You could call it the Flamingo rerun or simply the Championship of Greater Miami, but any way you look at it last week's 19th running of the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park proved a number of interesting things. The most important are that My Dad George and Corn Off The Cob are the two best 3-year-olds in Florida—in that order—and that Naskra deserves the anticlimax award of the month. Twice in four weeks he has come up with an attack of either nerves or fever on the eve of a $100,000 stakes race.
In the Flamingo, My Dad George had been forced wide entering the stretch and then just got up in time to beat Corn Off The Cob by a skimpy nose. This time, under a cool ride by Ray Broussard, the son of Kentucky Derby winner Dark Star saved ground every inch of the way, slipped inside of the pacesetting Cassie Red and then out-dueled Corn Off The Cob in a dramatic stretch run to win by a neck. That clinched his superiority over the Florida-based Triple Crown nominees, and brought his owner, theatrical producer Raymond Curtis, up to earnings of $264,755 on his $13,500 investment.
Being a Florida-bred, My Dad George inspired the Gulfstream crowd of 26,139 into believing that they had just watched the winner of the 1970 Kentucky Derby. They could be right: two Florida-breds—Needles and Carry Back—went on to win the Kentucky Derby after winning this one. They could also be wrong: two other Florida-breds—In Reality and Top Knight—did not. And, of course, not all the country's leading 3-year-olds happened to be in south Florida last Saturday afternoon. The Santa Anita Derby was run the same day and won by Terlago (page 25), while a group of colts in New York was preparing for this week's one-mile Gotham and the April 18th Wood Memorial. In that bunch are the early Derby winter-book favorite Silent Screen (injured in his losing effort in the Flamingo), Personality, High Echelon, Burd Alane, Bell Bird and maybe the best of the lot, Sunny Tim, the Calumet Farm speedster whose owners will show, by avoiding Kentucky race tracks, their displeasure at the way the state's racing authorities treated his stablemate, Forward Pass, after the scandalous 1968 Derby.
Silent Screen will be the main attraction at Aqueduct's Gotham, and at a mile last season's 2-year-old champion should be hard to beat. Still, he has missed some training time, he is susceptible to nicking his own legs and both Owner Sonny Werblin and Trainer Bowes Bond have been disturbed on and off all season by certain inconsistencies in the colt's blood count. From here on, everything has to be going his way if he is to make Kentucky. Burd Alane has won twice over a distance this winter, and with the rest he's had since the March 3rd Flamingo this son of Sea-Bird should show improvement.
Bell Bird, another Sea-Bird colt, may be one of those who improve simply because he has returned to New York from Hialeah. "We may get him to the Wood," says Trainer Elliott Burch, "but at the moment all I want of him is to be less of a boy and more of a man. I think of not going to Kentucky, but hope I may be pleasantly surprised." Both High Echelon and Personality were taught racing manners by the late Hirsch Jacobs. If his son John inherits the old man's accord with thoroughbreds much can be expected of them, too.
And there is Naskra, winner of the Everglades and second to Corn Off The Cob in the Fountain of Youth Stakes. On the Friday before the Flamingo he came up with a temperature and missed the race. Last week the same thing happened on the morning of the Florida Derby. His trainer, Phil Johnson, plans to send him directly to Keeneland to train for the April 23rd Blue Grass Stakes, a nine-furlong test he must make if there is to be any hope for his appearance in the Kentucky Derby.
When the nine runners broke away from the gate on Saturday, Cassie Red must have thought he was a quarter horse with 400 yards to go for all the money. By the time he was midway up the back-stretch he had an eight-length lead over Ring For Nurse. Corn Off The Cob was in good position, fourth along the rail, while My Dad George was behind him, also along the rail in sixth position. Going into the far turn, after fractions of 0:23⅖ 0:46[1/5] and 1:10[4/5] for the three-quarters, Cassie Red and his rider, Walter Blum, started backing up a bit and Corn Off The Cob closed in with a quick move. My Dad George was fifth.
Turning for home, still in front, Blum went slightly wide with Cassie Red, and Angel Cordero on Corn Off The Cob was forced to do the same. A fraction of a second earlier Cordero might have been able to swing inside, but now it was too late. Broussard, still hugging the rail with My Dad George, slipped into the hole. When they had all straightened for home, Cassie Red clung to his lead, My Dad George on the inside and Corn Off The Cob on the outside. They went stride for stride that way from the quarter pole to the eighth pole, but then Corn Off The Cob took over. My Dad George fought back, and with Broussard whipping furiously (at one point, his left leg brushed the fence), they surged a head in front to stay just a few yards from the wire. My Dad George had staggered the last eighth of a mile in 0:13[3/5] on his way to a final clocking of 1:50[4/5]. Notwithstanding the closeness of the finish, Dad's performance was not all that impressive. If Naskra had been ready to run he might well have beaten the winner. Corn Off The Cob had a one-length margin over Cassie Red, and behind them, in order, came Dr. Behrman, Runson Run, Boy Behave, Bonvivant, Ring For Nurse and Bold Day.
"I don't really care about time," said Broussard later. "It's the way the horse runs that counts with me. This race was harder on him than the Flamingo, but he was up to it, and as far as I'm concerned he's the horse to beat in Kentucky." Trainer Frank J. (Buddy) McManus will ship Dad shortly to Churchill Downs and he will make his next and only remaining pre-Derby start in the Stepping Stone or the Derby Trial. Arnold Winick, who trains Corn Off The Cob for Ted and Pat Gary, hinted that his colt may be headed for a rest after seven races in two months.
"He's the best 3-year-old colt I've ever had," said Winick, "and it could be doing him an injustice to try to get him to the Kentucky Derby. He might be better than all of them later on."
None of the others in this field appears deserving of the trip to Kentucky or up to the challenge of going 10 furlongs instead of nine on May 2. Ray Curtis and Buddy McManus do have a deserving colt, and they have another incentive for traveling to Louisville. Neither has ever seen a Kentucky Derby or has ever been to Churchill Downs.