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Top speed and a tender mouth

Handling Majestic Prince was a bit tricky for Bill Hartack, but the big chestnut won easily and became an even stronger Derby favorite

Santa Anita had sunshine and a lady jockey last Thursday, both novelties. The sunshine encouraged a few Californians to attend the races, and Tuesdee Testa, who was riding in the seventh race, drew a few more. But the real attraction was a reddish-colored colt named Majestic Prince (SI, Feb. 17). Californians are happy about Majestic Prince these days because he is undefeated, because he is trained by Johnny Longden and because they think he's going to win the Kentucky Derby. They find it very convenient to overlook the fact that their newest hero is not a Californian at all but a chestnut colt bred in Kentucky by a Kentuckian and owned by a Canadian industrialist. So they came out to watch him run in the one-mile San Jacinto Stakes, and he won, the way a 2-to-5 favorite should.

Before the race there was some doubt about Majestic Prince's ability to carry his brilliant speed over a mile against colts who would do their very best to run with him. "When he proves he can go around two turns, then we'll know more about how good he is," said one horseman. Bill Shoemaker, who watched the San Jacinto from a clubhouse box, said, "There's a lot of speed here. Unless Majestic Prince is a standout they might kill him off and set it up for a come-from-behind colt like Makor."

No chance last week. Jockey Bill Hartack actually broke Majestic Prince out of the gate in first place, but quickly eased him back off the early pace set by Mr. Joe F. and Jim's Gold C. Rounding the clubhouse turn for the first time in his racing life, he endured dirt being thrown up at him, and didn't seem to mind it. Jim's Gold C. retired from the contest on the backstretch, and from there on it was strictly between Mr. Joe F. and Majestic Prince. Hartack collared the leader midway around the far turn, and by the time the pair of them straightened out in the stretch he had a one-length lead and the race was over. Before the eighth pole Hartack hit his horse a couple of times "to get him to roll and make sure he got a good race into him." He sailed home four lengths in front and eased up at that.

When it was all over Trainer Johnny Longden had a lengthy discussion with Hartack and then revealed that, considering Majestic Prince's recent difficulties, he was tickled to death over the performance. What difficulties? "Well, after his last race on February 6," said Longden, "he had a slight fever and couldn't get to the track for three days. Then we discovered that his unusually tender mouth was caused by some caps on his teeth that were supposed to have been shed naturally by now but somehow had not been."

Longden laughed when he was asked if this was Majestic Prince's best race. "Oh, no," he replied confidently, "he'll run better when Bill can handle him better. Right now, with this tender mouth, it's a tricky business of give-and-take between horse and rider. It was his best race so far, but we've got a lot bigger things in mind."

The first "bigger thing" is the March 29 Santa Anita Derby, in which Majestic Prince probably will have to face the three California-based colts who figure to give him trouble. They are Inverness Drive, Right Cross and Tell. "Charlie Whittingham is doing everything right with Tell," said Shoemaker's agent Harry Silbert, "and he's not hurrying him in any way. Next, he'll get a nice mile and a 16th into him [Whittingham did that just two days later], and then probably put him right into the Derby. Then we'll see how good this bunch is."

The best of the bunch now—and maybe equal to anything at Hialeah—is Longden's chestnut son of Raise A Native and Gay Hostess, for whom Frank McMahon paid $250,000. He's won back $55,400 so far, and he hasn't run for real money yet.