For at least the next two months, and perhaps beyond that, Francis and Peter Martin of Boston will be stahs. How Boston handles them will be interesting to behold, because horse racing around the Hub has never been given the same respect as the Celts, Broons, Bosox or Patsies. Roll this around in your mind for a spell: A Boston horse may be favored to win the Kentucky Derby. Thoroughbreds have raced in the Boston area for years, but rarely has one of its horses stepped into the national spotlight. Heck, the best horse to come out of New England was ridden by Paul Revere, and nobody even remembers its name.
Last Saturday at Hialeah a 3-year-old named Timely Writer, which the Martins bought for only $13,500, ran off and hid from 15 opponents to win the $250,000 Flamingo Stakes and make himself the Eastern favorite for the Triple Crown races. At the end of the 1‚⅛-mile Flamingo, Timely Writer was 3½ lengths in front of New Discovery and well ahead of two highly touted colts, Victorian Line, who finished eighth, and Royal Roberto, who came in sixth.
Flamingo Day 1982 was a day racing fans in Florida will be talking about for years. It was the closing day of Hialeah's 50-day meeting, and at 11 a.m. it started pouring. Usually a rainstorm two hours before post time for the first race means that those thinking about going to the races will opt for other diversions. Not last Saturday. People converged on Hialeah in droves, causing horrendous traffic jams and filling all the parking lots five hours before the running of the Flamingo. After the deluge, the weather was hot and muggy, and by the fifth race many of the bars in the old racetrack had run out of beer. Long lines snaked back from hot dog stands and it seemed that everyone was waggling his pink program, hoping to promote a breeze.
Hialeah is supposed to be on its way out as a racetrack; when 40,886 turned up on Saturday, the second-biggest crowd in the track's 58 years (the record was set in 1956, when Nashua won the Widener), nobody could figure it out. Granted, it was "jacket day" at Hialeah and every paying customer received a pink windbreaker, which leads to two possible conclusions: either a lot of folks in Miami need pink jackets or the Flamingo was potentially a fascinating race.
Two days earlier, when entries were taken, 17 horses were named, a staggering number considering how the Flamingo is run. Hialeah is a 1‚⅛-mile racetrack, meaning that the start and finish of the race are directly in front of the stands and that the run into the first turn is very short, only 325 feet. Conquistador Cielo scratched and the field was reduced to 16, but even so, fans on the rail could literally reach out and touch the horse in Post Position 16. In a field that large, the worst situation for any horse is in one of the outside post positions. Timely Writer drew Post 15. In his short racing career of eight starts, he had gained a reputation of being a horse that runs from behind, and from there you can get into heavy traffic in a large field.
But Timely Writer had other qualities. He had saved his best races for the big events. He wasn't a Secretariat or a Seattle Slew or a Spectacular Bid, but the things he did well he did very well indeed. Still, many racetrackers found it difficult to believe in Timely Writer because, after all, he's a Boston horse.
On the program Timely Writer's ownership is listed as "Nitram Stable"—Martin spelled backward. Francis and Peter Martin have owned horses for 28 years, mostly cheap claimers. The Martins own Kyes Supply Co. in Boston, a distributor of meat to restaurants, institutions and hotels, and almost every day the brothers can be found in their warehouse wearing white aprons, chopping up roasts and T-bones. Sometimes, when a Nitram horse runs at Suffolk Downs, only one of the Martins will be able to shake loose and go to the races; the other will be left behind with a cleaver in one hand and a transistor radio in the other.
In 1980 the Martins bought Timely Writer at the Fasig-Tipton fall yearling sale in Lexington for the aforementioned $13,500. The colt, a son of Staff Writer out of Timely Roman, was broken at Another Episode Farm near Ocala, Fla. On June 9, 1981 he showed up at the track for the first time, but in an odd place: Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J. What, you might wonder, was a horse trained in Florida and bound for Suffolk Downs doing on the Jersey Shore? Simple: The Martins wanted to cash a bet. And they did. They got nearly 5-1 for their money as Timely Writer won a $30,000 claiming race by eight lengths.
Timely Writer moved on to Boston, and on July 4 he won New England's top race for 2-year-olds, the Mayflower. Winning the Mayflower is a nice thing to do, but it's not a feat much noted in the rest of the country. In early August Timely Writer was shipped to Saratoga for the Saratoga Special, but he got in trouble and he finished third. The Martins kept him at Saratoga to run in the Hopeful, one of the nation's most prestigious 2-year-old stakes. The favorite was Out of Hock, a speedball. Timely Writer hung behind the speed and then threw in a closing burst to win by 4¼ lengths. That got him some pub. And when, in October, Timely Writer won the Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park, he became one of the leaders of his division. Yet the public didn't quite know what to make of him: He had gone off at 6½-1 in the Hopeful and 8-1 in the Champagne. After all, he was still a Boston horse.
Ten days before the Flamingo, Timely Writer came in sixth in a prep race at Hialeah. His trainer, Dominic Imprescia, wasn't upset. "My aim all winter has been to win the Flamingo," he said, "and a poor finish in a prep race doesn't discourage me." A few days later Imprescia gave his colt a fine workout with jockey Jeff Fell up and was convinced that he would run well in the Flamingo.
"When the draw for post positions was held," Imprescia says, "I didn't like our spot at all. He was far outside, and the chances are he was going to get in trouble. I told Jeff to try to outrun at least half the field in the early going so we could make a move without hitting traffic."
Fell did what he was told. He used some of the speed that Timely Writer had first shown in that claiming race at Monmouth Park. After half a mile, the colt had half the field beaten and then, approaching the turn, he just went whoosh and drew out. The winner's circle after the race was full of New Englanders, though many weren't part of the official party. "A lot of them I never saw before," Imprescia says. "They just showed up. Some, I guess, are New England horseplayers rooting for a Boston horse in a very big race."
Right after the Flamingo, it was announced that a half-interest in Timely Writer, who has earned $368,311 so far, had been sold to Dr. William O. Reed of New York and Kentucky, one of racing's best-known and most highly regarded veterinarians. Because he's a track vet, Reed cannot share in Timely Writer's race earnings, so he cannot begin to get a return on his investment until the horse retires to stud this October. While no price was given for Reed's share, a guess of $3 million wouldn't be far off.
Timely Writer's next start will be in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream on April 3. When he has finished running in the Triple Crown races, he'll be prepared for the Woodward, Marlboro Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup, all to be run at Belmont Park in the fall. This week a stunning announcement was made about those three races, which offer purses totaling $1.1 million. Should any horse sweep the three, he'll get a bonus of another million. That would be quite a few beans for a Boston horse.