During two months of winter racing at Hialeah and Santa Anita, horsemen had wandered about with long faces, unable to pick out any 3-year-olds worth getting excited about. But last week, in one 24-hour period, smiles sprouted on both coasts. "Kentucky, here we come!" echoed through the barns and the racing year seemed back in stylish order.
On Friday at Hialeah, Reflected Glory won a significant victory in. the 38th Flamingo, beating In Reality by three and a quarter lengths, pulling away. The following afternoon Ruken captured the 30th Santa Anita Derby by a length and a half over Tumble Wind. Both winter semiclassics leading to the Kentucky Derby are at the reasonably challenging distance of a mile and an eighth, both are at level weights (122 pounds in the Flamingo, 118 in the Santa Anita Derby) and their winners are worthy rivals to such unraced 3-year-olds as Successor, Dr. Fager, Great Power and Damascus.
Racing enthusiasts have been waiting all winter for a contest like the Flamingo, and when it finally came—on a fast track—it was worth the wait. It proved beyond doubt that Reflected Glory is a mighty good colt and may even be a top one. Hirsch Jacobs, who has trained more winners than any other man in the business, wasn't sure himself of Reflected Glory's potential until Flamingo day. "When he won the Bahamas over Bold Hour we didn't know quite what to think," said Jacobs, who trains the son of Jester for his wife, Ethel. "The next time, when he came from last place to win the Everglades [SI, March 6], we thought it might be a fluke. But today, after the Flamingo, we're sure he's a real runner. In fact, he might be something special."
The Flamingo, at any rate, was something special, a thriller that brought back memories of some famous and titillating come-from-behind victories. Reflected Glory is a real come-from-be-hinder, the kind of colt that induces palpitations in his backers and agony in his rivals. He is going to be a big favorite from now on.
Until last week, however, Jacobs held to the belief that stablemate Reason to Hail was the better horse. "He had more early speed if he wanted to use it," said Jacobs, "but he had very bad luck in his last two races. People think I tell the jock to take Reflected Glory back for the early part of his races. Shucks, I wouldn't tell a jock that. This colt simply drops out of it by himself. He literally runs his own race."
The race that Reflected Glory usually runs is simple enough. He lets everything get away from him until the field reaches the half-mile pole. Then he starts to circle the crowd in front of him, losing length after length as he takes the long way around. Soon he is in the middle of the racetrack, bearing down on the leaders, and—in his last three races, anyway—he wins going away. In the Flamingo it was In Reality, as expected, who rushed to the lead, with Wheatley Stable's Bold Monarch never giving him a breather. This did not bother Reflected Glory or his Panamanian jockey, Jorge Velasquez, in the least. As the front-running pair dueled each other out of contention, Velasquez dawdled along behind like a boy timidly hacking on the family's old hunter.
Not since the days of Silky Sullivan has a contender been such a loafer. At the seven-eighths pole Reflected Glory was 20½ lengths behind In Reality. A quarter of a mile later he trailed by 18½. With only three furlongs to go, he was 12 lengths out of it, but that's where this brilliant runner showed his stuff. From the three-eighths pole to the eighth pole Reflected Glory reeled off a quarter in a phenomenal 23 ⅖ making up 10 lengths. With a furlong to go, he was still two lengths behind. But he and Velasquez rolled on, always on the outside. They caught In Reality at the 16th pole, and in the last 110 yards they opened up three lengths. Nothing had challenged them, and nothing was about to.
In Reality, although bothered repeatedly by Bold Monarch through the stretch, hung on to take second by a nose, and you had to go another four lengths back of Bold Monarch to find the rest of the field. Thanks to Reflected Glory's excellent final three-eighths in 36 ⅖ his winning time was 1:48 [3/5]—nothing compared to Bold Ruler's 1:47 Flamingo track record of 10 years ago but still faster than the winning times of Buckpasser, Native Charger, Never Bend, Carry Back, Tim Tam, Needles, Nashua and Citation. Reflected Glory may never be as good as any of those champions, but he has the breeding. A half brother to Isle of Greece, he is by Jester, a son of the mighty Tom Fool, and his dam is Lysistrata, a daughter of Jacobs' Palestinian, who finished third to Ponder and Capot in the 1949 Kentucky Derby. "He's improving all the time," said his trainer after the Flamingo. "If we had a week between this race and the Santa Anita Derby I'd have flown him out there for it. Now we'll stay in Florida and go for the Florida Derby at Gulfstream on April 1, and then to Aqueduct for the Gotham and the Wood Memorial before going to Kentucky."
While Reflected Glory's triumph was apparently more impressive than Ruken's the next day, one factor remains in doubt: the quality of Reflected Glory's competition in the Flamingo. In any case, we must await the Gotham or the Wood and the challenge from Successor, Great Power, Dr. Fager and Damascus. Aqueduct in April may be cold, but those 3-year-old races won't be dreary.
The Derby at Santa Anita was run very much like the Flamingo. Both winning jockeys, Velazquez and Fernando Alvarez, got most of their riding experience in Panama (although 29-year-old Alvarez is a native of Santiago, Chile), and both races were won by colts who came from way back after a good pace had been set for them by speed horses. At Santa Anita the pace was provided by the San Felipe winner, Rising Market, as well as by Disciplinarian and Tumble Wind, none of whom had shown that a distance race was his forte. Ruken, on the other hand, always had the look about him of a colt who might relish a distance, and he probably would have won the San Felipe if he had not been embroiled in traffic trouble a 16th of a mile from the finish. As it was, he was beaten only a nose by Rising Market.
Whereas Reflected Glory is a Kentucky-bred, Ruken has California written all over his pedigree. He is by Nashville, son of Nasrullah and a winner himself over the likes of Bold Ruler and Iron Liege, out of the Your Host mare Thank You Ma'm. His trainer is Clyde Turk, a jockey from 1929 to 1946 and a successful California trainer ever since, and Ruken's owner is 55-year-old Los Angeles Insurance Executive Lou Rowan. A keen and serious horseman, once a five-goal polo player and president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders Association, Rowan has done as much as anyone to stimulate progress in the sport in that state. He won a Santa Anita Maturity with Spinney and the 1965 Del Mar Futurity with Coursing.
A few years ago Rowan's Arizona friend, J. Rukin Jelks, visited his 2,000-acre range at Lemoore in the San Joaquin Valley, midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Rowan's mare Thank You Ma'm was suffering during the delivery of a foal that died, and Lou was so grateful for his friend's baby-sitting job that he said to Jelks, "If this mare ever has another colt I'll name him after you." The mare was bred to Nashville, who is now standing at Desi Arnaz' Corona Farm, and a fine-looking brown colt was the result. "But then I gummed things up," said Rowan last week, "by my own carelessness. I had been spelling Rukin's name wrong for 20 years, and I spelled it wrong again—Ruken—in the application for the colt's name."
Ruken or Rukin, he knows his way around a racetrack. Last season he won three of eight races, including the Del Mar Futurity. In four races prior to the Derby this year he had always been in the money; in fact, he had won over the grass by five lengths before his hard-luck San Felipe. "The standout thing about him," says Rowan, "is that he's so handy. He has perfect action, a perfect disposition, and is the easiest horse in the world to rate."
Before the Derby, Trainer Turk drew Jockey Alvarez to one side in the walking ring and set the strategy: "Just don't be too far out of it at the half-mile pole. The rest will be easy." It wasn't quite as easy as that, for despite Alvarez' skill at following instructions and at rating Ruken it required a certain amount of luck to get the job done. Alvarez lingered in eighth place and then in fifth behind the early pace before deciding it was time to move at the three-eighths pole. Like a goldfish wiggling for a breadcrumb, Ruken wove a perilous path, first inside, then between horses and finally to the outside. There he wore down Tumble Wind and Rising Market in the stretch, and was drawing away at the wire. Tumble Wind had a length and a half on Sand Devil, while his stablemate Rimal (a full brother to Drin) took fourth in front of Rising Market. Behind them came Top Bid, Serve Notice, Dr. Isby, Field Master, Beau Alibi, Out of Focus, a tired Disciplinarian and Haberdasher. On a track that may have been a bit dull after some early-morning rain the time of 1:49 4/5 was respectable. "From the half-mile pole, where I saw him passing horses with such ease, I knew we'd win," said Turk. "We were lucky to be able to weave through that field with no trouble," Alvarez admitted.
It now appears certain that Ruken and Tumble Wind will be heading for the Kentucky Derby. The latter ran a good race, although he hasn't convinced many that he really wants to go a distance. He was used a bit early to gain position last week, and with different tactics he might demonstrate more staying power. It is hard to believe that any of the others, unsuccessful as they were at nine furlongs, will improve at 10. Ruken's road to Churchill Downs will be via races at Golden Gate, Oaklawn (the Arkansas Derby) or Keeneland, but, barring mishap, he will make it, along with Owner Rowan, Trainer Turk and Jockey Alvarez. None of the three has ever participated in a Kentucky Derby. For that matter, Hirsch Jacobs has never won a Derby either, though he was third with Palestinian and has started five other also-rans. The only consistency here seems to be in Lou Rowan's misspelling of J. Ruken Jelks. Oops.