In the first defeat of his career last week, Graustark (on the rail) loses by a nose to Abe's Hope in the slop at Keeneland. He came out of the race with an infected hoof, which muddled all calculations for Saturday's Kentucky Derby. Now Abe's Hope, the Illinois-bred here ridden by champion Willie Shoemaker, may be the big race favorite
May 08, 1966


Like most young ladies of her generation, Miss Mabel Galbreath thrived on the romantic novels of George Barr McCutcheon. And of all the popular writer's works, her favorite was a "story of love behind the throne" in a mythical central European kingdom known as Graustark. McCutcheon produced this heartthrobber in 1901, and it fascinated the older sister of Ohio millionaire John Galbreath. The capital of Graustark was the city of Edelweiss, and through the novel's pages Princess Yetive, the rightful ruler who occasionally passed herself off as Sophia Guggenslocker, came into contact—and sometimes conflict—with such characters as Mr. Anguish, the Prince of Axplain, the Duke of Mizrox, Baron Dangloss, a certain Sitsky and, of course, the Countess Dagmar. In the last chapter, naturally, Princess Yetive, aided by our hero, Grenfall Lorry, set things right in Graustark, and the two of them lived happily ever after. Sixty-three years later, having forgotten not a word of the novel, Mabel Galbreath, then 78 and living in an apartment in Columbus, Ohio, went to her brother with a belated pitch for George Barr McCutcheon. "John," she pleaded, "won't you ever name a horse the way I ask you to?"

"Of course I will," replied the owner of Darby Dan Farm as he ran his finger down the list of the 1963 crop, then yearlings. "This one," said Mabel Galbreath, pointing to the pedigree of a chestnut colt by Ribot out of the mare Flower Bowl. "This one—I'd be very pleased if you would name him Graustark."

Until a few weeks ago it appeared quite likely that Mabel Galbreath's choice would experience the same sort of ultimate glory—in his case, by winning the 92nd Kentucky Derby—as Princess Yetive had more than half a century ago in the Alpine wonderland of Graustark. But, suddenly, things began to go wrong with the most famous 3-year-old colt in America.

A Derby without Graustark will not bring about either a blackout or general mourning in Louisville. But it will mean that for the first time in memory the first 11 horses on the Experimental Free Handicap (the annual list of the previous season's 2-year-olds weighted according to their classic potential) will not start at Churchill Downs. Among the missing, besides Graustark, will be Buckpasser, Coursing, Fathers Image and Prince Saim, as well as the two leading fillies of the division in 1965, Moccasin and Priceless Gem. Also on the sidelines will be Boldnesian, Saber Mountain and Buffle, leaving such a mixed bag of hopeful also-rans and honest contenders that the classic could draw as many as 18 and provide the kind of traffic jam one expects only on a fogbound San Diego freeway.

Owners of thoroughbred racehorses, whether well-bred, expensively produced and carrying spotless records, or undeserving misfits who belong on the half-mile circuit, want to see their silks in the Derby. This is the most glamorous, gripping, one-day attraction in American sport and, if there is a chance to be in on the act, few horsemen can resist it. Curiously, when the prospective field draws three or four standouts, that usually is sufficient to scare off the humpty-dumpties—as was the case in 1957. But when there is only one, he does not frighten off the opposition, for everyone knows that if something goes wrong with the best horse that gives all the survivors a chance. And the best horse has been withdrawn before: a linear fracture knocked out Sir Gaylord 48 hours before the 1962 Derby, a stone bruise finished Gen. Duke at scratch time on Derby Day in 1957, and in 1931 the great Equipoise was pulled out during the running of the Derby Day card when it was discovered he had a quarter crack.

The growing uncertainty about Graustark, after a succession of training interruptions, brought a large invasion of pretenders to the crown to Louisville even before he was withdrawn. And with good reason. After running sensationally at Arlington Park three times last year, Graustark was fired for shin splints and given a long rest. His return to action this winter at Hialeah was held up by a bruise on his left hind heel that forced him to skip the Flamingo and the Florida Derby—both at the mile-and-an-eighth distance that Derby contenders are almost obliged to tackle in these days of arduous winter racing.

Last week trouble struck again, this time decisively. Training at Keeneland for his first effort over a distance in the mile-and-an-eighth Blue Grass Stakes—he had never gone over seven furlongs before—Graustark came up with a minor infection in the hoof of his left front foot. It apparently was cleared up overnight, and he went in the Blue Grass. On a track so sloppy and gritty that he scraped the backs of all four ankles, he was beaten a nose by Abe's Hope. The next day infection set in again, and X rays revealed he had broken a bone in the left front foot and would not run in the Derby—or in any other race, ever.

Graustark's stable will be criticized for running him at Keeneland on an off track. Before the race, Galbreath defended this action: "We have to go in a mile-and-a-furlong race to test him, and it is now or never." A few minutes later, as the rain whipped down on a stunned Keeneland audience, he added, "We thought he was fit and he wasn't." Trainer Loyd Gentry, in a way, agreed. "It was the first time he'd had to go all out, and he came back tired as hell. When Abe's Hope got by him in the stretch, Graustark came on again. He did the last eighth in 12[1/5] seconds and showed he had real guts. Still, I'll tell you, there's nothing like being seasoned. And I mean seasoned."

About the time that Gentry was offering this explanation and trying to believe it himself, there were other things being said about Graustark. A veteran Kentucky horseman said gloomily, "There's no way a horse this strong and fast can last on the tracks we have today. When he breaks down, everything's going to go. Horses like Graustark virtually kick themselves to pieces. Count Fleet was so fast that after he won the Belmont by 25 lengths he was finished for good. It was his last race." And in New York a knowledgeable bookmaker was saying to a friend, "Graustark may have been made one of the greatest false favorites in Derby history. Most other Derby favorites raced themselves into condition by going a mile and a sixteenth or nine furlongs during the spring and winter. This colt didn't. I don't care who a trainer is, there is no substitute for seasoning a horse for a mile and a quarter by racing competition. Workouts, no matter how brilliant, won't do it alone."

The two most seasoned colts who may go off as favorites in this Derby are an Illinois-bred and a Maryland-bred named, respectively, Abe's Hope and Kauai King. Not much was heard from either last year, but both now appear to be legitimate contenders and should relish going a testing distance.

Abe's Hope is the hard-luck horse of this year's Florida season. He was beaten a skinny nose by Buckpasser in the betless "Chicken Flamingo" after leading at the sixteenth pole, and a month later he won the Florida Derby only to lose it on a disqualification. In four races at a mile and an eighth he has never finished worse than third, and in his most recent effort he beat Graustark a nose after being seven lengths behind on the backstretch. Some experts believe his Blue Grass victory was the result of Graustark's lack of seasoning and an over-confident ride by Braulio Baeza on the favorite. Others assume Abe's Hope beat an ailing horse. But it is also true that Abe's Hope is a running little fool crammed with courage.

Bred by Illinois Racing Commissioner William S. Miller, Abe's Hope is a son of Miller's Better Bee who, in his day, won a lot of stakes around Chicago, including three at nine furlongs, and also posted a victory over Round Table. Last summer Miller, in a package deal, sold three colts and a filly (all by Better Bee) to Chicago Pontiac Dealer Joseph Bartell, who had been in racing about six years without achieving any shattering success. A few months later Bartell, who is 62, took in as his partner 36-year-old Robert Byfield, who is in the hotel-management business in Chicago. Next to acquiring Abe's Hope, the best thing the partners have going for them in their Pontiac-inspired Grand Prix Stable is Trainer Del Carroll, a truly fine horseman who also happens to be one of 10 eight-goal polo players in America.

Abe's Hope was named for a groom, Vele (Abe) BoJinoff, whose hope it was before he died of cancer last year that the colt he rubbed and cared for so faithfully would one day win the Kentucky Derby. The horse has a distinct personality in addition to a courageous way of running. As a yearling on the farm he would stretch out in his stall and snore so loudly that the stable hands called him Rip van Winkle. They had to kick him to get him up. But he is as well-balanced as one of Carroll's polo ponies and just as manageable.

Before sending Abe's Hope out against Graustark last week, Carroll told Jockey Bill Shoemaker, "We're not supposed to beat Graustark, and it's no disgrace to lose." When Shoe came back a winner, with cakes of mud hiding his broad smile, he said, "He's a little horse who did a big job. Now take him home, feed him well and give him some rest, because he's got a big job to do next week." Co-owner Byfield, guzzling champagne, added, "I never even thought I'd own a horse until six months ago."

Just six years ago Omaha Industrialist Mike Ford entered the horse business. Ford is a handsome, crew-cut ex-marine who, as a Pfc. in the 2nd Division, fought in the invasion of Saipan and Tinian. With his father and his uncle, Ford invented and manufactured freight-car doors of corrugated-board-and-steel strapping after the war. They sold out in 1959 to the International-Stanley Corp., and suddenly Mike Ford had some money to play with. He took on as advisor another young man named Tommy Gentry, whose uncle Loyd trains for Galbreath and whose father, Olin, runs Galbreath's Darby Dan Farm. Tommy Gentry steered Mike Ford into some expensive but eventually profitable purchases: Royal Gunner, $57,000; Umbrella Fella, $17,000; and, finally, Kauai King, $42,000.

Tom's uncle Loyd, then a public trainer, handled all of these horses for Ford and turned Kauai King over to Trainer Henry Forrest last year when he accepted the job with Galbreath. "I remember when I had Graustark and Kauai King together at the training center at St. Lucie [Fla.]," said Gentry recently. "I knew Graustark was something exceptional right away, but Kauai King was the only colt who could come close to staying with him. Early this year, before any of the 3-year-olds had done anything, I thought Kauai King would be the one all of us would have to beat."

Ford and Forrest have brought Kauai King along carefully. He is a son of Native Dancer out of the Blenheim II mare Sweep In. In eight starts this year (he made only four as a 2-year-old because of bucked shins) he has won six times.

None of the others among the prospective Derby starters are likely to close at short odds. Some have a right to be in the gate on Saturday, while others will just clutter up the first desperation run and interfere with the more worthy.

Stupendous, Mrs. Henry C. Phipps's son of Bold Ruler, has as much chance as any other colt. He is three for eight on the season but on occasion does some real running. He was second to Buck-passer in the Everglades and later won the one-mile Gotham. On the other hand, Stupendous was defeated by Blue Skyer, hardly a world-beater, in the Louisiana Derby and, with no excuse, lost to Kauai King at Bowie. Williamston Kid, the son of Piet, owned by Detroiters Paul Ternes and Jim Bartlett, won the Florida Derby after the disqualification of Abe's Hope. But that is his only claim to fame. Amberoid, Advocator and Exhibitionist, who finished first, second and fifth respectively in the recent Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, have all had too many chances—and too few successes—against the best horses. Amberoid comes from very far out of it; unless you happen to be the best horse (i.e., Needles, Carry Back), that is risky in a Derby. It is hard to take seriously the appearance of Quinta, Fleet Shoe, Rehabilitate, Sky Guy, Sean E Indian, Dominar and Tragniew.

When, late Saturday afternoon, the horses roar away from the gate, many in the audience will be remembering that for the past three years the Derby winner had won the Blue Grass the week before. This year Abe's Hope should make it four in a row.

And, as Mabel Galbreath must sadly recall, outside her beloved kingdom of Graustark there are sometimes unhappy endings.

PHOTO PHOTOSurging ahead to finish first in the Florida Derby, Abe's Hope (11) was later disqualified, and Williamston Kid (10), who closed fast to take second, was declared the official winner PHOTOThey're off! This scene at Churchill Downs will be repeated for the 92nd time Saturday.