Hialeah may be having its share of troubles these days, but there are at least two horses on the grounds capable of administering their own remedy for some of the disappointing crowds. Last Saturday, for example, by way of proving that a genuine star can still draw people, Forego turned in a phenomenal performance as he became the first horse in 38 runnings of the 1-mile Widener Handicap to carry 131 pounds to victory. The largest Hialeah attendance in four years, 24,890, turned out to witness the event, and it seemed like old times again as the swells and punters alike rose en masse to give 1974's Horse of the Year a loud and richly deserved ovation.
Three days earlier, hidden by the obscurity of a ridiculous 12:25 post time, last season's unbeaten 2-year-old champion, Foolish Pleasure, easily won a three-horse exhibition race in near track-record time for his eighth triumph in a row. Foolish Pleasure is a strong future-book favorite for the Kentucky Derby, and he gave evidence that if Forego is the horse of the moment, he could become racing's next big hero.
There is no question now that the 5-year-old Forego ranks among the all-time stars of the handicap division. A year ago, on the road to his championship, the enormous gelding won the Widener under 129 pounds and finished the season with victories in the 1½-mile Woodward, the seven-furlong Vosburgh and the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, in all of which he was topweighted. He led off his 1975 campaign with a victory in the nine-furlong Seminole Handicap, carrying 129 pounds, but the challenge of the longer Widener, under 131, was something else. Back in 1938, the winter after he captured the Triple Crown, War Admiral won the Widener carrying 130 pounds. But 10 years later Armed and Assault, both burdened with 130, finished fourth and fifth behind El Mono (112). In 1950 Coaltown, with 132 pounds, could do no better than fifth to Royal Governor (118). Later on, Crafty Admiral and Kelso failed under 131.
Only Armed and Yorky had ever managed to win consecutive Wideners before Forego joined the club, and among the 24 favorites who had failed to win in 37 previous runnings were Assault, Kelso, Coaltown, Carry Back, Iron Liege, Summer Tan and Stagehand. Obviously, Forego is something special.
Sherrill Ward, who trains him for Owner Martha Gerry, skillfully manages to keep the body on this big brute (he stands only a quarter of an inch shy of 17 hands and weighs almost 1,200 pounds). Moreover, Ward has been able to send Forego to the starting gate with pure speed when needed, as in his triumph in the Vosburgh, and bring him right back to his typical come-from-behind style for the longer Gold Cup and the Widener.
The one thing Forego does not like is an off track, such as the slop in which he lost the 1974 Marlboro Cup to Big Spruce. So on Widener day, as the clouds gathered in late afternoon, Ward spoke wryly of having done a "no rain" dance back at his barn. Whatever kind of dance he did, it must have worked, for the downpour held off until a half hour after the big attraction.
In the paddock before the race Ward told Jockey Heliodoro Gustines just to stay out of trouble. Gustines did so by taking back and going into the first turn dead last. "I didn't mind that," Ward said later. "It takes time to get a big horse carrying all that weight into high gear. I wasn't particularly worried." But Gustines was, for a moment or two, anyway. "He was acting sluggish," Gustines said, "and I didn't think he'd be in the money. He didn't start running until the 3/16ths pole. Then he won easy."
Well, maybe not easy. For a few nervous seconds the 7-to-10 favorite did not look like a shoo-in. But he moved steadily, from fifth on the backstretch to fourth on the final turn, and overtook Lord Rebeau as they came to the eighth pole. The 50-to-1 outsider Hat Full, to whom the winner was giving 20 pounds, made a strong run at him in the final furlong, but at the wire it was Forego by a length and a quarter. Gold and Myrrh was third, followed by Lord Rebeau, Group Plan, Mr. Door, Sharp Gary, Outdoors and Neapolitan Way, Forego's time was a commendable 2:01[4/5].
With his record now two-for-two in 1975, Forego may have a few problems ahead of him, not so much with his opposition on the track as with the gentlemen who sit behind the racing secretaries' desks and assign weights in handicaps. Their ideal is to weight every horse so that all reach the wire in a photo finish. As he keeps winning and his opposition keeps losing, Forego will get more weight on and the others will get more weight off. By autumn they may be suggesting that Forego try a few jumps on the way or go around twice while the others go once. Don't bet he wouldn't be able to handle that, too.
But Forego really has nothing more to prove to anyone. Foolish Pleasure, despite his unblemished record, does, and all indications are that he will, beginning with the Flamingo next week. His exhibition win last week was at seven furlongs and he made a mockery of the race, beating Ambassador's Image by 4½ lengths with Circle Home another half-length back. Foolish Pleasure covered the sprint distance in 1:21⅖ which was eye-popping enough, but, even more impressively, he worked on out the full mile in a superb 1:34[1/5]. When he won the one-mile Champagne at Belmont last fall his time was 1:36.
Of course, exhibition races are not the same as mixing it up in a field of 10 or 12 or more, but Trainer LeRoy Jolley and Owner John L. Greer nonetheless were delighted with what they saw. Foolish Pleasure hadn't raced since last Oct. 5, and when he came back blowing a bit after his speedy effort, Jolley was pleased. "It did him lots of good," he said, "and set him up perfectly for the Flamingo's mile and an eighth."
And, by and by, the Kentucky Derby's mile and a quarter. Racegoers at this time of year are looking for a horse to drape in roses that first Saturday in May. "There's always something new jumping up in February and March to surprise us all," said former Calumet Trainer Jimmy Jones. "But this year you'd have to say that Foolish Pleasure is the only standout 3-year-old on either coast. Certainly nothing seems capable of going with him up to a mile. The only question is what he'll do when they tack that extra quarter of a mile onto his races." Then, noting that Foolish Pleasure is by What a Pleasure out of a Tom Fool mare named Fool-Me-Not, Jones added, "Having that Tom Fool blood isn't going to hurt him any." Owner Greer put it even more bluntly: "This colt isn't a What a Pleasure. He's a Tom Fool. He's got all the equipment his granddaddy had."
The Flamingo had something of another preview the same afternoon that Foolish Pleasure put on his strong exhibition. The Everglades, at nine furlongs, was won by Ascetic, a bay son of Damascus owned by Nick and Jim Brady and trained by veteran Woody Stephens, who won last year's Derby with Cannonade. Ascetic took the Everglades by 2½ lengths, beating such opposition as L'Enjoleur, the Canadian-bred son of Buckpasser out of the Alabama winner Fanfreluche, and Darby Dan Farm's Prince Thou Art. Still, Stephens came away less than ecstatic over his horse's future chances over a distance of ground. "Ascetic seems like a willing colt, all right," Stephens said, "but I think Circle Home, who is a full brother to Cannonade, probably has more ability, even if he is not as far along in his development. Frankly, I think Ascetic would have a hell of a time beating Foolish Pleasure in the Flamingo. I'll probably skip it and send him in a shorter race next month at Gulfstream. But Circle Home has already been around two turns, so we'll give him a shot at the Flamingo. Whether he's good enough to beat Foolish Pleasure is another matter."
Others who might challenge Foolish Pleasure in his first attempt beyond a mile are Harry Mangurian's American History, a son of Tom Rolfe who finished second to Ascetic in the Everglades, and L'Enjoleur, who was quite plainly a little short while finishing a game fourth in that race. As Jimmy Jones noted, this is the season for surprises among the still-youthful 3-year-olds. That is true enough, but no surprise is likely to occur in the Flamingo. Foolish Pleasure should have a pleasurable afternoon.