There was more than a quarter mile remaining in the $175,000 Woodward Handicap at Belmont Park last Saturday when Forego swept into view. He was moving, as he usually does, on the far outside, and his huge body was covered by a blanket of goo. The bandages on his ankles were barely visible, but his proud head was high, his ears were pricked. Forego has a marvelous capacity for the dramatic, loping as he does past a pack of handicappers moving hell-bent into the homestretch. Usually he wins or loses his big races by inches, and he seldom displays a killer instinct—he moves too easily. But this Woodward (Forego now has won the last four) was different. He thundered by his nine rivals in midstretch and had the crowd on its feet applauding through the last 16th.
Forego is Forego again, and what racing fan can ask for anything more? The 7-year-old gelding had lost three straight and there had been talk that perhaps it was time to retire him. But now he stands just $76,043 shy of becoming the first thoroughbred to earn $2 million and only a string of defeats can prevent him from becoming Horse of the Year for the fourth time. In his last two Woodwards Forego has carried a stunning total of 365 pounds more than his opposition.
"This little horse," said Jockey Willie Shoemaker, "has a heart as wide as a highway." He paused. "I don't know why I said little horse. Lord knows he isn't little. Fact is, he's enormous.
"Riders rarely know how the public feels about a racehorse, but with Forego I've seen and heard things I never have before. In May he came out for his first race of the year at Belmont, and there was no betting allowed at the track that day because of a mutuel clerks' strike. But 7,500 people—which is a lot when no betting is allowed—showed up. It seemed everyone was down by the walking ring before the race looking at Forego. As I walked from the jockeys' room to the paddock, fans started to applaud me. There weren't any boos or wisecracks as there often are. When I got up on the horse and we walked around, the clapping was tremendous."
Shoemaker believes the fans appreciate Forego even more because he is not a sound horse and every race might be his last. The son of Forli did not fully mature until late in his 3-year-old season and since then has been bothered by such ailments as splints, suspensory trouble and swollen ankles. He runs on one good leg, his left hind.
"Racegoers just seem to want to say thanks for all the great races he's given them," Shoemaker said. "You know, a jockey often gets on an airplane with a satchel and a whip and flies all night and rides in a race that's over in little more than a minute. You look at a replay on television, then you take the bag and the whip, get on an airplane and go back to wherever you came from. But with Forego, it's different."
Until an hour before last week's race it seemed that Shoemaker had made his latest journey from the West Coast for naught—that Forego would not start. The track was a lake of slop and in his previous race, the Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, Forego had been an embarrassing seventh on a heavy track. Cynics suggested that Trainer Frank Whiteley had started Forego figuring he would not be able to handle the track and that a poor performance might lighten the lead in the saddlebags the next time out. "The mud at Saratoga is different from the mud at Belmont," said Whiteley. "We all know that." And as things turned out, Whiteley was right.
The handicapper assigned 133 pounds to Forego for the Woodward, which was three pounds less. But Whiteley and Martha Gerry, Forego's owner, were obviously far from happy when it rained heavily on the eve of the stake. The downpour stopped about noon on race day and the Forego camp hoped for a hot sun to dry out the track. By the fifth race it was evident that the surface was not fast improving. Shoemaker rode in the fifth and reported that, in his opinion, the track was too slippery for the big gelding.
But Forego had trained splendidly for the Woodward and scratching him was not going to be an easy decision. "He's never been better," Mrs. Gerry said, "and if we don't go today we have to wait two more weeks before he can run [in the $250,000 Marlboro Cup]. That isn't fair to the horse." At almost the last conceivable moment—horses must be withdrawn at least 45 minutes before post time—the decision to start was made.
The field that opposed Forego had won 21 stakes while Forego had accounted for 23, but there were some quality entries, including J. O. Tobin, the 3-year-old who had dealt Seattle Slew his only defeat. Forego dawdled at the start, as he normally does, but began gathering speed after six furlongs of the 1‚⅛-mile race. At this point, Cinteelo, a mud-lover, was on the lead along with J. O. Tobin. J. O., however, was climbing and never managed to get hold of the track, finishing fifth. Cinteelo maintained his position until the top of the stretch, when he dropped back to fourth as Silver Series moved into second and Great Contractor closed to be third. But Forego's move was a crunching run, devastating the opposition. He was pulled up at the finish line and was 1½ lengths ahead.
On Oct. 1 Forego will run again at Belmont in the Marlboro, and a victory in that race will push him over $2 million. He has now been favored in 27 straight races, but trivia buffs may be more interested in another statistic: in his last 13 stakes races Forego has conceded a total of 2,057 pounds to his opponents.
Those who saw his latest show of strength came away wondering just how much weight he will pick up when he goes after the money mark. He has won carrying 131 pounds, 132 (twice), 133 (twice), 134 (three times), 135, 136 and 137. How high can up be?