After Arthur (Bull) Hancock paid $920,000 last December to purchase the Argentine champion Forli, he quickly made two wise moves. First, he syndicated the 4-year-old grandson of Hyperion for $960,000 to people with adequate walking-around money, folks with names like Brady, Combs, duPont, Mellon and Phipps. Then he ordered his undefeated chestnut delivered to Trainer Charlie Whittingham, who this season leads all U.S. trainers in purse winnings.
When Hancock phoned his friend Whittingham to tell him the news about Forli he kiddingly added, "Charlie, take all the time you want with this colt, but if you get him beat it might be your job."
Last week Whittingham hung onto his job at Hollywood Park. After five months of taking his time with Forli, who had come to this country with a seven-for-seven record and a reputation as the finest Thoroughbred ever produced in Argentina (SI, May 1), Whittingham showed off his new million-dollar responsibility.
In his first North American start, at a mile and a sixteenth, Forli set a track record of 1:41[1/5] over Hollywood's new turf course and won the $20,000-added Coronado Stakes with ridiculous ease. Never once did he feel the touch of Jockey Bill Shoemaker's whip, and when it was all over the invader left the distinct impression that he may turn into the most exciting newcomer on our racing scene in many years.
Two dependable signs of a good horse are flawless running action and versatility. Forli possesses both. He is a big colt, and when he shifts into gear he moves with wonderful, long strides. "He stays close to the ground," says Whittingham. "A regular daisy-cutter." And he is certainly versatile. He is equally at home on dirt and on grass. Five of his seven races in Buenos Aires were over the deep, sandy strip at the Palermo track, where he once won a mile race by 18 lengths in the remarkable time of 1:33[2/5]. Nor does distance bother him. He has won from seven furlongs to a mile and seven-eighths.
At Hollywood Park, Whittingham proved that in five months he had taught Forli something that made him more versatile still. "In all seven of his races in Argentina he led every step of the way," Whittingham explained. "That's O.K. in South America, where the best horse can jump out and run away from the other contenders, who usually like to take back early in a race. But in this country you nearly always have real speed right from the gate, and seldom does that speed last to get the money. I had to teach Forli to rate behind horses and save a real kick for the finish."
On race day it was 98° at Hollywood Park, and Forli, like most of the 29,297 spectators on hand, was in a sweat. In the saddling enclosure he acted up, kicked a bit and looked as if he would like to throw Shoemaker into one of the infield lakes. Only Whittingham seemed unconcerned. "He's kicking because he's a ticklish devil when you put the saddle on him. If he's sweating it's because he's hot, like the rest of us."
Shoemaker's orders were to "ease him back and don't rush him." At the break, Forli wanted to do what came naturally, but Shoemaker took a tight hold and let others set the pace. As they went by the stands, Forli, for the first time in his career, had some rivals in front of him. It must have piqued his competitive spirit, for midway up the back-stretch he lowered his long neck, poked out his head as though searching for daisies in the new grass, and moved out. It was all over, except for the noise of the crowd gasping its admiration.
"When you come to think of it," said Whittingham later, "it wasn't a bad show. The sucker never even drew a deep breath today. There's no telling how good he could be."