Neither Rex Ellsworth nor Mesh Tenney had ever seen a Preakness before last Saturday, much less entered a horse in one. They had never raced at Pimlico at all, but after their big chestnut, Candy Spots, finished third in the Kentucky Derby, and some racing people began to sound off once again about California horses coming east with more Hollywood buildup than running ability, they decided it was time to get acquainted with Maryland's famous track.
Tenney brought Candy Spots there right after the Derby and worked his horse hard. Instead of taking a trip home to California to supervise the 40 horses he had stabled at Hollywood Park, he suggested that Owner Ellsworth get a trainer's license and mind the store himself. Rex, a horseman for 40 years, promptly took out his first license and almost as quickly won a race. He topped off his apprenticeship as a trainer by winning a stakes race at Hollywood.
Meanwhile, Tenney was busy cranking up Candy Spots. On the Saturday before the Preakness, Candy rolled a mile in 1:38[2/5]. Four days later he went seven-eighths in 1:25[1/5]. After planning a conventional final work at dawn the day before the race, Tenney pulled another switch. He gave Candy Spots a 12-hour respite and blew him out a half mile in 52[3/5] after the ninth race on Friday afternoon. "I don't do things like everybody else," said Tenney, "but I think 1 know what is best for my horse. I wanted to give him the extra hours between works, and this seemed to be the only way."
The only way turned out to be the right way. Candy Spots could not have been any better than he was on Preakness afternoon. A half-inch overnight rainfall turned Pimlico's track into cocoa-colored mud Saturday morning, but it dried out very fast and by post time not a single trainer had a legitimate complaint. Seldom before has any field taken the track with all concerned exuding such confidence. The spectators were happy, too, thanks to a pleasant pre-race innovation. Preakness horses were saddled on the infield grass course, so everyone in the packed stands could watch the colorful proceedings. The scene took me back to a similarly exciting spectacle at the Curragh before the 1962 Irish Derby. More U.S. tracks should adopt this custom for major stakes races; it pleases trainers and delights the fans.
Pre-race strategy was universally shared: "Catch Never Bend and you win." That's almost how it was. Captain Guggenheim's colt broke fast and took the clubhouse turn on the lead. A slight surprise was the way an outsider, Rural Retreat, pressed him. Never Bend was forced to reel off fractions of 24[1/5] for the first quarter, 47[2/5] for the half, 1:11[3/5] for three-quarters and the mile in 1:37, which is faster than the track mark in scheduled mile races.
Through all this Willie Shoemaker had Candy Spots cozily tucked into third position, not far off the pace. Braulio Baeza and Chateaugay were sixth—as they had been in Louisville—and then fourth. When Rural Retreat was ready to call it quits around the half-mile pole, Candy Spots was ready to take over. No blind switches this time, no pockets to trap him—nothing to do but catch Never Bend.
As he went after the leader, Shoemaker was only vaguely aware that behind him he still had a contender to cope with. Mesh Tenney described it: "Suddenly, I saw Chateaugay pick up and come at us like a wildcat."
Baeza and Chateaugay spun around the far turn and wound up on the outside in a furious rush. Candy Spots was now running head and head with Never Bend as they straightened out for the run to the wire. "I was feeling pretty good then," said Chateaugay's owner, John W. Galbreath. "But a second later I realized Shoemaker wasn't scared at all. He had the right horse under him."
Shoe whipped Candy Spots about a dozen times from the head of the stretch, switching from right-to left-handed hitting about the time he reached the eighth pole. Chateaugay had closed to within about a length, but Never Bend was finished by then, possibly hurting from an old ankle injury that now may keep him out of the Belmont. When Candy felt the left-handed lick, he flew—he was drawing away at the finish. He looked like a champion and ran like one, beating Chateaugay by 3½ lengths, with Never Bend another 4½ lengths back.
I admittedly am prejudiced. I have admired Candy Spots tremendously ever since the day he circled his field and came from last to win the Arlington-Washington Futurity. I admired him when Ellsworth and Tenney hinted at Santa Anita last winter that Candy might be mentioned in the same breath with their great champion, Swaps. I admired him when he overcame trouble and won the Santa Anita Derby, avoiding that sickening four-horse spill—and still again when he won the Florida Derby with ridiculous ease. Obviously, after the Preakness, there were other admirers. Perhaps the trainer of Chateau-gay expressed it most simply. Said Jimmy Conway: "How are you going to beat the best horse?"
Well, some of his Kentucky Derby and Preakness opponents can have another crack at Candy Spots in the mile-and-an-eighth Jersey Derby at Garden State on May 30 and in the mile-and-a-half Belmont at Aqueduct on June 8. A trip to these races is recommended; Candy is one of the best we have had around in years.
After the race Ellsworth's colors are painted on weather vane atop the infield pavilion.
Nearing the eighth pole, Shoemaker (center) whips Candy past Never Bend, on the rail, as Chateaugay vainly tries to move up on the outside.