The uncertainties of this sport were typically illustrated by the results of last week's Everglades at Hialeah. With Silent Screen taking a breather, the race looked to be a meaningless gallop among also-rans, and hardly an indication of Kentucky Derby form. Instead, it turned into a first-rate contest, and when an 11-to-1 shot named Naskra won by four lengths we had a new Derby horse and worthy challenger of Silent Screen in next week's Flamingo.
Naskra was no household word when he was racing winless in the silks of the late Robert Lehman in New York last year. Trainers did not fly in from all over the world to bid on him at the Lehman dispersal sale. Silent Screen's trainer, Bowes Bond, looked at him for Owner Sonny Werblin but told the boss the colt seemed too small. One who thought he seemed just right was Phil Johnson, a wise old hand with cheaper horses who was also certain he could do something with a good horse if given the opportunity. Most of Johnson's owners, including longtime client Harry Gordon, would not go over $25,000 at any auction. Naskra, Johnson felt, might go for as much as $50,000, and he wanted him. Enter two of Johnson's newer owners, brothers-in-law Richard Hersch and Peter Jacobs. They agreed to a 50% ownership with Harry Gordon provided Naskra could race in their name, and the name they selected was the Hersch Jacobs Stable. (It has since officially become the Her Jac Stable.) Naskra was picked up for 535,000, and everybody, including the colt, has been having a bully time ever since. He has won four races and placed twice, and he proved in the mile-and-an-eighth Everglades that he has stamina to go along with his speed. In 25 years only four winners of this stakes—Gen. Duke, Moslem Chief, Sir Gaylord and Buckpasser—have covered the nine furlongs faster than Naskra's 1:48[4/5].
Naskra comes by his talent naturally. His sire Nasram, who raced in Europe for the Howell Jacksons, is a son of Nasrullah and the French mare La Mirambule. Nasram was good enough to whip the Epson Derby winner, Santa Claus, in the 1964 mile-and-a-half King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes. Naskra's dam, Iskra, is a daughter of the good French stallion Le Haar, one of whose sons, Exbury, captured the 1963 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. "I think this little bay is going to be even better in the Flamingo," says Johnson. "He's easy to train. I gallop him long and work him short. Why, he's never worked longer than six furlongs in his life."
In the Everglades, Hard Work, who had beaten Naskra by 2½ lengths in their last meeting at seven furlongs, and Burd Alane cut out most of the early pace, while Jockey John Rotz kept Naskra in the middle of the pack until the far turn. Then they put on a sweeping run which brought Naskra the lead just short of the eighth pole. Burd Alane, who had never been worse than second, held on to place by a neck over the fast-charging My Dad George. The latter, considering his outside post, ran very well, as did Burd Alane, who has now competed in three mile-and-an-eighth races in less than a month.
In the Flamingo, several of the Everglades' also-rans should benefit from a less cluttered field. Some, like Hard Work and Protanto, who finished sixth and seventh respectively, probably were still short for the distance, while a favorite of mine, Personality, who had only two horses beat at the half-mile pole, was completely blocked in mid-stretch and still managed to finish fourth. Not long before his recent death Hirsch Jacobs told his son John, "Don't worry about the gray [High Echelon]. He'll win his share. The real horse for us in 1970 will be Personality." The world's winningest trainer was not wrong too often.