The fabled A.J. Foyt Jr. stood under the shedrow of his barn at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark. last Saturday, holding court. A.J. had had a very good day. His front-running colt, the undefeated Rare Brick, had just won the $132,600 Rebel Stakes, and the Chairman of the Brickyard, winner of a record four Indy 500s, was feeling expansive. "He's proven to be my best horse so far," said Foyt. "He can win two more times, I wouldn't mind."
You better believe Foyt wouldn't mind. The next two races on the colt's schedule are the Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby, and if he wins those, Oaklawn will hand him a $1 million bonus for the three-race sweep.
Rare Brick's main competition in the 1[1/16]-mile Rebel was a magnificent-looking bay colt named Clear Choice, who was flown in from California by trainer D. Wayne Lukas the Tuesday before the race. The only problem was, Clear Choice hadn't won in six starts. Besides Lukas's mystery maiden, there was Rampage, a local colt who had already won two races over the Oaklawn track at the Rebel distance. The farthest Rare Brick had run was a mile, in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. But what a mile. He had wired it in an impressive 1:36[1/5] over a dead track and had won by 11 lengths.
Two days before the Rebel, A.J. Foyt III, a.k.a. Tony, the 30-year-old trainer of Rare Brick, sat in his tack room at Oaklawn with a wad of Skoal tucked tight in his cheek and allowed as how, yeah, you get a little nervous before a major race, especially when your horse is owned by your daddy, and your daddy is going to be there.
"Rampage is a real nice horse," Tony said before the Rebel, "and Lukas wouldn't have sent that other colt all the way from California if he didn't think he was a good horse."
Said Lukas: "We're here to see what he can do and evaluate him. I'm not saying we can win it, but at least we'll know what we've got."
When the eight-horse field broke from the gate, Rare Brick was the crowd's clear choice, going off at 1-5. He zoomed to the lead, peeling off the first quarter in 22⅘ with Clear Choice right behind and outside him. Going up the backstretch, Clear Choice made a move just past the half-mile pole, but Rare Brick's jockey, Mike Smith, kept the pedal to the metal and the colt responded. At the six-furlong mark, Clear Choice challenged again, getting within a length, but still couldn't get past the leader. Rare Brick just flew, running with his head up and his tail streaming out behind him. With the rest of the pack four to five lengths back, it looked as if two races were being run at the same time. At the top of the stretch, Rare Brick had a three-length lead, but Clear Choice slowly started to close the gap. The Oaklawn crowd was letting out Rebel yells as the horses dueled down the stretch. Both jockeys went to the whip, and at the finish it was Rare Brick by a head. The time was a decent 1:43[1/5] on the fast track.
In the winner's circle the charismatic elder Foyt got most of the attention, while Tony stood off to the side.
Which figured. Tony has never tried to compete with A.J. for public acclaim. He has always preferred horses to horsepower. At 14 he got started in a quiet way by working with show horses. At 16 he won the Western Pleasure class at the Kentucky State Fair Horse Show.
"Show horses really teach you a lot about conformation," he says, "but there's really no money in it. I decided that if I was going to make a living, I'd have to go with racehorses."
He has been training for nine years now, and his dad helped him along the way. When J.T. Lundy, who owns racing cars, took over Calumet Farm in Lexington after the death of Mrs. Lucille Mar-key, he sent some of Calumet's horses Tony's way. "I've got about 24 horses now," says Tony. "About 10 for Calumet, 10 for A.J., one for Cale Yarborough, and a couple of others. It's nice training for race-car drivers."
Especially when you have a colt that just keeps winning. Rare Brick is by far the best horse Tony has handled. It was A.J. who sent his son to a farm in Louisville to look over the new foal that the mare Windy Brick had dropped in 1983. When Tony reported to his dad that the foal looked good to him, A.J. bought him. As a yearling, he was shipped to A.J.'s ranch in Hockley, Texas, where he was broken, trained and named.
Last year Tony shipped the colt to Canterbury Downs in Minnesota, where he won three straight races. After bucking his shins in September, he was given time off. He came back to the races at Oaklawn in February and won three more, including that sensational Southwest Stakes mile. Just a few days before that race, A.J. had sold a half interest in the colt to Josephine Abercrombie, owner of Pin Oak Stable in Versailles, Ky. After Rare Brick's showing in the Southwest, Foyt and Abercrombie anted up the $3,000 necessary to make Rare Brick a late nominee for the Triple Crown.
Except for his maiden race, in which he was second at the start, Rare Brick has never had a horse in front of him. His victory in the Rebel kept that record intact, and also proved he could go that extra 16th of a mile, which he did while being seriously challenged for the first time in his 3-year-old career. It also gave the Foyts their first real Kentucky Derby contender. "I don't care if you give a dollar or a hundred million dollars for a horse," A.J. said after the race. "Nobody can tell you what kind of heart that horse is gonna have. It's something in your adrenaline, in your body, that makes you a winner."
Rare Brick will have ample opportunity to show how much heart he has—in the Arkansas Derby on April 19 and again at Churchill Downs, where he'll meet the best in the land on the first Saturday in May.