At Alfred Vanderbilt's Sagamore Farm, a dozen miles outside Baltimore, the old Gray Ghost, Native Dancer, lolled in the same depressing 80° heat and stifling humidity that enveloped the crowd of 36,114 at Pimlico. The Dancer, now a massive 1,370 pounds and as white as a Thoroughbred ever gets to be, had galloped nearly a mile and a half in the morning. Since he is not much of a television buff Native Dancer was, no doubt, unaware that 13 years ago he had thrilled a newly awakened TV-sports audience with a brilliant neck victory over Jamie K. in the 78th Preakness.
The Native Dancer progeny, in this country at least, have not lived up to their daddy's fantastic 21-of-22 record, but last week, on the same traditional course, The Dancer's finest son did his parents and the entire state of Maryland mighty proud. Kauai King, Mike Ford's agile and versatile colt (whose dam, Sweep In, was an ancient 21 when she foaled him on April 3, 1963), proved to those in the racing world who may have doubted his superiority that he is already a champion of rare ability.
The Maryland-bred King, performing for a home-state audience that bet him down to even money after his easy wire-to-wire victory in the Kentucky Derby, romped off with the Preakness by beating Stupendous a length and three quarters in the second fastest Preakness ever run. Only Nashua, who set a track record of 1:54 3/5 in 1955, won the mile-and-three-sixteenths Triple Crown classic in faster time than Kauai King's 1:55 2/5. But in Thoroughbred racing time is seldom the only accurate gauge by which to judge a horse. Kauai King took command of this race with even more authority than he used to humble his rivals in Louisville. At Churchill Downs he led every step of the way, and none of the 14 others could catch him. In the Preakness he again broke first, this time in a field of nine, and after allowing a true speed horse, Stupendous, to take the lead going into the clubhouse turn and to hang onto it precariously until mid-stretch, the King swept by on his way to an easy, almost effortless, victory. It was, said Trainer Henry Forrest, "no question about it, his finest race yet."
Horse races—especially the classics over testing distances—are seldom run exactly according to advance plan, but the 91st Preakness was, at least for the Kauai King contingent. Two days before the race the Pimlico people put on what they call the "alibi breakfast," at which the press is invited to listen while owners, trainers and jockeys sit around for a couple of hours politely swapping lies about what their mighty horses are about to do to alter the course of racing history. There were really only two pertinent remarks made at last week's alibi breakfast. One came from wise old Humphrey Finney, the famous auctioneer who sold Kauai King to Ford for $42,000 at the 1964 Saratoga yearling sales. Said Finney, peering down his nose through his famous pair of slipping spectacles, "As a yearling Kauai King was outstanding. He won the first prize at the Warrenton, Va. show for conformation, and with his bold and handsome looks he gave me the impression of both class and durability."
A few minutes later Eddie Arcaro, who has ridden six Preakness winners, was asked which horse in the 1966 field he'd choose to ride. "Kauai King, of course," he said. "When you have a horse with the versatility to go to the front or come from behind, that's the horse for me."
Naturally, it figured that one of the reasons Kauai King had won his Kentucky Derby so convincingly was because his rivals had either been unable to run with him for the first part of it, or had chosen not to try. In the Preakness rival trainers vowed things would be different. One colt whose strategy surely would be different was the Wheatley Stable's Stupendous. This son of Bold Ruler, when rated in the Derby, hung in the stretch and ultimately finished, like his sire, a tired fourth. Said Trainer Eddie Neloy before the Preakness, "I'll give you one guess where Stupendous will be going into the first turn."
None of the other owners or trainers really talked as if they had much chance and, as it turned out, they never did. Max Hirsch, who was a jockey at Pimlico in 1894, said of Mrs. Edward Lasker's Indulto, who was held out of the Derby, "He's a bony little horse, and I thought I better not run him too often." Indulto, seasoned just fine to run a mile but not an extra three-sixteenths, finished fifth and exhausted.
From the start the Preakness was a fine race—for two horses. Kauai King broke on top and Don Brumfield took a good hold on him as they rolled past the stands the first time. Outside of them Braulio Baeza started alertly with Stupendous and quickly set his sights on the lead. By the time the two horses swept into the first turn they were locked in a battle of their own. Although the rest of the field may not have known it at the time, that battle was to account for the first and second monies of $129,000 and $30,000 of the gross pot of $181,500.
Brumfield, who was as sharp on Preakness Day as his horse, was not about to be suckered into a speed duel with Baeza. "Kauai King wasn't as rank as he was in the Derby," he said, "and I had a good hold on him going into that turn. But Stupendous was putting me pretty close to the rail, so I figured I'd ease back off him a bit and let Baeza go on. On the backstretch, when I trailed Stupendous more than two lengths, I had him bent double but I let him pick up the pace a bit at the half-mile pole."
Baeza recalled that "Stupendous was running nice and kind." That may have been true, but when Brumfield pulled Kauai King out and sent him up to challenge Stupendous, there was never a moment's doubt as to the ultimate outcome. As the two colts headed into the stretch they were nearly together, but by the eighth pole Stupendous was finished. Kauai King pulled away in the last furlong with ridiculous ease. Owner Ford, who wore an Egyptian good-luck charm under the lapel of his coat, sighed with relief and said, "When Brumfield made his move I knew it was all over. This isn't just the most exciting horse I've ever owned, it is the most exciting horse I've ever seen."
In third place behind Stupendous came Amberoid, another five lengths back, while strung out behind were Rehabilitate, Indulto, Advocator, Exceedingly, Understanding and Blue Skyer. Only the latter, who came back breathing with some difficulty (as he did when he finished last in the Florida Derby) had an excuse. Ron Turcotte, fourth on Robert Lehman's Rehabilitate, said, "Kauai King is just too fast for the rest of us." Said Bill Boland, who rides Reginald Webster's Amberoid, "My horse can't beat Kauai King, no matter how far they go. He's the best around, the best of his class and has the best chance of any horse in years to win the Triple Crown."
The final race in the series, the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes at Aqueduct next week, poses the greatest challenge. Some of the Preakness and Derby starters, for obvious reasons, will not tackle the King again so soon. Others, newcomers like Buffle, may try him, but, no matter who goes in the Belmont, Kauai King is the champion 3-year-old as of this moment, and he will take an awful lot of beating. While all kinds of excuses can be made for some colts now on the shelf—Buckpasser (who may return to action after the Belmont), Graustark, Boldnesian and Saber Mountain—Kauai King is sound, seasoned and fit. He is the best of the crop and very good indeed. On June 4 he could become the ninth horse in history to win the Triple Crown and the first since Citation in 1948. In all the time since Citation's great year only three horses—Tim Tarn, Carry Back and Northern Dancer—won both the Derby and Preakness, putting themselves into contention for the Triple Crown. Of the three, Tim Tarn had the best chance in 1958 until he broke a bone in his foot turning for home, nonetheless gamely hanging on to be second to Cavan. Three years later Carry Back, a great middle-distance runner, found the mile and a half too long and finished seventh to Sherluck. Northern Dancer, whose trainer, Horatio Luro, doubted that he could run his best race at 12 furlongs, did well to finish third to Quadrangle.
And so it is squarely up to Kauai King, and it does not appear that the extra distance will bother him, no matter what the opposition. After the Preakness, Don Brumfield came charging up to the press box, still in his blue and white silks. The onetime yo-yo champion of Lexington, Ky. took a perch by the busy teletype machines and answered a barrage of questions with the poise and adroitness of an Arcaro.
"It would be a great thing for racing," suggested one reporter, "if Kauai King won the Triple Crown after all these years." Brumfield looked at his audience and grinned. "I think it would be a great thing for me, too," he said.