For the past 15 years Santa Anita race-goers have had legitimate reasons for smiles of smugness in mid-February. At that point, 10 weeks before the Kentucky Derby, when Californians become weary of reading Hialeah race results, they usually start talking up the names of West Coast runners who will show the world what it's all about at Churchill Downs. The San Vicente and San Felipe, for example, are two important preps for the Santa Anita Derby, and during the last decade and a half these February events have brought to prominence horses like Hill Gail, Determine, Swaps, Terrang, Tomy Lee, Royal Orbit, Flutterby, Olden Times, Royal Attack, Hill Rise, Lucky Debonair, Jacinto and Saber Mountain.
This season, however, there is a noticeable lack of California enthusiasm. Even the most devoted Santa Anita boosters reluctantly agree that the Hialeah-based 3-year-olds are probably better. And this year that may not be saying a great deal.
Hialeah has the 2-year-old champion, Successor, who won't race until spring. After him, the classic hopes lie with Bold Monarch, Bold Hour, Dr. Fager, In Reality, Great Power, Reflected Glory, Cool Reception and Reason to Hail. And if Darby Dan Farm's undefeated Cup Race, Graustark's half brother sidelined with bucked shins, doesn't make it to the Derby, the stable feels it may have a replacement in Proud Clarion.
"With the exception of Successor," says Santa Anita Racing Secretary Jimmy Kilroe, "it looks like we'll have to establish form on immediate results instead of on last year's 2-year-old performances."
The best California 3-year-old right now—though he has yet to go more than seven furlongs—is an extraordinarily good-looking bay son of Restless Wind named Tumble Wind. Bought a year ago from his breeder, Mrs. Cloyce Tippett, for $100,000 by Mrs. T. Kenneth Ellis of Virginia, Tumble Wind now races in the name of Rock Spring Farm Stable for her, the Tippetts and a few other members of a syndicate. He hasn't yet made his purchase price look like the bargain of the year but, with five victories in nine starts and a bankroll of $77,825, Tumble Wind is the obvious early favorite for the March 4 Santa Anita Derby. After that mile-and-an-eighth test the best in the West annually cross the Rockies and head for Kentucky.
Tumble Wind's latest victory came in last week's San Vicente, when he beat five colts at seven furlongs in the decent time of 1:22 [1/5]. After letting Rising Market and Disciplinarian cut out the early fractions of 22 [2/5] and 45 ⅖ Willie Shoemaker circled the front-runners on the turn for home and won drawing away by a length and a quarter over Rising Market, with Disciplinarian a neck behind. It was an excellent race for Tumble Wind, who in his previous start had been beaten seven lengths in the slop by Disciplinarian.
If Tumble Wind stands at the head of the class in the West, there is little to choose among those just behind him. Rising Market (by To Market out of a War Admiral mare) seems to have a future, and Trainer Ted Saladin is equally enthusiastic about the chances of Rising Market's stablemate, a $12,500 refugee from the claiming ranks named Serve Notice. We now know that Wheatley Stable's Disciplinarian loves the slop, and any son of Bold Ruler trained by Eddie Neloy is definitely worth watching, even if he won only four of 10 races last year. Another Neloy charge at Santa Anita is Top Bid, a son of Olympia with a dismal 2-for-10 record in 1966. The day before the San Vicente, going off at 25 to 1, Top Bid lasted at a mile-and-a-sixteenth to beat seven rivals in 1:42 3/5. One of the beaten colts was War Emperor, who had won all three of his previous races. War Emperor finished dead last with no apparent excuse. It may be that this son of Native Dancer does not like to go beyond a sprint. The best horse in that race probably was Dr. Isby—a tough and useful colt like his sire, Clem—who closed fastest of all and was beaten by only half a length after nearly bolting on the turn for home.
One of the reasons for the thin crop of California-based 3-year-olds is that many colts who started the meeting as maidens haven't lived up to expectations. Another is that such potentially good runners as Ruken, Fight or Flight and Sand Devil seem to have levelled off as second-stringers. The dark horse of the crop is Bob Hibbert's Gin Tour. The male division is so weak that it would be no surprise to see one or both of the two best fillies on the grounds—Mira Femme and Fish House—take on the colts in the local Derby. The only filly in a field of 17, Mira Femme crushed the colts by nearly five lengths in the California Breeders' Champion Stakes last Dec. 31. And Fish House's owner, C. V. Whitney, would hardly back off from tackling colts with a qualified filly. In 1959 his Bug Brush set a world record of 1:46 [2/5] for a mile and an eighth while beating Hillsdale and Terrang in the San Antonio Handicap. A few weeks later his Silver Spoon beat nine colts, including the eventual Preakness winner Royal Orbit, in the Santa Anita Derby.
It is possible that this is one of those years when winter racing is not the true indicator of Triple Crown form. Some who start late may last longer. One candidate not to be forgotten is Mrs. Edith Bancroft's Damascus, who is wintering away from the races in Aiken, S.C. with Trainer Frank Whiteley. Winner of the Remsen at Aqueduct last Nov. 30, Damascus is a son of former Horse of the Year Sword Dancer out of the My Babu mare Kerala. He has won three of his four races, all of them under Willie Shoemaker. And, if anyone cares, Willie has never told anyone that he will not go right on riding Damascus in 1967.