Less than two minutes after the gate-was sprung at the Florida Derby last week, the whole 3-year-old scene in general, and the Kentucky Derby picture in particular, had changed again. Change has become routine in this season, already complicated by untimely injuries, puzzling sicknesses and a good deal of awful weather. Saturday's race proved that Reflected Glory, Mrs. Ethel D. Jacobs' Flamingo winner, can be beaten at nine furlongs. His licking was soundly administered by Mrs. Frances A. Genter's amazingly consistent In Reality (SI, Jan. 30), who beat him by eight and a half lengths with no nonsense about it. In fact, Reflected Glory finished a dismal seventh, a nose behind sixth-place Tumble Wind, while up ahead of the pair of them and behind In Reality were Biller, Reason to Hail, Proviso and Gentleman James.
Tumble Wind came to Florida after establishing himself as the second-best colt based in California—behind Ruken. Does his poor showing in the Florida Derby mean that Ruken, who had beaten Tumble Wind by only a length and a half in the Santa Anita Derby, is to be counted out as a Kentucky Derby threat? Not necessarily. Tumble Wind never looked like a colt who wanted to go much of a distance, but Ruken is a come-from-behind finisher who gets up a head of steam at the 16th pole. That guarantees trouble for all the colts seen in the Florida Derby, and, perhaps, for Damascus, impressive winner of the Bay Shore at Aqueduct.
Reflected Glory's loss came as a distinct surprise to the crowd of 23,980 which had made him (along with his stablemate, Reason to Hail) the 7-to-10 favorite. But In Reality was hardly a sleeper. "He's really consistent and a whale of a competitor," says Trainer Sunshine Calvert, and the record bears that out. In 12 lifetime starts In Reality has been first or second 11 times. This year he has won three out of five and placed in the other two—behind Reflected Glory in the Flamingo and Biller in the Florida Breeders Handicap, when he gave away 13 pounds to the winner. "In fact," says Calvert, "the only vaguely disappointing race In Reality has ever run was in last fall's Garden State, when he was fourth to Successor, Bold Hour and Proviso. I thought he'd be in the first three that day instead of being beaten by over nine lengths. But this year he more than made up for that. Actually, one of his best races was the Flamingo, when he lost to Reflected Glory. He set nearly all the pace that day, and was pushed all the way by Bold Monarch. I knew then that we had a chance in the Florida Derby."
Before the race last week ex-Jockey Calvert tried to gain an advantage for his horse. He shipped over from Hialeah to Gulfstream on Monday, and exercised his colt regularly on the Gulfstream track, where he had won the Fountain of Youth Stakes the previous week. Hirsch Jacobs, on the other hand, vanned Reflected Glory over from Hialeah only hours before post time; when the colt stepped on the track it was for the first time in his life. That might not have made any difference in the outcome, but it is a possibility. Before the race, Trainer Eddie Neloy, whose Great Power finished eighth, was asked if he felt that Reflected Glory was the horse to beat. "He looked awfully good at Flamingo time," said Neloy, "but who knows if he'll carry his form from Hialeah to Gulfstream? After all, he didn't have that great form before he got to Hialeah, did he?" At the same time Neloy, along with most of the other trainers in the Florida Derby, figured they had a good shot at the race themselves. "When Great Power was beaten in the Fountain of Youth here a week or so ago," Neloy said, "he got the lead and then tired. I thought he was fit enough not to tire. But Baeza said it would do him a lot of good. I hope he's right." Said Ogden Phipps, whose mother owns Great Power, "He may look great, but I have my doubts about his wanting to go a distance." On Florida Derby day, at least, Phipps—not Baeza—was right.
Neither Tumble Wind's trainer, Charlie Whittingham, nor his rider, Bill Shoemaker, wanted to set the pace in this race. But, as Shoe put it, "Everyone seemed to take back at the break, and that put me on the lead. He was running easy enough, but he couldn't hang on beyond the quarter pole. From there home he weakened badly. I never thought he was a distance horse, and now I know it."
While Shoemaker and Tumble Wind were setting the early pace on a track somewhat dull and against 25-mile-per-hour headwinds on the backstretch, In Reality was biding his time. Great Power was second, followed by Biller (who ran a very good race on his own). At the half-mile pole Jockey Earlie Fires moved In Reality up from fourth to second, and the race was pretty much settled right there. Riding with a coolness not always associated with one so young—Fires, out of Lepanto, Ark., turned 20 on March 19—the winner made his big move going into the far turn. "I didn't want to move that soon," Fires sheepishly admitted later, "but my saddle was starting to slip and I thought I better get with it before the saddle and I both went clear over my horse's head." They took the lead from Tumble Wind just beyond the quarter pole, and by the eighth pole they were a length and a half in front of Biller (giving Floridabreds a one-two finish). The winning margin was two and a half lengths at the wire. Biller held on to beat Reason to Hail by a neck for second money. More than three lengths back was Proviso, who uncorked a good late run after a bad start.
Reflected Glory ran along in eighth place most of the way, not as far back as is his custom. But when everyone was expecting him to make his usual circling move, around the three-eighths pole, nothing happened at all. Jockey Jorge Velasquez used the feeble excuse that Reflected Glory had not liked the track and then suggested that the result might have been different had he and the Flamingo winner worked out at Gulfstream earlier in the week. Gulfstream's sandy strip may have been slightly duller than Hialeah's was on March 3, and the Florida Derby's time of 1:50[1/5] was a far cry from Reflected Glory's 1:48[3/5] Flamingo. But Trainer Hirsch Jacobs has never been one to make excuses. "He's kicking up and should do all right," he said of Reflected Glory before the race. When it was suggested that the colt might have been at a disadvantage by not shipping earlier, Jacobs said, "Good horses should run good anywhere."
Now that the Florida 3-year-old season is over, most of the good horses—and a few not so good—will move on to Kentucky. The Jacobs pair will go to Aqueduct for a possible shot at the April 22 Wood Memorial. In that race they should meet Damascus, Successor and Dr. Fager. Already heading for Keeneland and the April 27th Blue Grass Stakes is Ruken, and he may be joined later at Churchill Downs by one or two of the top finishers of the April 22 California Derby at Golden Gate Fields. Two in that race who may be worthy of the trip are Rimal, a full brother to Drin, and Jungle Road, handled by an "apprentice" trainer named Johnny Longden.
And what about In Reality, who never seems to run a bad race? Mrs. Frances Genter, the Minneapolis sportswoman who has been in racing in a minor way for about 25 years and now has five horses with Sunshine Calvert, says tactfully, "We'll take it day by day. But the final decision, we all know, will be up to Sunshine." Jockey Earlie Fires, naturally, would like nothing better than to go back to Churchill Downs, where in his first Kentucky Derby last May he brought a 17-to-1 field horse, Blue Skyer, home third, beaten by only half a length and a nose by Kauai King and Advocator. "If In Reality can come off the pace as effortlessly as he did today," said Fires, "I don't know why he couldn't do it at a mile and a quarter. I'd sure like to try him up there."