From the moment the Flamingo starting gates crashed open last Saturday, a short-backed, high-withered colt with the colorfully indigestible name of Bally Ache turned the year's first major eastern distance race for Triple Crown candidates into a spirited but exhausting game of follow-the-leader. Owned by Leonard D. Fruchtman, a vice-president of two Toledo steel foundries, Bally Ache led nearly every stride of the way and won the rugged mile-and-an-eighth test with ridiculous ease, to set himself up as the rightful eastern favorite for the Kentucky Derby.
Bally Ache's victory over the very best Florida-based 3-year-olds came as a surprise only to those who see in his breeding—Ballydam out of Celestial Blue by Supremus—speed but not staying power for the cup distances. Two who didn't see it that way were Bally Ache's trainer, Jimmy Pitt, and Jockey Bobby Ussery, who in his ninth year of riding finally managed on Saturday to come back to the winner's circle with his first $100,000 victory.
Bally Ache had a formidable 1959 season. Starting 16 times on nine different tracks, he was out of the money only once and managed to earn $303,477, second only to Warfare's $394,610 among 2-year-olds.
As good as his record was, he had some hard-to-take bad luck: in five different $100,000 stakes, each decided by the photo-finish camera, Bally Ache came out second-best. The total losing margins for those five races was just under two lengths. Had Bally Ache won all five, he would have earned an additional $419,270.
The big task for 1960, Trainer Pitt decided when he shipped into Hialeah, was to prove that Bally Ache could go a distance. First he equipped the colt with blinkers to curb a tendency he has to ease himself up once he is comfortably in the lead. The trick worked: in the Hibiscus, Bally Ache won by six lengths, going away.
Next it was decided to tighten the horse up for the strenuous campaign ahead with more long morning gallops and fewer speed trials. The payoff for this training came a week before the Flamingo at a mile and a sixteenth—bringing together Bally Ache and Edward P. Taylor's Canadian champion Victoria Park. Ussery bolted out of the gate as usual on Bally Ache, but this time he looked over and saw Eddie Arcaro right alongside on Greek Page. These two experienced riders proceeded to put on a duel the likes of which only two starving apprentice boys could duplicate. Bally Ache uncorked some phenomenal fractions: :44[1/5] for the half, a track record 1:08[4/5] for six furlongs, and a mile in 1:33[4/5]. Of course, he put Greek Page away, but in doing that he set things up perfectly for Victoria Park to come on and win in the record time of 1:40[3/5]. "The race did him a world of good," said Trainer Pitt. It must have. Saturday Victoria Park finished second, over three lengths behind Bally Ache.
That race also showed Pitt that Bally Ache would never win the big ones unless something could be done about rating him. And so, last week he trotted out still another device. Pitt equipped Bally Ache with a figure eight, a strap arrangement that drops under the jaw tightly. This eased the strain of the bit against his horse's tender mouth.
This week the California-based 3-year-olds go for their first hundred-grander in the Santa Anita Derby, and although the early favorite, Warfare, will skip it because of an earlier interruption in his training, the winner will later come East as the western champion. But the immediate excitement in California last week was not caused by Derby hopefuls. It originated, in fact, with another foundryman, Linne I. Nelson of Whittier, Calif., like Fruchtman a horse owner with a modest investment. Nelson's 4-year-old, Linmold, was a surprising winner of the Santa Anita Handicap. Like Bally Ache (a $2,500 investment who has now won $429,027), Linmold is a marvelous bargain. He cost Nelson a total of $7,500. His Santa Anita earnings were $107,900. Like Bally Ache, too, Linmold is oddly named. Innocent of the ways of The Jockey Club, Nelson named his colt for his company. The Jockey Club, just as innocent of the existence of Linmold Co., registered the horse, contrary to its rules against trade names. All in all, it was a great week for foundrymen and name callers.
AT STRETCH TURN BALLY ACHE ALREADY HAS HANDSOME LEAD ON VICTORIA PARK