The Wood Memorial had been over for nearly an hour when Angel Cordero Jr. dragged a chair in front of the two television sets that are always on in the recreation room adjoining the jockeys' quarters at New York's Aqueduct racetrack. Cordero sat with a towel draped over his lap watching on one screen a rerun of the final race on the day's card and on the other a tape of himself being interviewed after winning the Wood with Bold Forbes. And as he watched, the ebullient Cordero shouted and waved his arms and talked of a horse few others could possibly remember.
"June 12, 1960," he said. "El Comandante Racetrack in San Juan. The name of the horse was Chino and he was the first mount I ever had in a real race. I had worked for two years as an exercise boy for E. Rodriguez Tizol because my father had ridden for him before me. Mr. Rodriguez put me up on Chino and I finished fourth. Three days later I won a race for him. It has been years and years since I rode for him, so long that I do not remember the last time. Now I am riding Bold Forbes for Mr. Rodriguez and going to the Kentucky Derby on the best 3-year-old I have ever ridden. Derby Day I will rent a limousine and go to Churchill Downs in style. When I get there, I know exactly what I will be riding: the Puerto Rican Rolls-Royce."
By winning the $112,600 Wood, Bold Forbes established his ability to go a distance, and gave his fans further reason to believe that Honest Pleasure (page 44) is not the only colt in the Derby. Bold Forbes beat a field of six in handsome fashion and broke the stakes record held jointly by his grandsire, Bold Ruler, and last year's Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure. The Tizol colt ran the 1‚⅛-miles in 1:47⅖ lowering the record by 1[2/5] seconds, and won by 4¾ lengths. In the 1957 Wood, Bold Ruler scored by a neck (over Gallant Man) and Foolish Pleasure won his Wood by just a head (Bombay Duck was second).
Bold Forbes is not a horse that suddenly walked out of Barn 47 on Belmont Park's backstretch into the limelight. But he had faded into the shadows last August just when he appeared to be the swiftest 2-year-old in the nation. At a time when Honest Pleasure was just beginning to win, Bold Forbes had already put seven straight purses in his saddlebags. Other 2-year-olds have won their first seven starts and gone on to obscurity, but Bold Forbes was winning these starts by an average of nine lengths.
Perhaps the most interesting of Bold Forbes' races before the Wood was his very first in the spring of 1975 at El Comandante. He had been bought as a yearling at a Kentucky auction by Tizol for a modest $15,200 and sent to Puerto Rico. So little was thought of Bold Forbes that he paid $72 while winning that first race by 17 lengths.
After five victories in Puerto Rico, Bold Forbes was shipped to New York, where he took the $25,000 Tremont at Belmont in July by five lengths. He was then shipped to Saratoga for the $25,000 Special and $75,000 Hopeful, two races that are used to measure the prospects of colts. Bold Forbes won the Special by eight lengths, but he bucked his shins and had to be taken out of training. Bucked shins are as common as colds among 2-year-olds, and Trainer Laz Barrera was philosophical about Bold Forbes' problem. "It is not the end of the world," he said. "It could even turn out to be a blessing." The horse had proved enough and would mature as he rested. He had five months off.
On the final day of 1975 Bold Forbes returned to competition at Santa Anita and finished third. He also lost two subsequent Santa Anita outings, failing to impress Californians until late February, when he won the mile San Jacinto by three lengths.
"He had some excuses in California," Barrera said last week. "He was late getting to Santa Anita because of an airplane strike, and I might have rushed him too much after getting him there. He also didn't like the track."
But Bold Forbes had another problem that was driving Barrera daffy. The 3-year-old inherited Bold Ruler's zaniness, as have others of the great sire's descendants. Bold Ruler was strong-willed and he tended to ease up if there was nothing menacing him; Bold Forbes does the same. Recently, Barrera cut two football-shaped holes in the colt's blinkers so that he could see other horses threatening to sweep past him. Barrera also had Cordero come to the racetrack every morning for three weeks to gallop Bold Forbes great distances in the hope that the front-running colt would take to rating. (Barrera's problem with Bold Forbes is similar to the one Trainer LeRoy Jolley faces with his grandson of Bold Ruler, Honest Pleasure.) "It worked fine," Cordero says, "but there were days when he was exercising me instead of me exercising him."
Not long before the Wood, Eddie Arcaro, who was Bold Ruler's regular jockey, discussed Bold Forbes with Cordero, telling him some of the problems encountered while trying to discipline Bold Ruler. After the Wood, Arcaro said, "Bold Forbes runs just like Bold Ruler did. You couldn't rate Bold Ruler. Today Bold Forbes went wide on the first turn, but as soon as Cordero gave him his head he relaxed and took over easily. If a horse refuses to be rated, there is only one thing to do, let him loose and hope he can last."
Barrera is a handsome Cuban who sold a horse named San Francisco to get the fare to leave Havana in 1944. Subsequently, he brought his eight brothers and three sisters to the U.S., and virtually all of them work at the racetrack. Barrera is a sentimental, romantic man who resembles the actors who wooed but never won Carmen Miranda in the movies. Many of Barrera's owners are Latin, and in recent years he has reversed the trend in racing by bringing horses to the U.S. from Puerto Rico instead of sending them there to race.
After the Wood, Barrera said he would ship Bold Forbes to Kentucky for the Derby. "I don't know if I can beat Honest Pleasure or not," he said. "We will be about 5 to 1, the second choice. But at 5 to 1 I've got to like my chances. Angel didn't stop with Bold Forbes at the end of the Wood. His instructions were to work him out the mile-and-one-quarter Derby distance. I timed him in 2:03." A mile and one quarter in 2:03 would have won three of the last six Derbies.
"Maybe Honest Pleasure will not be the favorite in the Derby," Cordero said. "You know Bold Forbes could be the favorite at Louisville if enough Puerto Ricans show up."