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Anxious owners watch their horses go for the Flamingo, first pointer to the 1958 Derby

For the three owners of race horses pictured on these pages, and for some others, a moment of peculiar anguish will occur shortly before 5 p.m. this Saturday. That is when a dozen or so sleek Thoroughbreds will step hesitatingly into Hialeah's starting gate to await an electrical impulse that will send them barreling out and on their way in the mile-and-an-eighth Flamingo Stakes.

Of most obvious concern to the owners will be the fact that the Flamingo winner earns approximately $100,000 for his stable in a race which has come to be the traditional opening of the year's program of major events for 3-year-olds. But even more nerve-racking will be the knowledge that this could be the beginning of the rainbow trail which leads not only to a pot of gold, but to that highest and very special form of glory for which horsemen and women gamble so much in disappointment, loyalty, persistence and cash. For it is to the Flamingo—and to its California counterpart, the March 8 Santa Anita Derby—that we first look for the identity of this year's Kentucky Derby winner.

After two months of racing in their new age bracket, it would appear—on the surface, at least—as though the 1958 3-year-old crop has divided itself rather neatly: half a dozen colts of top ranking, another dozen or so in a questionable category and the rest, as they say, way up the track. This picture, of course, won't remain static. Thoroughbreds have made a habit over the years of fooling even the wiliest old hands. It is one game they play with us which will never stop—fortunately.

Of the first-ranked colts we find this year that California is represented by two horses of exceptional ability and yet quite opposite characteristics. A firsthand report on the quality of these two, Old Pueblo and Silky Sullivan, is on page 32.

At Hialeah the division of proved ability is almost as tidy. Only four colts have thus far emerged with blue ribbons, and three of them—Calumet Farm's Tim Tarn, Mrs. Elizabeth Arden Graham's Jewel's Reward and Arthur B. (Bull) Hancock's Nadir-will clash in this week's Flamingo. The other Calumet hope, Kentucky Pride, has been slightly injured and may not race again for several weeks.

Mrs. Gene Markey's Calumet Farm has come up with so many champions for so many years now that it has become almost second nature for us to expect to see the famous devil's-red and blue silks atop a leading 3-year-old. Kentucky Pride (another product of the great Bull Lea) may not be quite as seasoned as was Calumet's Iron Liege at this stage last year, but Tim Tarn (a son of Green-tree's champion Tom Fool) has so far looked every bit as good as last season's Calumet first stringer Gen. Duke (who tied a world record in winning the Florida Derby, where he suffered a bruise which later forced him out of the Kentucky Derby).

Jewel's Reward, with only one 7-furlong tightener under his girth in preparation for the Flamingo, was nonetheless impressive in winning last week, and despite his rather undistinguished breeding (his sire, Jet Jewel, retired as a maiden, and his dam, Belle Jeep, never raced) this colt seems to have everything a good horse should have. One veteran trainer put it last week, "Jewel's Reward is sort of a mystery horse. Every time they stretch the distance out you expect him to stop, and instead he keeps on winning. Why, if he can win the Flamingo at a mile and an eighth I'll believe he can do anything."

Both Tim Tam and Jewel's Reward will, however, first have to cope with a leggy, unpretty bay named Nadir, who is just itching to get into the battle. Nadir's progress since winning last fall's Garden State has been so satisfactory that he is currently Hialeah's center of attraction—notwithstanding the fact that he shares a barn with Bold Ruler and stares out of his stall directly across at the heavy cavalry of Calumet. Owner Bull Hancock, the 48-year-old Paris, Ky. master of Claiborne Farm and a man who has seen more than his share of valuable horseflesh, thinks Nadir is the greatest prospect he's ever seen. After watching his colt blow out half a mile in :45½ the other morning, Bull hustled off exclaiming, "He could have done it in :44 easy and still not been tired. The potential he's got is tremendous. Better by far than Round Table [whom Hancock sold last year to Travis Kerr for $175,000]. Why, this colt has fantastic speed, and you just know he's going to run all day for you. He could be one of the really greats." So great does Hancock think Nadir might be that he has set a price of $1 million on him, but with this frightening warning: "Of course, if he wins the Flamingo the price might go up even higher."

Nadir, for all his greenness last season, has a distinct personality. He is amazingly curious, and his bold eye takes in everything within an arc that sometimes goes the full 360°. "The first day he got here," says Hancock, "he counted every car that came in or out of the parking lot, and every time Jimmy Jones's dog Buck would go by, Nadir would never let him out of his sight. But now that he knows what's going on he's more relaxed. Even with all the noise around here in the afternoon, this critter will lie down in his stall and then stretch out and snore like a man who's been out on a binge. And talk about a feeder: Nadir eats 14 quarts a day and empties two hayracks." (The average horse may eat between 7 and 10 quarts and might not even empty one hayrack.)

Nadir, who was offered for sale at $40,000 as a yearling and turned down by about 10 prospective buyers, will run without blinkers in the Flamingo. "When he wore the blinkers," says Hancock, "he was too suspicious. Without 'em last time he ran perfectly. So no more blinkers for him."

Should none of these four Hialeah-based 3-year-old colts—or the two stars from California—wind up as the Kentucky Derby favorite two months from now or as the Flamingo and Santa Anita Derby winners, the best chances would seem to belong to any of about 10 or so second-ranked colts who may or may not improve with more campaigning. There is Hasty House Farm's Alarullah, lightly raced but classically bred; R. D. Prewitt's Terra Firma, a steady performer who gave Nadir a good tussle in last year's Garden State; Fred Hooper's Olymar, already a winner over both the Calumets, and although he's not bred for distance (sons of Olympia don't relish a route) Olymar has been running as though he might handle it; Jaclyn Stable's Li'l Fella; and Mrs. Graham's other entry, Liberty Ruler.

It is too early to predict either a banner 3-year-old season or a dull one. My inclination is to label the new crop better than most people give it credit for being. Furthermore, whether or not Jimmy Jones is as successful as usual in bringing his Calumet colt up to peak form for the Flamingo (the man is uncanny when there's $100,000 hanging on the line), it wouldn't surprise me or Bull Hancock to see Nadir look the devil's-red and blue squarely in the eye and then just keep on going.

Horse trader Bull Hancock, 48, is ready to sell anything anytime, has boosted value of Nadir from $40,000 to $1 million. Shrewd Kentuckian says, "Of course the price could go up again on Saturday."

Horse buyer Allie E. Reuben of Toledo is leading supporter of grass racing, has paid high prices for foreign-bred horses. Reuben hopes the lightly raced, American-born Alarullah is a classic contender.

Undistinguished parents lurk in background of consistent Jewel's Reward, here posing with Cosmetician-Owner Elizabeth Arden Graham. Top money-winning 2-year-old in history last year, "Julius" could bring Mrs. Graham her second Kentucky Derby victory. To aid her colt she has bought the services of sensational Panamanian Jockey Manuel Ycaza, seven different riders having handled the horse in 1957.

Parents of classical timber lead experts to believe that Calumet Farm's Tim Tam has the staying power of his mighty father, Tom Fool. Hardly raced as a 2-year-old, Tim Tam has recently blossomed to winning form and will be one of the favorites for this week's $100,000 Flamingo. Trainer Jimmy Jones, an old hand at Derbies, says conservatively, "We think he has some ability." Horse is Jockey Hartack's choice.