As 3-year-old debuts go, the two last Wednesday were impressive—and predictable. The main difference was location. At Gulfstream Park, Hawksworth Farm's Spectacular Bid drew off easily to win the $28,200 Hutcheson Stakes by nearly four lengths, while at Santa Anita, B. J. Ridder's Flying Paster picked off the $64,300 San Vicente Stakes by six lengths. The two colts will probably dominate all discussions leading up to the Kentucky Derby May 5—and the weeks beyond it.
Unlike Affirmed and Alydar, who raced against each other six times as 2-year-olds, Spectacular Bid and Flying Paster have never been on the same side of the Great Divide. Spectacular Bid ran in the East last season while Flying Paster's races were confined to the West Coast. The two are not expected to meet until they get into the gate at Churchill Downs, a situation reminiscent of the first meeting between Swaps and Nashua in 1955. Certainly many of the same elements are present that made that rivalry so dramatic: good records, opinionated fans, East vs. West and the confusions that always arise when trying to determine track variants and running styles.
Both the Hutcheson and San Vicente were run at seven furlongs and were little more than springboards to the Florida Derby and Flamingo Stakes for Spectacular Bid and the Santa Anita Derby and Hollywood Derby for Flying Paster. An indication of the quality of the two colts was evident on the tote boards at Gulf-stream and Santa Anita. Spectacular Bid (1:21[2/5]) paid the legal minimum of $2.10 for each $2 win bet; Flying Paster (1:21[1/5]) returned $2.20 to tie a Santa Anita record for low payoffs.
With the plethora of good horses running in 1978—Affirmed, Alydar, Seattle Slew, Exceller, Late Bloomer among others—little attention was paid to the 2-year-olds. Between them, however, Spectacular Bid and Flying Paster won 11 stakes. At year's end, Spectacular Bid was judged to be the better of the two and was assigned 126 pounds on the Experimental list, three pounds more than Flying Paster. Tommy Trotter, the racing secretary for Chicago's Arlington Park who drew up the Experimental weights, says, "It was very hard to judge them because they never met."
Because he ran in the East, Spectacular Bid got more attention. Racing fans continue to call the other colt Flying Pastor, but his name comes from the fact that he is owned by newspaper executive Ben Ridder of the Knight-Ridder chain. A flying paster is a device that pastes rolls of newsprint together without having to stop the presses. "I guess I'll spend most of the winter and spring explaining my horse's name again and again," Ridder said last week.
Ben Ridder has owned some good race horses; his mare, Cascapedia, won the 1977 Eclipse Award as the best older filly or mare. "Flying Paster is the best horse I've had," Ridder says, "and my intentions are to run him in the Triple Crown races. Unless something unforeseen should occur, we'll follow the same schedule that Affirmed followed when he won the Triple Crown. Because Spectacular Bid is in the East and Flying Paster in the West, I can't really make any genuine comparisons. It's up to people to make their own judgments. I do know that Flying Paster has an awful lot of ability and that he adapts to the circumstances. He has speed and he can also come from behind. Those are two excellent qualities."
The San Vicente was a showcase for quite a bit of that adaptability. During the early races the afternoon of Flying Paster's first 1979 outing, horses that tried to run from behind were floundering through the stretch, apparently having trouble holding the track. Although he faced only four opponents, Flying Paster was in fifth place for part of the race and had a very rough trip. When Jockey Don Pierce called on him to run, the colt accelerated without being whipped, but at the top of the stretch he was bumped hard by Crest of the Wave. "Actually, we were bumped twice," Pierce said. "Once we got straightened out, I just hollered at my horse, showed him the whip and he pulled away."
Flying Paster's sparkling time of 1:21[1/5] was but [1/5] of a second slower than the stakes record, which is held by Ancient Title, for the present the most famous son of Gummo, who also happens to be Flying Paster's sire. Ancient Title, who retired last summer, was the richest California-bred of all time with career earnings of $1,252,791.
Pierce, 41, who rode Gummo in the early '60s, is one of the top stakes riders on the West Coast. This is his 28th year as a jockey (he started on quarter horses when he was 13), and in each of the last 15 years his mounts have earned more than $1 million. Pierce is respected for his coolness in big races, and only Bill Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay Jr. have won more California stakes. "Up until Flying Paster," he says, "the best 3-year-old I was ever on was Hill Rise."
In 1964 Pierce rode Hill Rise to four straight wins leading up to the Kentucky Derby, but was "unhorsed" when owner George Pope Jr. decided he wanted Shoemaker on the colt in the Derby. Hill Rise finished second behind Northern Dancer.
It is rare for a California-bred to win a Derby—only Morvich in 1922, Decidedly in 1962 and Swaps have in 104 years—and through the years Californians have heard insulting words from Kentuckians, Floridians, New Yorkers and Marylanders about the disparity. One school of thought holds that the tracks in California are too hard and horses that are used to Western surfaces don't run well at Churchill Downs. But Tomy Lee, an English-bred, did it in 1959 after campaigning in California, and so did Lucky Debonair in 1965 and Majestic Prince in 1969. Last year Affirmed trained in California and won the Triple Crown. Affirmed, Majestic Prince and Lucky Debonair were Kentucky-breds.
Flying Paster, who is trained by Gordon Campbell, has rattled off seven straight stakes wins. His career record shows eight wins in 11 starts and there were decent excuses for his three second-place finishes. His most celebrated defeat was in the Hollywood Juvenile in July, when he lost to Secretariat's daughter Terlingua after having trouble leaving the gate.
At the moment, neither Spectacular Bid nor Flying Paster seems to have much opposition. But that could change if either Pen-Y-Bryn Farm's Instrument Landing or Bert Firestone's General Assembly improve for trainers David Whiteley and LeRoy Jolley, respectively.
Flying Paster is only the second foal of Procne, the first one having died. Back in 1974 Procne won the My Fair Lady Stakes at Bay Meadows and one of the horses she beat was Spectacular, the dam of Spectacular Bid.
That, however, is about the only way the two three-year-olds can be compared. In the weeks ahead the West will be looking East, while the East is looking West. If both horses get together in the Triple Crown races, it could be Affirmed vs. Alydar all over again.