Thoroughbreds—like boxers or tournament golfers—often tend to lose confidence in themselves when sent against older and more experienced competitors. Though the most promising 3-year-olds may be capable of attaining sufficient physical and mental maturity in midsummer of their sophomore year, few of them are dispatched to do a man's work against the handicap division until the fall.
Consider the Brooklyn Handicap, in its 78th running at Aqueduct last week. Only nine times since the Brooklyn was first run in 1887 had a 3-year-old beaten his elders. The last one was The Chief in 1938 (carrying 105 pounds), and the weights carried by the other eight varied from 99 pounds on Superman in 1907 to the 113 on Alfred Vanderbilt's great Discovery in 1934. (Discovery, incidentally, won the Brooklyn the following two years, once toting 136 pounds.)
Last week this exclusive club admitted a 10th member: Ogden Phipps's world recordholder, Buckpasser (SI, July 4), who was carrying top weight of 120 pounds. Thus he gave away seven to 13 pounds in his first attempt at the mile-and-a-quarter distance.
What this means in terms of Buck-passer's victory—and an equally fine runner-up performance by Buffle—is that Buckpasser, who has been rated as an exceptionally good horse ever since he won nine of 11 races and $568,096 last season, must now be graduated into the potentially great category. It also means, in my book, that Buckpasser is at this moment the best horse, of any age, in training.
July 31, 1966
There is no telling just how fast or how far he will go—or how much money Buckpasser is capable of winning before he gets through his own first handicap year in 1967. Already, for example, he has won 16 of his 19 races, and the Brooklyn Handicap victory (the 27th stakes win of the year for the Phipps's trainer, Eddie Neloy) brought his two-season total to $900,579. This is good enough to replace Swaps in 10th place on the all-time-earnings list. Not bad for a colt who missed the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont.
Should he now win the American Derby at Arlington Park on August 6 and the Travers at Saratoga on August 20, Buckpasser would become the first 3-year-old millionaire in racing history. Still, Buckpasser is not there yet, and the terrifying way he runs his races—cither by loafing or acting unpredictably—lends new excitement to the scene every time the big bay takes the track. To the crowd of 44,144 at Aqueduct, who sent him off last week as the odds-on 3-5 favorite (resulting subsequently in a minus show pool of $16,004), there was obviously no way that Buckpasser could lose.
Eddie Neloy, who knows as well as any man on the racetrack that horses do not last as long as they used to and that this year's handicap division is a far cry from the strength seen in many seasons, had some reasons of his own to add to the mood of confidence.
"We noticed," he had said, shrewdly, "how a 3-year-old like Fast Count beat older horses in the Massachusetts Handicap and then how Buffle did the same thing here in the Suburban. So we had to think Buckpasser could do it, too."
Cain Hoy Stable's Pluck (second to Buffle in the Suburban) figured to set the pace. It would be Buckpasser and Buffle in careful pursuit. Instead it was Buffle who broke on top, with Buck-passer just behind him and Pluck alone in third place, where he stayed from start to finish. The other two runners, Paoluccio and Tio Viejo, who sound like a Latin dance team, had a race of their own for fourth and last places, which is exactly where they wound up.
Jockey John Rotz, aboard Buffle, had thought Manuel Ycaza would take the lead with Pluck and was surprised when he found himself in front. "I didn't want the lead," he said later, "but there I was, and I had to make the best of it." Ycaza, in turn, wanted the lead position badly but never made it.
As it was, Rotz and Buffle set a slow enough pace, with Buckpasser never more than three lengths away. Buffle went the first quarter in 24 3/5 and the half-mile in 48 3/5. His six-furlong time was 1:12 2/5 and the mile was run in 1:36 4/5. One now sensed that Buck-passer had him measured for a quick stretch duel. And, sure enough, just after the pair left the quarter pole, Braulio Baeza put Buckpasser on the lead. It looked as if it was all over right then—but Buckpasser—even running out front—is no ordinary horse.
Having taken the lead, Buckpasser appeared to go into one of his not unusual loafing acts with an eighth of a mile to go. "He had it won," Phipps said later, "and tried to pull himself up." Not so, Baeza corrected. "He noticed the starting-gate tractor marks at the eighth pole and actually made a little jump over them. I hit him once and he went on about his business." Buckpasser's last quarter was a splendid, businesslike 25 seconds on the way to a final clocking of 2:01 4/5.
Less than a year ago Eddie Neloy took over the training of the Phipps's horses from retirement-minded Bill Winfrey. Neloy has steadily increased the successes of the country's most prosperous stable. And last week Buckpasser sent him once more to the winner's circle, along with Phipps and Baeza. The nervous and exhausted Neloy looked at another former Winfrey employer, Alfred Vanderbilt, and shuddered, "Now I know why Winfrey went to live in Switzerland!"