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The Object Is Roses

April 29, 1991
April 29, 1991

Table of Contents
April 29, 1991

Books
Holyfield-Foreman
Derby Preview
South Africa
Cowboy Draft
Knees
Golf
Billie Jean King
Point After

The Object Is Roses

This could be the year of the eunuch at a wide-open Kentucky Derby

Trainer flint (scotty) schulhofer ducked through the door that led from the clubhouse to the paddock at New York's Aqueduct racetrack last Saturday, gleefully rubbed his hands together and then began picking his way through the crowd on his way to the winner's circle.

This is an article from the April 29, 1991 issue

"Did you see him out there?" said Schulhofer. "I just knew this colt was going to run good today.... Whew! This is a big, handsome-looking colt who can run. And he's getting better all the time."

Schulhofer was right: His horse, Cahill Road, had run good. But on that last point Schulhofer was wrong: His horse would not be getting better for a while.

Moments earlier, in the Wood Memorial Stakes, New York's last major Kentucky Derby prep race, Cahill Road, a strapping full brother to last year's Kentucky Derby winner, Unbridled, had stamped himself as one of the most gifted young racehorses in America. After snatching the lead from the pace-setting Kyle's Our Man on the turn for home, Cahill Road then repulsed a challenge from 40-1 long shot Lost Mountain in mid-stretch, and accelerated through the final 200 yards to win the 1‚Öõ-mile race by three lengths.

In that brief instant, it became as clear as the flags snapping Tut! Tut! on the infield poles that the 64-year-old Schulhofer was training not one but two of the fastest 3-year-old guns around. It was Schulhofer who had made another of his charges, Fly So Free, last year's champion 2-year-old colt, the solid winter-book favorite to win the Kentucky Derby on May 4. Despite Fly So Free's recent second-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, a loss for which Schulhofer takes the blame, the colt remains the consensus pick among Las Vegas odds-makers to wear the roses.

Heading into the Wood, Schulhofer insisted that even if he won the race, he wanted to pass up the Derby with Cahill Road, and give the gawky, clumsy bay more time to mature. But after his performance in the Wood—one of the strongest by a 3-year-old this year—it seemed, for a few moments at least, that Schulhofer most certainly would have to reconsider.

A problem that has plagued Cahill Road for most of his life involves the suspensory ligament that runs behind the cannon bone, between the ankle and knee, in his left leg. The colt had strained it as a youngster, and it remained a worrisome condition, one that the slightest misstep could aggravate. Two days before the Wood, as Schulhofer ran his hand down the leg, he said, "This colt is just beginning to get good. He walks horrible; he's all over the place. He jogs fair. He gallops all right. But when he levels out in a full run, he gives you chills, he is so smooth. If I can only keep that leg together." The trainer tapped on the stall door. "Knock on wood," he said.

Moments after the Wood was over, whatever dreams he may have had for Cahill Road vanished. No sooner had Schulhofer crossed the paddock than a pall fell over the writers and railbirds waiting for the colt to gallop back to the winner's circle. He was not galloping. With jockey Craig Perret still on him, and groom Moises Morales leading him, Cahill Road came limping up the racetrack, obviously in distress. He had suffered "a strained left front suspensory," the one the trainer had been concerned about, and now his career was in jeopardy.

Perret jumped off. "I felt it [the ligament] go at the quarter pole," he told Schulhofer. "But he didn't give in a step. He didn't even want to pull up at the end." Schulhofer hurried toward the barns. "We always worried about this," he said. "No Kentucky for him."

The Wood certainly occasioned the keenest sense of disappointment so far in this 1991 Triple Crown season. Not only did Cahill Road come back lame, but the 1990 2-year-old filly champion, Meadow Star (undefeated in nine lifetime starts coming to the Wood and aiming to become the fourth filly in history to win the Kentucky Derby) finished fourth, beaten 10¼ lengths, in her first start against colts. The callipygian chestnut had no excuse, and her future as a Derby horse is in doubt. Finally, Kyle's Our Man, the front-running winner of the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, who had worked brilliantly for the Wood, faded in the final quarter to finish sixth. He may not want to go beyond a mile.

The Triple Crown campaign has not witnessed a dominant figure since 1979, the year Spectacular Bid winged like Pegasus into Louisville, and no heir to the great gray has emerged this spring. In fact, as many as 20 horses (the maximum allowed) could answer the call at Churchill Downs, and at least six of them are live enough to win the classic: Fly So Free, Dinard, Best Pal, Hansel, Strike the Gold, and Olympio. The race is so wide-open that one of France's leading trainers, Francois Boutin, is considering sending one of his promising colts, the stakes-winning Ganges, to Louisville; and Ireland's leading trainer, Dermot Weld, is thinking of flying in his major stakes-winner, Rinka Das, for the race.

In the end, though, this may very well turn out to be the year of the eunuch. No gelding has won the Derby since a son of Man o' War, Clyde Van Dusen, galloped home in 1929. But the two leading West Coast Derby horses, Dinard and Best Pal, have both suffered the unkindest cut of all. Dinard's half-length victory over Best Pal in the Santa Anita Derby on April 6 was perhaps the single most compelling performance of the year among Kentucky-bound 3-year-olds. In only the fifth start of his life, under jockey Chris McCarron, Dinard got pinched back on the first turn, lost three lengths as he struggled to regain his balance, then came four-wide off the last turn and ran down Best Pal in the final 100 yards.

Dinard's trainer, Dick Lundy, was euphoric over the effort. "It was a tremendous learning experience," Lundy says. "He got five races' worth of experience out of it. The more pressure we've put on this horse, the better he has handled it." Dinard undoubtedly has the pedigree to get the 1¼ miles of the Kentucky Derby. He is a son of Strawberry Road, who won major stakes at a mile and a half in France and Australia, out of a daughter of Bold Bidder, the sire of Spectacular Bid. In the Santa Anita Derby, Best Pal hung on mightily until the final yards and may have been "a tad short" on conditioning for the race, according to his trainer, Ian Jory. Since shipping to Churchill Downs, Best Pal has worked with gusto, including a six-furlong workout on a dull racetrack in 1:12[1/5] seconds, a sharp move that he embroidered with a final quarter mile in 23 seconds, including a last eighth in a scorching 11 seconds flat.

They are two tough geldings, strictly business in approach and style, and are the heart of the California contingent that will carry on the traditional rivalry with horses from the East. Joining them is Olympio, a horse long on pluck and verve. Dinard whipped him by six in the one-mile Los Feliz at Santa Anita on Jan. 11, but a month later Olympio nailed Dinard on the wire and beat him a nose in the San Vicente. It was Dinard's lone defeat.

Last Saturday, in another Derby prep race, Olympio set the early pace in the Arkansas Derby, surrendered the lead to favorite Richman down the backstretch, was shuffled and bumped at the far turn, but then dug in again through the homestretch to charge past the leaders and win it by 2½ lengths. "I don't like to come back in two weeks," said Olympio's trainer Ron McAnally, referring to the Derby. "But if other favorites [like Cahill Road] begin to falter, we don't have any choice. We've got to go."

No telling what kind of colt Hansel has become. Whipped twice, and soundly, by Fly So Free in Florida this winter, Hansel caught a blazingly fast track in the nine-furlong Jim Beam Stakes at Turfway Park in Kentucky in March and bounded off to a 2½-length victory in 1:46⅗ a track record by 2[2/5] seconds. Last Sunday, in the 1[1/16]-mile Lexington Stakes at Keeneland, Hansel, hand-ridden by Jerry Bailey, won by a whopping nine lengths. "He's exactly where I want him to be, going into the Derby," said trainer Frank Brothers.

The parade of Derby contenders from the East will be led by Fly So Free and Strike the Gold. All winter long in Florida—through his victories at Gulfstream Park in the seven-furlong Hutcheson Stakes, by a length, on Feb. 2; the 1[1/16]-mile Fountain of Youth, by six, on Feb. 23; and, finally, in the 1‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬µ-mile Florida Derby, by a length, on Mar. 16—Fly So Free gave reason to believe that he would chase the assorted demons that have hounded 2-year-old champions throughout the 1980s and into this decade. No juvenile champion since Spectacular Bid has come back the following spring to win the Kentucky Derby. Here, surely, was the colt who would break the spell.

And then along came Strike the Gold, an attractive chestnut son of Alydar. In the Florida Derby, his first start in a stakes race, Strike the Gold came from far back and made a long, desperate run at Fly So Free, who felt the repeated lash of jockey Jose Santos's stick before fending off the challenge. Schulhofer said the rider's flailings were attributable to Fly So Free's tendency to pull himself up once he gets to the lead.

The two colts met a final time in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, on April 13, and all at once the old demons were back, knocking at the Derby door. On Schulhofer's orders, Santos snugged Fly So Free off the early pace of Nowork All Play, and the colt grew rank, fighting Santos around the first turn and again down the backside. On the turn for home, Santos asked his horse for speed and nearly reached the lead. Coming off the last bend, with jockey Chris Antley driving him on, Strike the Gold blew past Fly So Free on the outside, accelerated quickly through the final 220 yards and won off by three lengths. Schulhofer said it was a mistake to order Santos to lay off the speed, and took the blame for the defeat: "You can choke a horse just so long and then he says, 'The hell with it.' "

Nick Zito, the trainer of Strike the Gold, celebrated for days after the Blue-grass win, buying drinks for the house at whatever bar he walked into in Lexington, and happily touting his horse. "He's starting to mature," said Zito. "He's getting into his game. This is a terrific horse."

Schulhofer is itching for redemption on Derby Day. He started the winter with three Derby horses. Beautifully bred Scan, a promising colt who's a son of Mr. Prospector, lost his chance for the roses when he finished fifth in the Santa Anita Derby, 11¼ lengths behind Dinard. Then Cahill Road limped out of the Wood. All Schulhofer has left now is Fly So Free. "With all that speed in the race, everything will be set up for him just right," he says. "Don't worry about it. I will certainly win the Kentucky Derby."

That may be so, but not in this corner: Dinard's the one.

PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIERA rough trip didn't keep Dinard (left) from beating Best Pal to win the Santa Anita Derby.PHOTOJOHN IACONOCahill Road won the Wood but went lame, giving Schulhofer (below, with Perret and NYC mayor David Dinkins) time to reflect.PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER[See caption above.]PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIEROne dog's Derby pick: At Santa Anita, Dinard got a surprise smooch from a stable pooch.