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Derby daydreams on the Coast

A barnful of 3-year-olds developing with a rush stirs the hopes of Californians that they have now seen another Churchill Downs winner

Long one of the West Coast's leading-trainers, Farrell W. Jones has never been known as a particularly optimistic one. But last week Jones perked up the ears of several of his listeners with an uncharacteristic remark. "Never," he said carefully, "has Santa Anita had a better bunch of 3-year-olds than are here right now." When advised of what Jones had said, the track's racing secretary and handicapper, Jimmy Kilroe, amended, "If they are not better, they are at least the most promising I've ever seen here."

As evidence that this hopeful spirit is as contagious as early spring sniffles, no fewer than 30 3-year-olds were entered in three races at a mile and a sixteenth on last Saturday's excellent card. Eighteen were signed up for the traditional San Felipe, last major prep for the March 30th Santa Anita Derby, and an even dozen were scheduled for a $7,000 allowance test. Unfortunately for Jones, who has had much success recently with the stock of Hastings Harcourt's Flag Is Up Farms, the stable's star colt, Sharivari, turned up on San Felipe day with a leg ailment serious enough to keep him out of all the Triple Crown classics.

Even so, the 29 remaining sophomores gave the 46,987 fans a rousing afternoon. The split divisions of the San Felipe, reset as a pair of $30,000 stakes instead of one event for $50,000, were won in the identical time of 1:42[2/5] by Prince Pablo and Dewan. The preliminary allowance heat was won by American Tiger in 1:43. A fast track notwithstanding, these were three notable performances for still-maturing colts so early in the year.

I thought the second half of the San Felipe was won by the best 3-year-old I've seen this year. Dewan, the bay Bold Ruler colt who is trained by Jim Maloney for Owner Bill Perry, went to a drive at the half-mile pole to overtake the pace-setting Don B. and fought like a tiger the entire length of the stretch to win by a nose. Down the lane, with Don B. holding the somewhat faster ground along the rail, Proper Proof roared up and tried to split the pair, and for a moment it appeared as if Dewan's number might come down. But the films showed that Don B., who has a habit of bearing out in stretch runs—and not Dewan—probably caused whatever trouble Proper Proof had.

In Prince Pablo's division of the San Felipe the California-bred chestnut, co-owned by General Winston (Winky) Kratz and Paul Thayer, made all the pace and won by a comfortable 2½ lengths over Alley Fighter. If any of Prince Pablo's seven opponents had pressed him during the early going it might have been different, but he won with authority and did it in respectable time. Dewan finished faster in a hard drive, however, and has both the look and action of a genuine competitor. It is difficult to estimate how much this experience, gained in his first stake race, will help him in the Santa Anita Derby at a mile and an eighth, but Dewan is now unbeaten in five lifetime starts and is the logical Kentucky Derby favorite. Prince Pablo, who is by Binary, an un-raced full brother to the speedy Prince Khaled, may not like the extra distance, especially if something runs with him from the drop of the flag. But, then, who is to say that Dewan may be the son of Bold Ruler who finally is able to carry his brilliant speed over a mile and a quarter? I, for one. These two will meet in the Santa Anita Derby, and this time Don B. will be along to insure an honest pace.

The Santa Anita Derby will, of course, draw other entries from among the California optimists, but I think most of them will be running for third and fourth monies. Still, the trio of Dewan, Prince Pablo and Don B. is as good as you'll see at Gulfstream or Aqueduct or stops along the way this week. Farrell Jones and Jimmy Kilroe were right—the West is again on the move.