With three furlongs to be run in last week's $56,800 Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., Lord Avie looked a badly beaten racehorse. The top 2-year-old of 1980 had only two longshots behind him and there were four other horses far up ahead. The first race in any 3-year-old's campaign is always worrisome because horses go through a difficult period of maturation when they have been away from competition for a while; Lord Avie hadn't raced in three months. Then, at the head of the stretch, The Lord, as his stablehands call him, suddenly began to move, chopping steadily away at the 16 lengths that had separated him from the leader, Spirited Boy.
Only in the final 70 yards did it appear that Lord Avie might win. He did, by a desperate head. When Danny Perlsweig, The Lord's 54-year-old trainer, was asked when he thought his bay colt had the race won, he answered, "When the ambulance arrived to take me to the heart institute."
If nothing else, the Hutcheson proved that Lord Avie had fully recovered from a case of hives he suffered last fall, and was ready for the arduous 18 weeks leading up to and through the Triple Crown. But Lord Avie's race wasn't really good enough to frighten away any of his expected competition. Two years ago another horse that hadn't run in three months used the Hutcheson as a springboard to the Triple Crown. But that one, Spectacular Bid, won the seven-furlong Hutcheson practically at a canter in 1:21⅖ a full 10 lengths faster than Lord Avie's time of 1:23[2/5]. However, as jockey agent Lenny Goodman has often said, "Time is only important to those serving it."
While The Lord hasn't been known for his brisk clockings, the Hutcheson was his fourth consecutive stakes victory. He has won six races in 11 starts and purses adding up to $473,320. Furthermore, Lord Avie is the centerpiece of a heartwarming saga in the making. Most horses have one owner, some two or three—but The Lord has 12. At times in the winner's circle it seems as if everyone but the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has a piece of the colt. Lord Avie flies the light blue and white silks of the SKS stable, which traces its proud history as far back as, well, the fall of 1978.
SKS is a claiming stable, not the kind of outfit noted for Triple Crown candidates. Two of Lord Avie's owners are from Miami and the other 10 are New Jerseyites. In October 1978 Mike Kay, a New York racing fan who had moved to Florida, persuaded his cousin, David Simon, to join him in a horse-racing lark. Kay and Simon, both members of the board of Prime Motor Inns, a company that owns some 30 motels, looked up Florida trainer Neal Winick and, on his advice, bought their first racehorse, a claimer, for $14,000. Her name was Pearly Bagger, and while she never won a race for the fledgling enterprise, the filly hit the board enough to keep the checks dribbling in. The next horse SKS claimed was Fudgsickle, for $13,000, and when he was claimed from them for $18,000, the stable had its first profit. Most of the Fudgsickle money ($16,000 of it) went to claim Judge Clark, and Judge Clark picked up a few checks before being claimed for the same price he had been taken for. By now the stable's roster of owners had grown considerably and included Simon's mother, Rita Sosower, Kay's brother-in-law, Michael Streit, Kay's mother, Edythe, and a family friend, Mort Leiwant. Leiwant is in roofing supplies, and is also involved with Simon, Streit and Kay in Prime Motors. Edythe Kay is a housewife who also runs a beauty salon. Only in America.
After being in business for nine months the SKSers had had a lot of fun but had failed to come up with a big paycheck, so the operation was moved to New Jersey and into the hands of a new trainer, Perlsweig. In July 1979, SKS finally got its first winner, Dawn In The North, though that filly was claimed out of its winning race. Meanwhile the stable had claimed a 2-year-old named Mardevar for $15,000. Horses named I Got You Babe and Balakiev were also bought at Perlsweig's urging, and both turned out to be winners. Things were really looking up for SKS. Then Mardevar won twice. With the money earned from those victories and other good showings, the stable made its biggest expenditure thus far, $20,000 to buy Georgeandthedragon (yes, one word) in November of 1979. Georgeandthedragon, who has now won more than $100,000 for SKS, as well as three stakes, is by Lord Gaylord, at the time a relatively unknown sire.
Then came a blow: Mardevar died of pleurisy in January 1980. It wasn't a total loss; he had been insured for $40,000. In early March Perlsweig and several members of SKS went to a sale of 2-year-olds at Hialeah. There they saw another colt by Lord Gaylord, and in a sentimental gesture the group told Perlsweig to bid as high as the $40,000 the unfortunate Mardevar had bequeathed. Perlsweig eventually got the colt for $37,000 and, as the trainer admits, "I thought we might have a good 2-year-old on our hands." The horse was Lord Avie.
He got off to a slow start, losing his first race in mid-June at Monmouth Park, but he won his second, also at Monmouth, then was brought to Belmont Park in July for the $50,000 Juvenile Stakes. As the cast of thousands from the SKS stable converged on the paddock at Belmont, the swells regarded them as if they had just stumbled off the bus from Newark.
When Lord Avie won the Juvenile, whoops, shouts and giggles of joy filled Belmont's heretofore austere Trustees Room. Not only did the SKS owners have a winner, but everyone in the party had also cashed a bet at 12-1. The cheering continued. Before the year was out, Lord Avie had won the Cowdin, Champagne and Young America stakes and had placed in the Sapling, the Hopeful and the Arlington-Washington Futurity.
Now comes the best part. Just a few weeks before The Lord's first start this year, he was syndicated in 40 shares at $250,000 per share for a total of $10 million. SKS has kept 20 of the 40 shares, and according to the syndication agreement, if Lord Avie wins the Kentucky Derby, the value of each share increases by $100,000 to $350,000. If The Lord wins two of the following races—the Preakness, Belmont, Marlboro Cup, Jockey Club Gold Cup—a share increases by $50,000 per win up to another $100,000. Should Lord Avie win an Eclipse Award at the end of the year as well, the price goes up an extra $50,000. Lord Avie could conceivably be worth $500,000 a share by the end of 1981, a total of $20 million.
Reaching all those bonus plateaus won't be easy, because there are some other redoubtable 3-year-olds around. SKS's top competition may come from Bert Firestone, the man who gave us Genuine Risk, General Assembly and Honest Pleasure in recent years. Firestone has a striking colt by Stop the Music from Quick Cure, which he has named Cure the Blues; the stable help calls the horse just plain Blues. He was undefeated in 1980 in five starts and at present is in LeRoy Jolley's barn at Gulfstream awaiting his first race of 1981. Jolley is a trainer who seems to have Kentucky Derbies chasing him around. In the last six years he has had five Derby runners and two of them have won (Foolish Pleasure and Genuine Risk), while two others (Honest Pleasure and General Assembly) finished second. Jolley also has high hopes for two other colts in his keeping, Executive Order (Secretariat-Optimistic Gal) and Dash O'Pleasure (Foolish Pleasure-Dashing Diana).
And there is a less-tested but very interesting dark horse among the Triple Crown candidates. Just a few days before Lord Avie's Hutcheson, a large colt named Sain et Sauf made the first start of his career at Gulfstream and won in 1:25[2/5] at seven furlongs. Nothing exceptional about the time; the extraordinary thing is that Sain et Sauf got to the races at all. In 1977 a mare named Fanfreluche, in foal to Secretariat, was stolen late one evening from a field at Claiborne Farm near Paris, Ky. For more than five months the pregnant mare was missing and presumed dead. Eventually, however, Fanfreluche was found grazing in a field 115 miles from where she had been stolen. Two months later, she dropped a healthy colt.
Prominent Canadian owner-breeder Jean-Louis Levesque asked fans to name the horse, and the one chosen was Sain et Sauf (Safe and Sound). Now Sain et Sauf is heading down the road toward the Triple Crown. At the moment the traffic is heavy but moving.