Years from now the 101st Preakness will be remembered as a match that was never struck. It was supposed to provide a dramatic second meeting between Kentucky Derby winner Bold Forbes and the hero of winter and spring, Honest Pleasure. Handicappers and horsemen had it all figured out: the two would spring from the starting gate at Pimlico, run holes in the wind for a mile and [3/16]ths and brush away their four opponents like fruit flies. Instead the Preakness turned out to be a bewildering race with Bold Forbes finishing third and Honest Pleasure beating only one starter as Elocutionist drove boldly up on the outside through the stretch to take the winner's purse of $129,700 by 3½ lengths over Play the Red, the long shot in the field.
Everyone seemed to overlook Elocutionist. On past performances the colt had a chance—he had been third behind Bold Forbes and Honest Pleasure at Churchill Downs. Granted, it was not a very impressive third. He had lost by 4¼ lengths after being within striking distance at the head of the stretch. His record, however, now stands at nine wins in 12 starts with no finish worse than third. Only time will tell whether he has the durability to head his 3-year-old class, the depth and ability of which seemed even more suspect following the Preakness.
Examining the race, one can only whistle at the first six furlongs, which were run in 1:09. Bold Forbes was two lengths in front of Honest Pleasure at this point. In the 100 previous runnings of the Preakness no horse had ever approached that time and, in fact, none of the thousands of animals entered in sprints during Pimlico's 105 years of existence had gone so fast—the course record is 1:09[1/5]. The amazing thing about Bold Forbes' race was that he was able to finish third, only four lengths behind the winner—and that first three-quarters of a mile was not his only problem. Somewhere along the way he suffered a severe cut in his left hind hoof, which caused him to lose his running action through the stretch and drift out badly.
In the days leading up to the Preakness everyone assumed that Honest Pleasure's jockey, Braulio Baeza, would have to change his tactics if the colt were to beat Bold Forbes. In the Derby, Bold Forbes had been allowed to steal off to too large a lead, and Honest Pleasure had used himself up trying to close this gap. For Bold Forbes there could be no change in tactics because he is difficult to handle, springing to the front from the starting gate as if his tail were on fire.
May 23, 1976
Some 10 hours before the race Laz Barrera, the trainer of Bold Forbes, was perched on a wooden fence in front of his horse's stall, reviewing the possible ways the race could be run. Reporters had come at Barrera in waves for weeks, asking similar questions, and Laz was witty and gracious enough to give variations on the theme. "You get this close to a big race," he began, "and you know you have done everything you can. Now you wait and try not to get too nervous. I would have to think that Honest Pleasure would attempt to run with Bold Forbes because when he laid back in the Derby, it didn't work. You worry about the pace being too fast, but remember Bold Forbes and Honest Pleasure were able to finish one-two at a mile and one-quarter. They should be able to do the same thing at a mile and [3/16]ths. Angel Cordero and Braulio Baeza both have a lot of experience, and I don't think they are going to go so fast that they set the race up for somebody else. Oh, it could happen. That is the one thing you never know about."
Well, Cordero and Baeza shot out of the gate like a couple of bug boys riding their first mounts at River Downs. Cordero steered Bold Forbes wide on the first run, carrying Honest Pleasure out, and then stayed off the rail throughout the run down the backstretch. But, either on the first or last turn, Bold Forbes got stepped on. At first the injury seemed so bad the colt's life might be in jeopardy.
Bold Forbes has had hoof problems recently. He bruised his right hind one while winning the Wood Memorial in April, and Barrera put three-quarter shoes on the horse to ease the pressure on the foot. There was swelling in the area, and the colt was given Butazolidin to kill the pain. With his other hoof cut down in the Preakness, Bold Forbes had to put added weight on the right hoof, which was mending slowly.
By the morning after the race Bold Forbes' future did not seem as bleak. "The injury is in a sensitive and painful area," said veterinarian James V. Stewart. "It is a stripping of the coronet band and the next few days will be important for Bold Forbes. But he should be all right if no infection sets in."
While the Preakness was a sad day for Bold Forbes' Latin following, it turned out to be a splendid one for the Irish family of 54-year-old Gene Cashman, who runs the Cashman Grain Co., which is listed on the Chicago Board of Trade. Cashman usually deals in soybeans, but in 1974 he spent $1 million at yearling sales, buying 60 horses. On a windy night in Lexington, Ky. he went into a tent sale looking for stock. He was torn between two horses. Unnamed at the time, they turned out to be Bold Forbes and Elocutionist. The Preakness winner cost $15,000; Bold Forbes sold for $15,200.
As he walked through the packed grandstand following the Preakness, Cashman said, "We had thought briefly about passing up this race and running in the Hawthorne Derby on May 22. But when you get into racing, you want to run in the Triple Crown events. It doesn't make any difference what the purses of other races might be, these are the three races everyone looks forward to. Just a week ago people were saying to me it was a shame I missed Bold Forbes and got Elocutionist. Well, Elocutionist has given me more fun, more joy than you can imagine. We had no excuses in the Kentucky Derby, we just got beat. But [Trainer] Paul Adwell and I decided to try the Preakness, and came ahead."
When Cashman, for six years a policeman on the Chicago force, finally worked his way through the grandstand, he entered a small hot room where his five daughters, ranging in age from 22 to 14-year-old twins, were waiting. They had champagne glasses in their hands, and shouted, "Let's hear it for Daddy." Then they hollered, "Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray!"
Elocutionist will now go on to the Belmont Stakes with the surprising Play the Red, who was the eighth-place finisher in the nine-horse Derby.
The lingering mystery of this year's Preakness will be Honest Pleasure, who may be taken out of training after his poor performance. The punch he had during the early months of the year has disappeared and the hope that he would become another Secretariat can be forgotten.
"I thought my horse ran a creditable race," Trainer LeRoy Jolley said on Sunday, "but at no time did I think Honest Pleasure was going to make a strong run at Bold Forbes. If you look back at the Derby and Preakness, the closing fractions indicate that the two horses take an awful lot out of each other. At the end of seven furlongs this time both of them were through. Bold Forbes is a fine horse. He and Honest Pleasure may have great ability, but they also may lack versatility." Jolley did not hide his disappointment in his colt's classic races. "In his starts this spring," he said, "he was running against horses of a certain locality." Following two such difficult losing races it would be amazing if Honest Pleasure would come back in the Belmont.
The Secretariat legend casts a spell over America's 3-year-olds, and every good horse is compared to him, which is unfair. A judgment about the quality of this year's colts must wait until fall. Elocutionist, Bold Forbes and Honest Pleasure have been to the races a total of 41 times and won 30 races. Until last week none of them had ever been out of the money. Now only Honest Pleasure has finished worse than third. A month ago nobody would have believed such a thing could be possible.