A few years ago John Ed Anthony, an Arkansas lumber baron and thoroughbred owner, was visiting some of his trees in the Ouachita Valley when he decided to pay a call on Charlie Vanlandingham, 75, lone inhabitant of a piece of high ground called Cox's Ridge. After passing the time of day, John Ed said to Charlie, "I'm going to name a horse after you someday." Charlie wasn't thrilled. "He probably won't be no-account, anyway," he scoffed.
Wrong, Charlie. Last Saturday, Anthony's 4-year-old colt Vanlandingham won the 67th running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park in impressive fashion. The son of stakes winner Cox's Ridge (Anthony likes Arkansas names) took the lead at the start and held it for the full 1½ miles, splattering mud in his six opponents' faces all the way, to win by 2½ lengths. In taking the $861,000 Gold Cup in 2:27, Vanlandingham dispatched this year's Belmont Stakes winner, Creme Fraiche, last year's Preakness winner, Gate Dancer, and the 1985 Hollywood Gold Cup winner, Greinton.
Jockey Pat Day and Vanlandingham, the speed horse in the race, controlled the pace throughout, running the first quarter in a fairly fast 24[1/5] and then slowing down until the final quarter, which they smoked in 24 seconds flat. Gate Dancer finished second, Creme Fraiche third. The handsome bay colt's winner's prize was $516,600, and it put him over the million-dollar mark for career earnings.
In the slightly soggy winner's circle, Day said, "It was just a hang-on mount for me. He handled the mud good and finished it real strong. I think he'd run over broken bottles if he had to."
The tender-footed Vanlandingham has sometimes probably wondered if he was running over broken glass. "The horse has bad feet," said his trainer, Claude (Shug) McGaughey III. "His [hooves have] narrow walls and his feet sting him." As a result, the colt lives in terror of a visit from the blacksmith. "As soon as he sees that apron and box," says McGaughey, "he gets all stirred up."
Vanlandingham has had something of a hard-knock life. After breaking a track record in the Rebel Handicap at Oak-lawn Park in March 1984, he was set to run in the Arkansas Derby but came down with a fever of 104° and was scratched. Two weeks later, in the Kentucky Derby, he fractured a pastern in his right foreleg and was sidelined for 13 months. When he finally returned to the races, in May 1985, he won three in a row, including a sensational wire-to-wire, 8¾-length romp in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont on July 4.
The only cloud in Vanlandingham's future is that he's not nominated to the Nov. 2 Breeder's Cup Classic at Aqueduct, the $3 million race that may well decide the Horse of the Year. Anthony forgot to include the homebred colt in his list of nominees to the Cup, an expensive mistake. It will cost him a $360,000 supplementary fee to enter Vanlandingham. "I don't care how wealthy a person is," he says, "$360,000 is a lot of money. But we'll give it serious consideration."
With Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck retired, the showdown at the Breeder's Cup corral will probably feature Marlboro Cup winner Chief's Crown, Gate Dancer and, if Anthony gets really serious, Vanlandingham. Thus, the almost unknown tenderfoot now has a shot at becoming the top gun at the Eclipse Awards.
So how come the champagne corks weren't popping back at Belmont's Barn 49 after the Gold Cup? Well, it seems that the Monday before the '84 Arkansas Derby, Day brought a bottle of the bubbly to McGaughey's house and announced it was for Saturday's victory celebration. The next day Vanlandingham was feverish. "Ever since," McGaughey said, "we don't get champagne because it might be a jinx."
It is not known whether the lone inhabitant of Cox's Ridge, Ark. raised a glass to his "no-account" namesake.