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Original Issue

Hip horses with square names

Derby favorites now include My Dad George and Corn Off The Cob

When the glamour colt of his crop goes off at 3 to 5 in a $100,000 winter classic and then finishes eighth in a 13-horse field—beaten by 12 lengths—it is far from being the happiest day at the old horse park. That's what happened at Hialeah last week to Sonny Werblin's Silent Screen in the mile-and-an-eighth Flamingo, the race in which he was supposed to clinch his status as the Kentucky Derby favorite.

For a while, at least, nobody is going to be scared of Silent Screen. He managed to do almost nothing right in the Flamingo, except to leave the gate when the doors opened. After that he ran greenly into the first turn, and by the time Jockey John Rotz got him out of the turn he had barged around—and been squeezed around—to such an extent that he was cut on three legs. Thereafter he refused to change leads, made a game effort to hold third position on the turn for home and simply chucked the whole painful business with 3/16ths of a mile to run. One of the colts who beat him was a refugee from Suffolk Downs and Rockingham Park named Boy Behave, who went to the post at odds of 199 to 1.

While all this was going on, to the bewilderment of a Hialeah closing day crowd of 28,462, the Flamingo was being contested by two other long shots, who managed to produce an exciting finish and a good deal of speculation about 1970 3-year-olds, in general. The race was won by 9-to-1 shot My Dad George, who came from sixth place to nose out Corn Off The Cob in the good time of 1:48 [3/5]. Although both names sound as though they might have been pulled out of a Cracker Jack box, the performances were outstanding, and there is no guarantee that Silent Screen—on his best day—would have beaten either of them in his first attempt over this distance.

Some Flamingo observers were inclined to agree with Werblin and Trainer Bowes Bond that Silent Screen's race was so awful that it should be disregarded altogether. "I'd rather have him beaten by 12 lengths, with an excuse," said Werblin, "than go dingdong in the stretch and lose by a length or so." The day after the race Silent Screen's right hind leg was infected, and he was running a temperature of 102°. He probably will miss 10 days of training and will have difficulty making the March 28 Florida Derby. Not too many more things can go wrong with him if he is to be ready for the May 2 Kentucky Derby.

Misfortune to the favorite should not obscure the impressive showing of the first two finishers or even that of the third colt, Burd Alane, who turned in a steady run. My Dad George is far from being ordinary, a fact he established earlier this winter by winning two stakes at Tropical Park and finishing third to Naskra and Burd Alane in the Everglades. Corn Off The Cob is a son of Khaled, and the way he ran—either prompting the pace or taking the lead himself and still holding on strongly to miss victory by inches—suggests that he may be the better of the pair.

My Dad George's route to the winner's circle points out once again the vagaries of the breeding-and-buying game. The 1966 Keeneland fall sale attracted, among others, George A. Cavanaugh Jr. and his brother Jim, operators of Pinecrest Farm in Ocala, Fla. Bored and thirsty after a bit, George said to Jim, "I'm going to the bar. If you see anything you like, buy it for me." A few drinks later George returned and was staggered by the news that Jim had bought not one but three mares in foal. One was the Skytracer mare, Mabekky, in foal to Dark Star. Jim couldn't resist the price of $2,800. The brothers named Mabekky's foal after their dad, George Sr., and sold him in the 1969 Florida Breeders' Sales to retired fruit grower and theatrical angel Raymond Morse Curtis for $13,500.

Curtis came into racing nine years ago with Trainer John Nerud, but for the past five years his trainer has been Frank J. (Buddy) McManus, a 52-year-old veteran horseman. In the Flamingo, while such costly purchases as Burd Alane ($210,000) and Protanto ($150,000) faltered, Curtis' colt came through with a $104,910 purse. "I would rather gamble on a horse than on a play," he said. "When a play flops that's the end. But a horse can run again." My Dad George will run again in the Florida Derby before going on to Louisville.