All week, around the barns at Santa Anita, the horsemen had been putting down the 3-year-olds. "He may not be too much." a trainer would say of some poor Derby entry who was trying to act inconspicuous in a dark corner of his stall, "but neither are the rest of them, so I might as well let him have a shot at it." Almost everywhere you went you got the same reaction until you reached Barn 44, where Jerry Fanning was ministering to the needs and whims of a dark brown colt named Terlago. Fanning, who is 37 and has been around racing horses since he was in Whittier Union High, is as clean-cut as a promising young banker, and last week's limelight provided a strange new glare for him. In 12 years as a trainer of thoroughbreds, Fanning had never had what he calls "a real good horse," so he talked about Terlago with plenty of enthusiasm. He told how his colt had beaten My Dad George back at Belmont last fall and what a good race he had run two weeks ago when he beat George Lewis in his half of the San Felipe Handicap.
Perhaps it was in gratitude for the kind words that Terlago went out last Saturday afternoon and soundly beat 10 other of the supposedly best 3-year-olds in California to give Jerry Fanning his first hundred-grand victory. More important, Terlago covered the mile and an eighth over Santa Anita's fast track in the fine time of 1:48[2/5] and thus offered himself as a serious candidate for the Kentucky Derby five weeks hence. Despite all the put-down of the California 3-year-olds, they appear to be as good as any others in sight at the moment, and Terlago, with his second major victory in two weeks, is obviously the best of the lot right now.
In the week leading up to the race, it was pretty well agreed that this was as wide-open a Derby as Santa Anita had seen in some years. George Lewis, the fastest of California's 2-year-olds last fall, had won the Hibiscus at Hialeah in January and then lost by a head to Silent Screen in the Bahamas. Since returning to Santa Anita, he had looked a bit short in losing by a nose to Rex Ellsworth's Plenty Old at a mile and then by 3¼ lengths to Terlago in the San Felipe at a mile and a 16th. There was some support for Cool Hand, by Donut King, a fast Californian who had beaten most of the best of his age up to a mile. A handsome bay owned by John Mabee, a San Diego supermarket tycoon, Cool Hand stirred up a lot of interest when he beat Plenty Old and Texan Bunker Hunt's Sir Wiggle in his division of the San Felipe. Plenty Old, a son of Ellsworth's distinguished Olden Times, had showed Trainer Mesh Tenney enough promise to make him think longingly of the sire, and he had beaten George Lewis and Cool Hand at a mile in February. Sir Wiggle seemed to be the colt everyone worried about. But though nicely bred—by Sadair out of the Australian race mare, Wiggle II—he had won nothing since last May.
As the gate opened in front of a crowd of more than 50,000, Bill Hartack as expected took George Lewis to the lead. Just over his right shoulder was Wayne Harris on Plenty Old and just over his shoulder was Bill Shoemaker on Terlago. They went up the backstretch that way, clocking fractions of 0:23, 0.46[2/5] and 1:10[2/5] with Colorado King, an 84-to-1 outsider, three lengths back. Behind him were the rest, unthreatening.
Everyone waited for George Lewis to quit, but Hartack wouldn't let him. As Shoemaker told it afterward, "I was driving on George Lewis from the three-eighths pole to the quarter pole, and he was opening up on me. Then I began to hit Terlago left-handed and he moved. He was fooling me. He wasn't giving it everything he had." Midway up the stretch, Terlago eased past George Lewis and took a comfortable 2½-length lead to the wire while Plenty Old dropped back to fifth. Cool Hand, who had seemed to be coming on in the stretch, could never get within a length of George Lewis, and in the very last strides he was passed by the gray blur of Aggressively, an 81-to-1 shot from George Pope's El Peco Ranch. Like his sire, Decidedly, Aggressively has an erratic mind of his own, and on this afternoon he chose to run dead last and far behind everyone until he began turning for home. Then, when he found the inside blocked, he had to pause, turn and run around everyone. Without a doubt, he has some powerful finishing speed.
Samuel J. ("I go by the name of Jay") Agnew (his real name) is Terlago's happy owner. He inherited lots of big timber in the state of Washington and a love of racing from his father. He picked up Terlago for $220,000 at the Wallace Gilroy dispersal sale at Belmont last October, "because it's rare you can buy a good proven 2-year-old coming into his 3-year-old season." Agnew and Fanning had never discussed a possible trip to Kentucky until they met in the press room after the race. They quickly agreed to go as soon as convenient.
Shoemaker said he would go, too. "I'm willing to ride him if they want me to go along," Shoe said, deadpan, and everybody laughed.