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Original Issue

They're off in the race to Kentucky

Under other palms a continent away at Hialeah, Thoroughbreds are aiming at the Derby

The three outstanding colts for the Kentucky Derby on May 5 have now entered their approach patterns for Churchill Downs. They met last week in the Bahamas Stakes at Hialeah, they meet next week in the Everglades, again in the March 3 Flamingo and then in the March 31 Florida Derby. Because of their unusual quality and the disparity in their running styles, the three colts—Ridan, Sir Gaylord and Crimson Satan—should provide the most exciting series of pre-Derby races in many years.

The contrast in styles is already very clear. Ridan runs too fast too soon. Crimson Satan runs too slow early on and not fast enough soon enough. Sir Gaylord has run just about perfectly so far. At least, that's the way it was in the Bahamas, when Sir Gaylord took over from Ridan in the stretch and beat him nearly two lengths in track record time for the seven furlongs. This was Ridan's first defeat in nine starts. Crimson Satan was third, another three lengths back, in the eight-horse field.

Of course, even a decisive victory at seven-eighths of a mile is inconclusive in the evaluation of distance form. Yet Sir Gaylord, tired as he was at the finish of the Bahamas, gave the impression that a longer route would not bother him in the least. "It's true that he was lugging in down the stretch," said Casey Hayes, who trains Sir Gaylord for the wealthy Virginia sportsman, Christopher T. Chenery. "But who wouldn't while carrying 126 pounds and foil-owing Ridan's fast pace for three-quarters [1:09 2/5]? I wouldn't say we have the best horse yet, but on this one day he certainly was best."

If Sir Gaylord proves to be the best at Churchill Downs, it will hardly come as a surprise either to Owner Chenery or to Trainer Hayes. A homebred son of the good stallion Turn-to, Sir Gaylord was raised at The Meadow, the Doswell, Va. farm from which Chenery sent out Hill Prince and First Landing in recent years. Last year he won four consecutive stakes before going into a mild slump and finishing third in his next four (two of which were won by George D. Widener's Jaipur and one each by Cyane and Donut King). The trouble, according to Hayes, was a splint on his left foreleg, but now he's as sound as can be. Not a big, rugged colt like Ridan or Crimson Satan, Sir Gaylord stands a shade under 16 hands. He is extremely well-balanced and compact, is an easy horse to train and has developed no bad habits. His best habit, it seems, is doing exactly what his regular rider, Milo Valenzuela, wants him to do. "In the Bahamas," said Hayes, "I told Milo to bounce him out of there and try to stay out of trouble—and to be sure that Hartack didn't run away from him with Ridan at the start." That's the way Milo and Sir Gaylord did it.

Jolley changes his mind

Following Ridan's defeat, the father-son trainer team of Moody and LeRoy Jolley at first offered no excuse other than to say that he finally had run into a better horse—on this particular day. This didn't sound like Moody Jolley speaking, and after a night to think it over, sure enough, the real Moody emerged. "Yes, I guess we had at least one excuse and maybe a couple," said the senior Jolley. "In the first place, we didn't want to run from No. 1 post. The going, especially breaking from the seven-eighths chute, is heavier than the rest of the track. Then, too, we had decided in the Bahamas to try and rate Ridan instead of letting him go hell-for-leather to the lead. But, you know, just as soon as we gave him his riding orders we knew perfectly well that Hartack had no intention of following them."

As many owners and trainers who have engaged Bill Hartack discover for themselves, Hartack often rides to his own, and nobody else's, commands. "He got right into Ridan at the gate," complained Moody, "and, brother, once this colt starts to go, you got no chance to slow him down. If he's going to be rated, it has to be at the start. Otherwise you got no chance. Afterwards, did he give me any explanation for what had happened? No, sir. He popped off Ridan, looked at us and said simply, 'He got tired.' "

Other observers, mostly those who maintain that Ridan is nothing more than a sprinter and not a very long sprinter at that, point out that the Jolley colt actually did exactly what they expected of him. He ran as fast a six furlongs as he could and then gave up when looked in the eye by a colt with class. Final judgment, of course, is not in on Ridan yet. The Jolleys are sure Ridan can be rated off the pace, and they are going to try it again in the Everglades.

The Crimson Satan people, on the other hand, never have to fear that their horse will run away at the start. In fact, getting him to run at all until the last half mile is the problem. In the Bahamas he came out of the gate at a near walk. Furthermore, he was so sluggish getting under way that he crashed against the side of the gate, bruising Willie Shoemaker's foot and costing them at least three lengths. Against the speed horses present, and in a sprint race, you simply don't make up three lengths. Last year Crimson Satan became the only 2-year-old in history to run in five races at a mile and a sixteenth (the longest distance any 2-year-old in the U.S. is asked to travel) and win them all. He is a beautiful, big (16 hands, 2 inches) chestnut who has filled out to 1,200 pounds since his Pimlico Futurity victory last fall. But he not only is a notoriously bad gate horse, he is also an unwilling worker in the morning. What he does best, however, might be most important: he runs fastest at the finish. He is at his best at distances over a mile and certainly must be considered at a disadvantage sprinting against the likes of Ridan. As Owner Bill Salmen put it before the Bahamas, "Today we're playing their game; soon we'll be playing ours." Soon means the Everglades at a mile and an eighth on February 21. It should be a corker.