The run toward the Roses began with a cavalry charge on Saturday as 14 horses thundered down the stretch in the 58th—and perhaps last—running of the Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah. The five leaders were strung across the track with barely a length separating them while their jockeys, whips flailing, tried to squeeze an extra step or two from their tiring mounts. With less than a furlong to go, Talinum, a big chestnut colt wearing the distinctive white bridle of the D. Wayne Lukas stable, made a powerful charge on the outside and went on to win the 1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µ-mile race by half a length. And so the 1987 racing season picked up where the '86 season left off—with yet another star emerging from the prodigious barn of America's leading trainer.
An hour after the race, as he waited for Talinum to be released from the spit box, where the horse was tested for medication, Jim Howard, a Lukas assistant, reflected that life at the top is not just bouquets in the winner's circle. Last year the phenomenally successful Lukas stable earned $12,344,595, some $3.5 million more than its nearest rival, and that has engendered a certain amount of resentment from less successful trainers. "It gets so you feel like going into a stall and hiding sometimes." said Howard, who had accompanied Talinum on the flight to Florida from the Lukas headquarters in California. "People can be really hostile. They feel we just fly in. take their money and leave." Sure enough, at Hialeah the Lukas looters swooped in, picked up the $270.000 dinner's purse, then disappeared into the balmy Miami night.
This year's Flamingo was a tough bird to call. Because it was the first major Derby prep and no one horse was a standout, many trainers reached into their barns and entered horses of questionable ability. After all, even fifth place was worth $13,500.
Still, there was some talent in the race. The venerable Woody Stephens trotted out his top 3-year-old, Conquistarose, a son of 1982 Belmont Stakes winner Conquistador Cielo. The favorite, however, was Cryptoclearance, who went off as the 8-5 bettor's choice on the strength of his win in the 1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µ-mile Everglades at Hialeah three weeks earlier. Another contender was the lightly raced but highly regarded Leo Castelli, who had won his last two races by a combined 15 lengths.
And what about the Lukas shipper, Talinum, a bit of an unknown quantity? The handsome son of Alydar was second to Java Gold in the Remsen and won two races at Aqueduct as a 2-year-old but had been beaten decisively in his two starts as a 3-year-old, both at Santa Anita. "He didn't run his races at Santa Anita." said Jeff Lukas, son of D. Wayne. "We felt he didn't like the surface there. But he trained brilliantly at Hollywood Park, which is similar to the deeper, sandy surfaces of the East. That's one reason we didn't get down on the horse" The logical move was to ship Talinum east to Hialeah and the $450 000 Flamingo.
When the gates opened, the three outside horses took a fast left turn toward the rail, with the speedy Fly Fly Fly sprinting to the lead and holding it until he passed the half-mile mark, where the Fly died. Moving up the backstretch, Talinum, a one-run closer, started slowly picking his way through the pack. Jockey Angel Cordero Jr. moved him up to fifth place by the turn for home, but Talinum had to go far wide to make his way around the tiring front-runners. Meanwhile, Cryptoclearance grabbed the lead. Racing into a strong head wind down the stretch, the two colts pulled away from the pack with half a furlong to go And Talinum digging in on the outside rallied to win in a dull 150 Cryptoclearance finished second followed by Leo Castelli, Conquistarose finished Up the track a disappointing ninth.
"Angel did a beautiful job today," said Jeff Lukas, whose stable also saddled last year's Flamingo winner, Badger Land. "The horse was never in trouble."
As for Cordero, he was ecstatic. It was his first Flamingo win in 17 tries. "This colt looks like he can run all day." he said.
Back at the stakes' barn, Lukas admired the big, strapping colt as he was walked under the lights of the shedrow. "He's a little more than 16 hands and still growing." the trainer said. "He's got classic written all over him. He was a good 2-year-old, and he'll be an even better 3-year-old."
Talinum is also a handful. "He's real aggressive," said Howard. "They warned me about him. He'll sort of lull you, and then, when you're not looking, he'll try and part your hair with a foot."
Which is kind of what the Florida racing commission had done to Hialeah. All week long, newspapers had run stories bemoaning the imminent demise of the beautiful old track. When the commission stripped Hialeah of the prime "middle" racing days (January to March) and awarded them to Gulf-stream Park for next season, visions were conjured of condos and shopping malls being erected on the historic grounds. Current plans call for Hialeah's next meeting to run from Nov. 11 to Jan. 7, 1988, which would put the next Flamingo—if it's run at all—too early in the season to play its traditional role as a major Derby prep.
"I've been stabled here for 30 years," Stephens said as he looked around at the beautiful grounds. "It's a wonderful place to train horses. I'd say 80 percent of all champions have trained at Hialeah at one time or another. But |if they change the racing dates] I'd go to Gulf-stream to race, wait there 10 days and then ship to New York or Kentucky. They [the racing commission] may take Hialeah down, but they'll take themselves down with it."
Said John Veitch, who trained Alydar, "I'm afraid that the way things are going, Hialeah will not be able to survive."
So this year's Flamingo marked both a beginning and an end. While the fresh and eager 3-year-olds are off and running toward a meeting at Churchill Downs in Louisville on the first Saturday in May. Hialeah may be racing toward oblivion.
But the Lukas clan appears headed for further glory. With Talinum's win in the Flamingo, the Lukases not only have the leading 3-year-old in the East right now, but they've also got the Kentucky Derby winter-book favorite, Capote, stabled in the West at Santa Anita. "We've never won the Kentucky Derby," Jeff Lukas said after the Flamingo. "And it's been very frustrating. But our chances this year are outstanding."
Talinum's next start will be in the April 4 Florida Derby at Gulfstream, while Capote will probably make his first 3-year-old start in early April. When asked where he thinks the best horses are. in the East or in the West. Lukas replied. "Let's just say we're strong on both coasts and leave it at that. But we're going to keep on trying to win the Derby."
All the Lukases want, after all, is a chance to stop and smell the roses.