One of the oddly garish trademarks of Florida Derby day at Gulfstream Park, the tasteful, flower-bedecked track outside Miami, is the plethora of ooohs, aaahs and yuks that the management crams into the hour or so before the racing starts. Such as a fashion show (oooh). And water skiers rooster-tailing over the track's infield lake (aaah). And an idiotic race involving some odd species—camels or ostriches or buffaloes or, as it was this year, small (1,000-pounds plus) elephants (yuk). Such attractions would hardly seem necessary to kick off a $100,000-added stakes race, yet this year it seemed Just possible that an elephant run might be as meaningful as the feature race itself, for Gulfstream was stricken with that special 1968 malaise of 3-year-olds: mediocrity. "This," said morose Ed McKinsey, Gulfstream's racing secretary, "is the weakest field I can remember here."
Early last week it was also one of the smallest, with five horses: October House Farm's Iron Ruler, who has finished out of the money only once in 15 starts; Calumet Farm's occasionally wobbly Forward Pass, winner of both the Hibiscus and the Everglades at Hialeah; Michael G. Phipps' Master Bold, an early speedster with little stamina; Mac-Conn Farm's Mara Lark, who finished 10th in a field of 13 in Gulfstream's Fountain of Youth two weeks ago; and Aisco Stable's Perfect Tan. Through some assiduous coaxing by phone, Gulfstream executives did lure two more horses into the gate at midweek—Dominic Guilino's aptly named colt, Limited Class, and Coventry Rock Stable's Trouble Brewing, who was so anonymous that people in the secretary's office kept calling him "Tough Brewing" or "Tough Going." Each paid $5,000 in supplementary fees—"the only time in history the supplementary was worth more than the horse," cracked one observer.
So there were seven horses by body count, but no one who counted class could see more than two—Iron Ruler and Forward Pass. With a fast starter like Master Bold in the field, the strategy for Forward Pass's jockey, Don Brumfield, was to lay back in second or third for a while. He was properly in third soon after the start, but the pace was surprisingly slow and Brumfield took the lead. Meanwhile, Angel Cordero Jr. aboard favored Iron Ruler held steadily and confidently just off Forward Pass's pace. Swinging into the far turn, Forward Pass had just over a length on Iron Ruler. But as they rounded into the stretch, Cordero made his move. It seemed perfectly timed. Iron Ruler went in front by a neck and seemed fresh enough to open up the umpteen-length lead everyone expected.
Suddenly Brumfield switched to left-hand whipping, hit Forward Pass four or five times—and it was as if he had pumped raw energy into the horse. Instead of faltering, he drove with enormous power down the stretch and won by 2¾ lengths. It was a two-horse race, all right. The rest of the field limped in deep in the dust.
Although the triumph doesn't mean that Forward Pass is cured of his on-again-off-again habits, his jockey has another view. Said Brumfield, who rode Kauai King to victory in the 1966 Kentucky Derby, "He's not the temperamental guy everyone thinks. He's like a big ol' country boy who just wants to run."
Whatever that ol' country boy does from now on in, he should at least be remembered—and maybe honored—for having upstaged the Florida Derby elephants when everyone said it couldn't be done.