The mood of the 100th Preakness at Pimlico last Saturday was sporty all the way. Long before the record crowd of 75,216 began pouring into the Old Hilltop course, horsemen around Barn E—where the Preakness colts were stabled—displayed an extraordinary amount of mutual admiration. John Russell, the engaging young Englishman who trains Singh, seemed to express the prevailing sentiment best. While high on Singh's chances, even though this latter-day son of the great Bold Ruler had never gone beyond a mile and a 16th, Russell said, "In a couple of years I think we'll all look back and say how good this crop of 3-year-olds was. In the Kentucky Derby I thought Foolish Pleasure was the best horse, but even so he beat some fine colts that day. Sure, he may have been lucky, too, but Foolish Pleasure, make no mistake about it, is very, very good. I've never seen a horse accomplish so much and receive so little credit. Even now there are horsemen who believe he is vulnerable."
One outfit that obviously thought so was Golden Chance Farm, owned by Mrs. Robert E. Lehmann, whose late husband won the 1970 Kentucky Derby with Dust Commander. Trainer Smiley Adams thought enough of Master Derby, a son of Dust Commander, to persuade Mrs. Lehmann to ante up $10,000 to make the colt, who was fourth in the Derby, a supplementary entry in the Preakness. "Master Derby got roughed up a bit in Kentucky and he lost some ground," said Adams. "We thought we should give him another chance. A lot of people think he's an off-track horse because of the way he won the Blue Grass in the slop, but this colt has won more often on fast tracks than off-tracks. He's the most honest colt a man ever saw—18 times in the money in 20 races. Any time he runs you've got to beat him. He won't quit on you."
Adams and Mrs. Lehmann spent their $10,000 wisely, for Master Derby benefited from a cool, professional ride by 20-year-old Darrel McHargue to win the Preakness by a length over 6-to-5 favorite Foolish Pleasure. His time for the 1[3/16]-mile race was a modest 1:56[2/5]. But, like the 1-mile Derby two weeks earlier, this Preakness was not without incident. Master Derby opened up a three-length lead leaving the quarter pole, but as he drove through the stretch—and as Foolish Pleasure came around three horses on the turn to challenge him—the Golden Chance colt drifted out nearly to the center of the track. Jacinto Vasquez on Foolish Pleasure had no alternative but to change course and go inside. This he did with no apparent difficulty but nonetheless failed to catch the leader. Vasquez entered a foul claim against McHargue but it was disallowed, the stewards declaring that the winner was far enough ahead of Foolish Pleasure when he drifted out and did not seriously disturb the Derby winner's effort.
Master Derby's backers received a record Preakness payoff of $48.80 on the 23-to-1 shot, amazingly long odds for a colt with such fine past performances. As the crowd settled back in a mild state of disbelief—it took a few minutes to accept the fact that Foolish Pleasure, for all his heroic efforts, could not now win the Triple Crown—some pre-race strategy talk was recalled. "The early fractions won't be any faster than in the Derby," Foolish Pleasure's trainer, LeRoy Jolley, had said, "but there'll be more contention for the pace. In Louisville you had Bombay Duck out in front all by himself. This time you'll have Native Guest, Media, Singh and maybe Avatar and Diabolo all out there running for the lead. And I don't think you'll see Foolish Pleasure as far back as he was in the Derby. With the tighter turns and shorter stretch here, nobody can afford to get too far behind."
Trainer Bobby Frankel was on hand with an undefeated colt—in four races—named Native Guest, fresh from a stakes win at a mile at Hollywood Park. Was Frankel worried about the extra distance or the opposition? "Hell, no," he had said. "The horse that was ridden the best won the Derby. Those two California horses [Avatar and Diabolo, who finished second and third] probably moved too soon. I think I've got the best colt in California, and I wouldn't be here if I didn't think he would win." But Native Guest ran in the Preakness as though it were another mile race and then submitted to fatigue as he faded from first to seventh in the 10-horse field.
When they broke from the starting gate, Native Guest went right to the front, followed by Media, Master Derby and Singh. Foolish Pleasure was away seventh, not far behind Diabolo and Avatar, while Prince Thou Art was dead last. Going up the backstretch, waiting for the leaders to tire, Foolish Pleasure saved ground on the rail, while ahead of him Avatar and Diabolo rolled up into menacing positions just behind the pace. At the mile the real race began. McHargue had never had Master Derby worse than fourth, and as they came to the quarter pole he cracked his colt with the whip. Master Derby responded with a surge that gave him a fat three-length lead with an eighth of a mile to go.
Foolish Pleasure meanwhile had circled the field at the top of the stretch, going wide to make his run, and it is possible that Vasquez, who had good fortune at this stage in his Derby victory (when he went outside Avatar and Diabolo and inside a drifting Master Derby) may have stayed close to the rail a mite too long. Nothing opened ahead of him, which is why he had to take the long way around. Having to change course again after that to go inside Master Derby was, for once, asking the game Foolish Pleasure to do too much. John Greer, the colt's owner and the most popular member of Knoxville's First Baptist Church since his post-Derby contribution, was philosophical about the defeat. "I look on every race as though we'll probably lose," he had said Friday morning. "In that way each win is more rewarding." After he lost, he said, "It's just one of those things. When you're in racing, this happens."
Trainer Jolley said, "Our colt has had good luck before. He had it in the Wood Memorial and he had it in the Derby. Today it was somebody else's turn. Sometimes you use up the good luck, and you've got to take a bit of the bad."
The win was Master Derby's sixth in nine races this year, and in 21 races he has never been worse than fourth. In picking up the winner's purse of $158,100, he clearly demonstrated that he is one of the very best 3-year-olds in the country. Diabolo, another impressive colt, was only a length behind Foolish Pleasure in third place, and trailing him by a length and a half was the fast-finishing Prince Thou Art. After that, in order, came Avatar, Singh, Native Guest, Bold Chapeau, Just the Time and Media. None had a real excuse, although several jocks came back grumbling about the cuppy, deep track. But it was, after all, the same for all of them.
And Belmont's mile and a half will be the same for all of those who elect to show up on June 7. Master Derby returns to his regular Churchill Downs barn this week while Smiley Adams and Mrs. Lehmann decide whether or not to let him show his stuff on Long Island. Foolish Pleasure will almost surely be there, maybe Avatar and Diabolo, too, and probably Prince Thou Art.
Smiley Adams, all smiles, said he wanted time to make up his mind about the Belmont. Even if it took a "best" ride to win the Derby and the Preakness, Adams must know that it takes a combination of best ride and best horse to win the Belmont. "That's what I hear tell," he grinned. Then, patting McHargue with affection, he added, "This jock here, he couldn't have rode him no better than today. What more can I say?"