Having two fit and sound 3-year-olds to run in this week's Belmont Stakes is obviously better than having none, or even one. And that is the lovely position in which Mrs. Ethel D. Jacobs and her trainer-son John find themselves after last week's Jersey Derby. Just as in the Preakness, the family's Personality won, and High Echelon closed swiftly to be fourth.
In winning his third $100,000 race in six weeks Personality achieved the easiest of his six victories this season and unmistakably confirmed what John Jacobs had suggested following the Preakness: "He is improving from week to week, and he is still my pick for the Belmont, despite the distance." The Jersey Derby, at a mile and an eighth, was almost a picnic for Personality. When the eight runners went by the stands for the first time and into the clubhouse turn, Jockey Eddie Belmonte had him back in fifth position, while the sprinters Bold Day and Hagley alternated on the lead. They ticked off the first quarter in :23⅕ and the half mile in :46[2/5]. Silent Screen and Corn Off The Cob made up the next group, and the former managed to take the lead in time to be clocked in 1:10[2/5] for six furlongs and then 1:35[2/5] for the mile. But once again Silent Screen showed that he is not up to winning beyond a mile against the best opposition.
As the field left the half-mile post, Jacobs watched Personality begin to move relentlessly on Silent Screen and a tiring Hagley. Later he said, "I thought he was the winner right then." He was right. Personality went to the outside, nailed Silent Screen on the eighth pole and drew out effortlessly to beat Corn Off The Cob by a length and a quarter in the excellent time of 1:48[1/5]. Silent Screen held on to take third over on-rushing High Echelon, while behind them came Son Excellence, More Princely, Hagley and Bold Day.
The Jersey Derby eliminated Silent Screen, as well as the last four to finish, from Belmont Stakes consideration. Jockey Johnny Rotz said of Silent Screen, "They are just too strong for him in the last eighth." As for Corn Off The Cob, Trainer Arnold Winick said, "The Belmont is a mile and a half over a plowed field. After today I'm taking myself and my horse back to Chicago as fast as I can."
If Personality does not win the Belmont for the Jacobses, will High Echelon? "The farther you go, the more he will like it," says John. But other horsemen believe that High Echelon will never again beat his stablemate at any distance and that he could be one of those colts who close like the wind every time they run but are never quite able to get the job done against top class. This year, in nine races, he has not won, finished third twice and fourth three times.
Who is there, then, to put the challenge to Personality? Well, My Dad George, for one. There is no way to knock him after a season in which he has danced every dance. Possibly the smartest thing Trainer Buddy McManus did after My Dad George was beaten only a neck by Personality in the Preakness was to give the colt a couple of weeks off to freshen up for the Belmont. His best chance—in fact, his only chance—in the Belmont would appear to be for Jockey Ray Broussard to keep him closer up during the early running. The Belmont, unlike the other stakes, is not so much a matter of speed but of careful judgment of pace. Naskra may give the Belmont a try, but he does not seem to be at his best at the moment. Delaware Chief, a speedy son of Chieftain, could be a supplementary nominee, but Chieftain was not a distance runner, and breeding is what counts in the Belmont. George Pope's Aggressively, inactive until last week after finishing third in the Santa Anita Derby in March, is racing again, and this son of Decidedly has the advantage of being fresher than most. The same goes for Thomas Fleming Jr.'s Needles N Pens, who came from way back to beat Climber and Naskra at Belmont last week. Needles N Pens has a Belmont pedigree—he is by Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Needles out of the Career Boy mare Running Free. If others attempt this week's 12 furlongs—such as Brookmeade Stable's Climber or Greentree's Liberty Card—they would lack the seasoning to put pressure on the best of the Derby and Preakness survivors. None of them should beat Personality.