It all evolved on a cool, gray New York afternoon into that final picture of a horse race at the turn for home. At the close of a day that had already brought some of the most riveting finishes in the recent history of the sport, suddenly there were six heads bobbing almost together. Jockeys' whips were slashing, and the crowd was jumping up and down through the length of the homestretch at Aqueduct Racetrack last Saturday.
As eight horses swept into the final quarter mile of this second running of the 1-mile Breeders' Cup Classic, with $3 million on the line, long shot Imperial Choice forged to a head lead over favored Chiefs Crown, with the pace-setting Track Barron half a length behind and a tiring Vanlandingham in close pursuit. Turkoman was right there, looming up, while the 1984 Preakness winner, Gate Dancer, was just beginning his run, five horses wide. Outside him, with jockey Jorge Velasquez pumping hard, Proud Truth moved up with a rush.
They came into the stretch like that, in a bunch, as if it were any horse's race. Jockey Chris McCarron drove Gate Dancer to the front, and for 100 yards it appeared that the race was theirs. It was, and then it was not. They had Proud Truth to answer to in that long, final 220 yards. Flailing his whip lefthanded, Velasquez urged Proud Truth home. He was a length away, then half a length, then a neck.
"I was charging on his side," Velasquez said later. "My horse was strong all the way. He was willing and strong."
Willing and strong enough. With the wire coming up and Velasquez and McCarron now both whipping lefthanded, Proud Truth inched forward to take the lead in the closing jumps, finally getting up to win by a head. The colt's trainer, John Veitch, sat for a moment in his box seat, looking stunned, then he stood up and said, "Did he win it? It looked awfully close."
Kentucky horse breeder Will Farish grabbed Veitch's hand from an adjoining box and told him, "You won it, John. Congratulations!"
Meanwhile the colt's owner and breeder, John W. Galbreath, the 88-year-old sportsman and real-estate tycoon, came to his feet and patted Veitch's bald pate and then turned and bear-hugged his son, Dan. The elder Galbreath said, "Oh, gee! Wasn't that something? Oh, my, oh my! What a race he ran! What a race!"
And what a day it had been. The Breeders' Cup—a card of seven races offering $10 million in purses raised largely by American breeders and owners—was launched at Hollywood Park last year as a kind of Super Bowl of racing, designed to showcase the sport annually at a different racetrack. About $3 million was spent painting and refurbishing Aqueduct, and in only its second year the Breeders' Cup achieved all it was ever intended to. In fact, the quality of the horses and the races they ran set a new standard in a town that has long prided itself on being the sport's most competitive venue.
"For seven races, this is the greatest bunch of horses ever assembled in the history of racing," said John Nerud, the Hall of Fame trainer and one of the founders of the Breeders' Cup. "We've seen some good cards, but we have never seen anything like this." What made this year's Breeders' Cup especially eventful was the high quality of the horses that shipped in from France and England. It was truly a day for international racing.
The event is supposed to identify divisional winners, but on this occasion it clarified little. Indeed, the outcome of the race for Horse of the Year remained as clouded as the cream gravy in the chicken potpie that was served at the Cup's $350-a-plate prerace gala dinner in the American Museum of Natural History. No matter.
Soon after the first flag fell in the one-mile, $1 million Juvenile, the dingdong pattern of racing was set for the day. In a game stretch drive that drew attention to him as a contender for the 1986 Kentucky Derby, Tasso raced to a desperate nose victory over Storm Cat. Of the seven races, five were decided by margins of a length or less. And curiously, inasmuch as the Breeders' Cup is a creation of the Kentucky breeding industry, the first four winners on Saturday were bred, of all places, in Florida.
Still, the day left a lot of people besides Florida breeders with something to crow about. Prominent among them were trainer D. Wayne Lukas and owner Eugene Klein, the former proprietor of the San Diego Chargers. Klein's pastime these days is buying high-priced yearlings and putting them under Lukas's care. In the $1 million race for 2-year-old fillies, Lukas sent out two horses owned by Klein, Twilight Ridge and Family Style. As they raced under the wire, finishing first and second, seven lengths ahead of the rest, Klein bounded from his seat and headed down to the winner's circle, crying, "One and two, right on! How about that! One-two! It's like coming in first and second in the Super Bowl."
Three races later, in the event for fillies and mares, Lukas and Klein pulled off the same double. They ran one-two with Life's Magic, whom Klein owns with Mel Hatley, and Lady's Secret.
Given the kind of year that Lukas has been having—the victory by Life's Magic was his 63rd stakes win of 1985 and pushed his earnings to more than $10 million, both American records—his performance in the Breeders' Cup was not as remarkable as the stunning triumph of Pebbles in the $2 million grass race. In fact, the English-bred chestnut with the white blaze won the brilliancy prize for her victory in the 1½-mile race. Hemmed in on the rail, she had no room to run in the backstretch. At one point she lost four lengths when a horse brushed into her. Turning for home, with a wall of horses in front of her, Pebbles looked beaten.
Suddenly the front-running Tele-prompter drifted out, and Pebbles's rider, Pat Eddery, swung her over and sent her into the breach. "She went in there real quick." Eddery said. "She really put her toes out and started eating up the ground." Pebbles pounced like a cat into the opening, snatching the lead in an instant, then held off Strawberry Road, with Steve Cauthen riding, to win it all by a neck in a course record 2:27.
In the end, though, the day belonged to Galbreath, Veitch and Proud Truth. Proud Truth came to the Breeders' Cup on a schedule that appeared to give him only an outside chance of winning the Classic. After finishing fifth in the Kentucky Derby last May, the colt won the Peter Pan while preparing for the Belmont Stakes. But after that race it was discovered that he had suffered a slight fracture of a cannon bone, and Veitch and the Galbreaths gave him the summer off.
It wasn't until Oct. 7, when he won an allowance race at Belmont Park, that he really began to come back. He then won the Discovery Handicap at Aqueduct on Oct. 26, only a week before the Breeders' Cup, but Veitch figured that it was enough to get him home.
"The last race was just what we hoped for," said Veitch, "and it gave him a race over the track. That's a tremendous advantage. The horse couldn't be better."
No one was more buoyed by the colt's chances than his exercise rider, Charlie Rose. "I'm telling you, he is better than ever," Rose said. "He feels so good. I hope he's a better horse than he was this spring, when he won the Florida Derby. I'll tell you this. He's certainly a stronger and more mature horse."
Whatever Proud Truth had become—whether stronger, more mature or simply better—it was enough to get him home in the Classic in 2:00⅘ good time on any man's racetrack. For John Galbreath, it was the moment of a sporting lifetime. He had won three World Series with the Pittsburgh Pirates, of which he became an owner in 1946 and agreed to sell last month. He had also bred and owned two Kentucky Derby winners, Chateaugay and Proud Clarion, and an Epsom Derby winner, Roberto. He had bred and raised the ill-fated Graustark, one of the most gifted horses of all time, the sire of Proud Truth. With Graustark an aging 22 this year and nearing the end of his breeding career, Galbreath had been hoping to breed a son of his to carry on the line at the farm.
"I don't know how it could be any sweeter," Galbreath said. "There is nothing like this today. I can't believe it yet. I can't believe we beat all those horses! The thing about it is that nobody expected him to be in the money. But I did.... When we beat the Yankees in the World Series? Remember that? The last of the ninth inning in the seventh game. It's great, sports. But nothing can compare to this. It was beyond hope to beat all these good horses."
At a party in the Aqueduct clubhouse after the race, Galbreath grabbed Veitch's arm and said, "John, I can't thank you enough. What a job you did with this horse! Next to me, you must be the happiest man in the world."
If Veitch wasn't, that man may have been Fred W. Hooper. Like Galbreath, Hooper turned 88 this year, and he, too, had spent years breeding and developing stakes horses and champions. In the Breeders' Cup sprint championship, trainer Ross Fenstermaker saddled Hooper's homebred, Precisionist, and told McCarron to catch them in the homestretch if he could. Precisionist did, too, running down Smile and Mt. Liver-more in the final yards to win by 1¾ lengths. At the party Hooper spotted Galbreath across the room and went over to offer his congratulations. The two elderly gents shook hands. His eyes twinkling, Galbreath looked up at Hooper and said, "We did pretty good, didn't we?"