Pepinos collected a check for $187,167, and the syndicators collected not a penny.
Despite all this, The Garden State did little to change anybody's opinion about the 2-year-old championship or about what lies in store for this division's contenders in 1966. The title will rightfully go to Ogden Phipps's Buckpasser, although there are some who say that A. B. Hancock's wonderful filly, Moccasin, is Buckpasser's equal in every way. This is a dispute that will not be settled on the racetrack during the classic season-ahead, because while Buckpasser and other leading colts like Graustark will winter-race in Florida in preparation for the Triple Crown events, Moccasin will confine her activities to running against her own sex. Hancock believes she may be the best filly he's ever seen, but he says, "Except at the end of a season, when there is nothing ahead but a long rest, I don't believe in running fillies against colts. I will not point her for the Kentucky Derby. I honestly believe she might be able to beat the colts, but if we had to get her ready for this tough race in May she might never be the same again. If she holds her form, however, I would definitely plan to send her against colts later in the season."
While Buckpasser and Graustark figure to have things all their own way at Hialeah this winter, Santa Anita will be producing stars of its own. One should be Priceless Gem, Hirsch Jacobs' fine filly who upset Buckpasser in The Futurity at Aqueduct this fall. Another, far less heralded, is Lou Rowan's undefeated colt Coursing, who has been running against second-string opposition. Nevertheless, he has won all of his five starts, including the Del Mar Futurity, and is far and away the best 2-year-old in California this year. He is by Fleet Nasrullah, who has yet to produce any noteworthy stayers, but his dam is Mrs. Rabbit, whose son, Spinney, won the 1957 Santa Anita Maturity (now the Charles Strub Stakes) at a mile and a quarter It will be worth watching Coursing's development this winter against a better class of competition. He may be a good one.
A lot of others may be good, too, including some complete unknowns. As Jimmy Jones said after Prince Saim upset the field in The Garden State, "This is the time of year when the substitutes get off the bench with splinters in the seat of their pants and surprise you. This is the time—from now until the Kentucky Derby."
One of the Pepino brothers said, "Do you suppose we have another Carry Back here?"