If Chris Evert, the tennis player, is forced at Wimbledon to endure what befell Chris Evert, the 3-year-old champion filly, at Belmont Park last week, she will lose her skirt at an introductory ceremony, top off her finals match by tripping over the net and still end up with the silverware.
Well, almost. At the 58th running of the Coaching Club American Oaks, the classic mile and a half that is to fillies what the Belmont Stakes is to male 3-year-olds, Chris Evert did have her problems. Just before the race began, Jockey Jorge Velasquez' saddle slipped and he had to dismount while it was adjusted. In the race itself Chris had to prove to a crowd of 30,269 that made her the odds-on favorite what Owner Carl Rosen and Trainer Joe Trovato had been claiming all along—that this daughter of a nonclassic winner could beat the best of her age and sex at the classic 12-furlong distance. This she did perfectly, with a brilliant 3½-length victory. But a little way past the finish line a stirrup strap broke and Velasquez was on the deck again, this time getting kicked in the back by another filly while the riderless Chris galloped off by herself on a post-race sprint. After an ambulance ride back to the winner's circle, Velasquez painfully remounted the corralled champion to pose with her entourage and the assorted goodies that go to the Oaks winner in addition to a check for $68,520 out of the race's gross purse of $114,200.
Chris Evert was bought for $32,000 at the Keeneland yearling sales in 1972 by Rosen, who is president of Puritan Fashions, the company whose tennis clothes Wimbledon's Chris Evert endorses. "I think it's great to have a horse named after me," Miss Evert said last week in England. "It's very flattering. I've never met my namesake in the flesh, or watched her race. But I hope it won't be long before I get the chance to see her in action."
"I'd like to invite her to Saratoga to see the filly in the Alabama," responded Rosen, whose modest five-horse string also includes a colt named after Yankee Outfielder Bobby Murcer. The filly's trainer, Trovato, who worked for a while as a jockeys' agent before serving an apprenticeship under the highly successful trainer, Bobby Frankel, has done a masterful job with Chris Evert. A year ago he waited patiently until mid-September before starting the young filly. She then won four out of five races, losing only the Frizette, and that because of an atrocious start. Many felt that she, rather than Talking Picture, should have been given the Eclipse award as the best 2-year-old filly.
There is no doubt that this time around she will win the Eclipse statuette for 3-year-olds. She has taken the Acorn, the Mother Goose and now the Coaching Club American Oaks, a trio of races that New Yorkers consider the Triple Crown for Fillies. All three events have been run for a long time, but in 1961 the New York Racing Association decided to group them into a series with a special Triple Crown trophy. Before Chris Evert, the sweep had been accomplished only by Dark Mirage in 1968 and Shuvee in 1969. Even so, Chris Evert's name will probably be accompanied by an asterisk in the record book, because the first of the three events, the one-mile Acorn, was run in two divisions and Fred Hooper's Special Team won the first half before Chris came on to take the nightcap. When the two met in the Mother Goose at a mile and an eighth, Special Team finished a dismal 10th, while the victorious Chris held off John Galbreath's fast-closing Maud Muller. Last week a lot of people around thoroughbred racing figured that Maud Muller, who is by the outstanding sire Graustark out of the champion mare Primonetta, would be much better suited to the Oaks distance than Chris. Or, at any rate, they thought if Maud Muller could not win at a mile and a half, then neither could a daughter of Swoon's Son who, despite his 14th-place ranking on the sires' all-time money-earned list (his $970,605 puts him just behind Dr. Fager, one of the 13 millionaires ahead of him), is not thought of as a classic sire. Such speculation did not sit well with Trovato, who exclaimed before the race, "Who's to say who can go the distance and who can't?"
Indeed, who is to say? Taking the lead away from long shot Fleet Image soon after the start, Chris Evert maintained it along the backstretch. Braulio Baeza, up on Maud Muller after suffering a minor leg injury earlier in the day, may have moved a little soon when he put the Galbreath filly on the lead at the half-mile pole. Velasquez simply stayed cool and waited until the head of the stretch before he asked Chris to go after what was rightfully hers. When she did, the show was over. Chris Evert covered the mile and a half in 2:28⅘ two-fifths of a second faster than Little Current did in winning his Belmont Stakes by a resounding seven lengths. King Ranch's Fiesta Libre ranged up in the final strides to take second place away from Maud Muller by half a length.
"This is unbelievable," said Trovato. "I thought it would be fantastic to be able to win two of the three, but all three of them is out of this world. Isn't she some kind of a game filly!"